In a rebuke to Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, Southern Company, and Tampa Electric, Republican State Senator Jack Latvala has pledged to stop accepting campaign contributions from the utility companies as he attempts to win Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial election.
Latvala, who has spent 15 years in the Florida Senate, made the decision on September 19. “It’s time the utilities stop spending money on political candidates and instead protect the residents of this state,” said Latvala in a release.
The declaration by Latvala is likely a result of a series of unpopular decisions made by the power companies over the years, along with the problems Floridians have faced after Hurricane Irma. Indeed, Latvala said in his release that in his home county of Pinellas there were people still without power.
Soon after Latvala’s pledge, the Tampa Bay Times revealed that Duke Energy had reduced its tree-trimming budget in the Pinellas and Pasco counties, leading to more outages and problems getting the power restored after Hurricane Irma.
“They need to be spending that money on improving their grid and not giving it to politicians,” Latvala told Steve Bousquet at the Tampa Bay Times. In the current election cycle, Florida Power & Light has contributed $2.4 million to candidates and PACs. Duke has given $712,000, Tampa- based TECO Energy $535,000 and Gulf Power $196,000.
The utilities have so far not contributed to the three Democrats running for governor or their connected PACs. None of the three – Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, and Chris King – responded to the Energy and Policy Institute’s inquiry as to whether they would also pledge to refuse contributions from the utility companies. King, however, made a similar pledge in August. He announced that the will not accept contributions from the sugar industry, another of the largest special interests in Florida.
Latvala also pointed out to Bousquet how the utilities give politicians contributions through other committees.
Latvala accused Putnam’s committee of accepting as much as $2.6 million in utility money, a figure he said includes contributions by FP&L, Duke, TECO and Gulf Power and “laundered” through other pro-Putnam committees such as Associated Industries of Florida.
On Sept. 27, nearly three weeks after Irma first struck Florida, campaign records show Duke Energy gave $55,000 to AIF’s political committee, and on the same date, Putnam’s Florida Grown recorded receiving $50,000 from AIF’s PAC.
However, two days earlier, on Sept. 25, state records show, AIF’s PAC listed the $50,000 as an expenditure.
Latvala called that a case of laundering and said AIF kept the extra $5,000 as a “carrying charge,” adding: “That’s how it’s done.”
Floridians have watched the power monopolies make a series of business decisions that have proven to be unpopular, some of which have increased electricity bills. Examples include:
- $20 million in utility contributions to the misleading solar Amendment 1 in 2016
- FPL attempting to get its customers to pay for fracking investments
- FPL and Duke Energy collecting millions of dollars from customers under a 2006 law that authorized nuclear power plant cost recovery, including the never-built Duke Energy Levy Nuclear Project
- $6.5 billion in losses as a result of natural gas hedging programs
- Proposals that were ultimately approved by state regulators to significantly weaken the state’s energy efficiency targets
Is a campaign trend emerging in states with monopoly utilities?
Florida State Senator Latvala’s pledge to stop accepting utility contributions comes after two notable candidates in the Virginia 2017 gubernatorial election, Tom Perriello and Corey Stewart, pledged not to accept money from the utilities – a significant pledge since Dominion is the largest corporate contributor in Virginia politics.
Stewart went so far as to call Dominion a “horrible corporate citizen.”
Both candidates lost, but Perriello’s pledge likely aided in prompting 57 candidates for House seats, 53 of them Democrats, to pledge “never” to accept campaign contributions from the utilities. Even all three Democratic candidates for Virginia lieutenant governor had pledged not to take campaign contributions from Dominion.
Similar to Florida, voters in Virginia have watched Dominion use its political influence to get legislation voted down or approved, including the controversial legislation that prevented the state regulators from conducting a comprehensive review of Dominion’s earnings until 2022 while freezing Dominion’s base rates until 2020.
In 2015, Democrat Cecil Brown won the Central District Public Service Commission race in Mississippi. Brown replaced Republican Lynn Posey, who had been the Commission’s strongest supporter of the Mississippi Power Kemper project. In his campaign, Brown ran against Kemper and Mississippi Power. He pledged to “review” the Baseload Act (the law that allowed Mississippi Power to collect construction costs while building new power plants) and “ensure Mississippi families are protected from these outrageous costs.” In June 2017, the state regulators unanimously passed a motion to eliminate ratepayer risk for the project and assured no rate increases as a result of the project.