Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) incumbents Tricia Pridemore and Chuck Eaton each received approximately two-thirds of their campaign contributions from people or companies associated with regulated entities such as Georgia Power, according to an Energy and Policy Institute analysis of campaign finance records.
District 5 Commissioner Tricia Pridemore, handpicked by Gov. Nathan Deal just two months ago, collected $217,325 from contributors this election cycle.
In a statement provided to Georgiapol.com in February, Pridemore stated, “This early investment by hundreds of Georgia voters shows our message is resonating. They want to ensure the PSC regulates utilities in a way that is good for ratepayers and Georgia businesses.” Campaign finance records show just 216 contributions to Pridemore this election cycle.
However, contributors to Pridemore’s campaign may be looking out for their own financial interests, rather than expressing their political values or opinion about who will be the best regulator for Georgia’s economy.
- 70% of contributions to Pridemore came from people or companies associated with entities that are regulated by the PSC.
- 51% of Pridemore’s contributions came from people or companies associated with Southern Company, the parent company of Georgia Power.
Georgia Power and Southern Company benefited from a favorable PSC decision in December that allows the monopoly to continue charging customers for the costs to build its over-budget, behind-schedule nuclear Plant Vogtle, and to continue profiting from the overruns.
District 3 Commissioner Chuck Eaton has received $133,050 from contributors this election cycle. Interestingly, Eaton did not receive a single campaign contribution for the second reporting period (Feb. 1, 2018 – Mar. 31, 2018) after a sizeable haul the previous reporting period. Eaton will not face a GOP primary opponent.
- 74% percent of Eaton’s contributions came from people or companies associated with regulated entities.
- 60% of Eaton’s contributions came from people or companies associated with Southern Company.
Georgia law prohibits regulated utilities like Georgia Power from making direct contributions to their regulators at the PSC. But lawyers for one of Georgia Power’s law firm, Troutman Sanders, have poured thousands of dollars into the Pridemore and Eaton campaign coffers, raising the question of whether the Troutman attorneys are acting as a de facto proxy for their client.
Kevin Greene, the lead Troutman Sanders attorney for Georgia Power throughout the Vogtle hearings, contributed $1,000 to Commissioner Eaton on December 1, 2017, just days before the vote to continue charging Georgia Power customers for the $25 billion nuclear plant. He followed up with another $1,000 contribution to Pridemore on January 26, 2018, one month before she was appointed to the Commission by Gov. Deal.
Eaton has repeatedly gone on the record in support of Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle.
Table 1. Contributions for Incumbent Candidates to the Georgia PSC
|Associated with a Regulated Entity?||Associated with Southern Company?||Eaton||Pridemore||Total|
More Diverse Contributions for Non-Incumbents
A full slate of Republican and Democratic candidates round out the field for the Georgia Public Service Commission.
John Hitchins III is vying against incumbent Tricia Pridemore in the Republican primary for District 5. He claims on his website, “I am a true Conservative who doesn’t approve of the current way of cozying up with utility companies”. Hitchins has only reported $901 in contributions, including a $300 self-donation. Georgia State Senator Chuck Hufstetler endorsed Hitchins saying, “My understanding is that he is only one in the race who has refused contributions from those he regulates.”
John Turpish, running for District 5, and Ryan Graham, running for District 3, are both Libertarians without primary challengers. Turpish has not reported any contributions to date. Graham reported 15 total contributions, all of $250 or less.
Dawn Randolph and Doug Stoner face off in the District 5 Democratic primary, and Stoner started with a sizeable fundraising lead over his opponent. Randolph received 12 total contributions, with only one larger than $300, a $4,344.53 self-contribution to her campaign. Stoner received 30 contributions totaling $36,800, 17 of which were for $1,000 or higher. Democratic legislators and unions pepper the list of Stoner’s contributors.
Lindy Miller and John Noel are competing for the District 3 Democratic nomination and have raised significantly more money than their District 5 counterparts. Because Miller and Noel received hundreds of small dollar donations, Energy and Policy Institute limited its research to contributions of $1,000 or more. Miller has raised $219,668 from contributions of $1,000 or higher, compared to Noel’s $83,200. Noel also raised a total of $87,901 from a June 30, 2017 filing. This filing was not included in this analysis because the State of Georgia classified it as a “non-election year” filing.
Miller and Noel received far fewer contributions from people or companies associated with regulated entities; 18% for Miller and 13% for Noel. Most contributions in question are from retired telecom executives, such as Fred Shaftman of Bellsouth and solar energy companies or their employees.
Table 2. $1,000+ Contributions for Non-Incumbent Candidates to the Georgia PSC
|Associated with a Regulated Entity?||Associated with Southern Company?||Miller||Noel||Stoner||Total|
Noel and Miller recently sparred with Tricia Pridemore’s predecessor and previous PSC Chairman Stan Wise over an apparent disagreement on Plant Vogtle. Noel’s website contains a page lambasting the ex-Chairman for what he claims was Wise banning him from speaking at a recent Vogtle hearing. Miller too criticized Wise via a Facebook post for refusing to allow her to speak at a public hearing, saying of the Commission: “They continue to display an utter lack of transparency and openness”. The Energy and Policy Institute previously reported on Wise’s decision to speed up the timeline for the PSC’s decision to allow Georgia Power to continue charging customers for Plant Vogtle, and refused to accept public comments on that move. .
The Energy and Policy Institute analyzed contributions to each Republican and Democratic candidate for the Georgia Public Service Commission to check for ties to regulated entities.
Regulated entities are those which have business before the Commission, such as Georgia Power or AT&T. We counted the following as “associated” with a regulated entity:
- Law firms and employees of law firms representing regulated entities
- Lobbyists registered to represent regulated entities
- Executives, employees, and retirees of regulated entities
- Companies with known financial ties to regulated entities
- Corporations with no public profile that are owned by or associated with people from or representing regulated entities.
- Note: Some contributions were untraceable. EPI treated those as contributions as not being associated with a regulated entity.
Because non-incumbent candidates Noel and Miller received a much higher quantity of small-dollar contributions, we analyzed only their contributions of $1,000 or more. For an apples-to-apples comparison, the table below shows only the $1,000+ contributions for the incumbent candidates.
Using this comparison, 76% of Eaton’s contributions and 72% of Pridemore’s contributions came from proxies of regulated entities. Sixty-one percent of Eaton’s contributions and 53% of Pridemore’s contributions came from proxies of Southern Company.
Table 3. $1,000+ Contributions for Incumbent Candidates to the Georgia PSC
|Associated with a Regulated Entity?||Associated with Southern Company?||Eaton||Pridemore||Grand Total|
To view the original source data and EPI’s classification of each contribution, please visit: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1mhbY2F9xjEn_n3qbBwMNv9QCG8M-fM9WOg6I0Nzphx4