Power companies quietly pushed $215m into US politics via dark money groups - The Guardian

US power companies have made political donations of at least $215m to dark money groups in recent years, according to a new analysis of 25 for-profit utilities, amid growing concerns around how they wield influence.

Such secretive donations to barely regulated non-profit groups have helped utilities increase electricity prices, hinder solar schemes and helped elect sympathetic legislators in recent years.

While dark money giving to tax-exempt groups is legal, a number of utilities have faced criticism for it. In Arizona and Alabama, power companies faced blowback after they used dark money to aid the election of friendly regulators. In Michigan, regulators barred another company from using dark money entirely after it spent $43m on politics in just three years.

Sometimes, power company dark money giving hides illegality. In 2021 in Ohio, FirstEnergy Corporation pleaded guilty to using dark money groups to bribe politicians in exchange for bailouts.

In another instance of ethically questionable actions, Florida Power and Light (FPL) used dark money to interfere with ballot initiatives, and the elections of five politicians who in part aimed to tackle the high prices of electric bills and environmental and climate goals.

Customers can also lose out.

This was a scenario in Arizona when, in 2014, power company Arizona Public Service gave $10.7m to dark money groups that donated to key regulatory commission races. The two Republican commissioners backed by the groups won. In 2017, they went on to support the power company’s request for a $95m-a-year increase in electric bills, which ultimately was passed down to customers.

It took a subpoena from a regulator to finally prove in 2019 that the company had been behind the political spending.

There are 44 regulated for-profit utilities across the US, according to the Edison Electric Institute, their trade association. Twenty-three of them self-disclosed giving nearly $100m to so-called dark money 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) groups between 2014 and 2020.

Overall, the total amount of dark money uncovered by regulators and the Department of Justice – about $115m – was greater than the total amount the companies disclosed.

The Edison Electric Institute defended the spending.

Read the full story here

The Guardian

Locations: Arizona Alabama Ohio Michigan Florida 

Organizations: FirstEnergy Corporation Florida Power and Light Arizona Public Service Edison Electric Institute United States Department of Justice (DOJ) 

Tags: Corruption Lobbying Public Utilities 

Type: Headlines