Key points:

  • Utilities’ political action committees and trade associations contributed over $6.8 million in the past three election cycles to the 147 members of Congress who voted in favor of President Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
  • Some utilities have announced “pauses” in PAC giving to Congress in wake of violent attack on Congress.
  • Among utilities and their trade associations, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association was the top giver to members of Congress who supported the effort.

Utilities’ political action committees and trade associations contributed over $6.8 million in the past three election cycles to the 147 politicians who used false claims about election fraud as the basis to vote in favor of President Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

In the wake of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob incited by lies about the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, some large corporations, such as American Express and AT&T, have announced that they will cease making campaign contributions to the members of Congress who sought to overturn the election results that day. The newsletter Popular Information, which first reported those changes, has also reported that companies such as Citigroup and Deloitte have announced a pause of all contributions, to both parties, by their political action committees (PACs). 

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade association for investor-owned electric utilities, is also “pausing” its political contributions, it confirmed to the Energy and Policy Institute. The watchdog group Documented first reported that development.

Duke Energy said that it is pausing its federal contributions for 30 days, according to Bloomberg. Duke’s PAC disbursed over $1.8 million this cycle to federal, state, and local candidates, and political committees.

However, with 2021 being a federal election off-year, the first quarter would generally be a slow time for political contributions, so if the pauses last only one or two months, they may amount to little more than public relations. PAC giving by Duke Energy and EEI in the past two election cycles was highly variable from month to month, so PACs could simply choose to hold contributions for later in the cycle. In February 2019, for example, EEI disbursed only $3,500 to all candidates. In February of 2017, it disbursed $0. EEI did not say how long its pause will last. Neither EEI nor Duke has offered details about whether or how it is using the pause to reevaluate its contributions.

FirstEnergy said it is pausing its contributions as well, though the company had previously halted PAC contributions to Ohio in the wake of federal corruption charges against a now former state house speaker and political operatives who secretly received $60 million that FirstEnergy is alleged to have spent to secure a windfall from ratepayers in that state. 

Edison International, which owns Southern California Edison, said it has paused giving to members of Congress. Bloomberg reported that the “company also is implementing a ‘freeze of indefinite duration’ on further campaign contributions to members of Congress who voted to overturn the results.”

The raw data that EPI collected over the last three election cycles on each utility’s PAC contributions, as well as the contributions of industry trade associations EEI, the American Gas Association, the American Public Power Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the Nuclear Energy Institute, can all be found here.

These totals cover contributions from utility PACs and trade associations directly to the campaign committees of members of Congress who supported overturning the election results, but not from those entities to the Leadership PACs affiliated with those members of Congress, such as the Buddy PAC, which is affiliated with Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga), and received contributions from Southern Company’s PAC. 

Total contributions by utility company to members of Congress sought to overturn election results

The top contributor of all utilities and their trade associations to the members of Congress who voted to support the effort to overturn the election results was the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which contributed $1.3 million to the 147 members of Congress. 

NRECA’s budget derives from dues paid by its members, which are the nation’s electric cooperatives. Since cooperatives have no investors or shareholders, the money they send to NRECA comes directly from their member-owners. That means that the nation’s roughly 20 million electric cooperative customers essentially subsidize NRECA’s political contributions on their monthly electric bills, including the $1.3 million that NRECA has sent in recent cycles to members of Congress who opposed the election certification.

NRECA issued a statement condemning violence on the day after the riots, but made no mention of the election, or of efforts by President Trump or members of Congress to overturn the election results.

The next day, NRECA released another statement praising the Trump Administration’s EPA for issuing a new rule that would forbid the agency from counting many of the public health benefits when it considers future action to regulate pollution from power plants.

NRECA did not respond to a request for comment from EPI by the time we published this article.

Southern Company, APS gave to leaders of effort to undermine election results

The investor-owned utility who gave the most in recent cycles to the members of Congress that sought to overturn the election results was Southern Company, which owns Alabama Power, Georgia Power and Mississippi Power. The PACs for Southern Co. and its utilities sent $709,000 to the members in question. 

Duke Energy and NextEra Energy came in second and third, having contributed $517,700 and $350,800 respectively.

Southern Co.’s PAC gave $27,500 to Mo Brooks of Alabama, one of the most vocal leaders of the effort to overturn the election results. Brooks was one of the opening speakers at the rally which preceded the violent mob. The Intercept summarized Brooks’ comments: 

Brooks opened the “Save America” rally with a searing speech that charged, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

During his remarks, he asked the crowd to consider the American ancestors who sacrificed their blood and “sometimes their lives” to create the “greatest nation in world history.”

“So I have a question for you,” Brooks continued. “Are you willing to do the same?”

Since the attempted insurrection, Brooks has publicly expressed no regrets, even appearing to defend the violence in a radio interview. 

Pinnacle West Capital, which owns Arizona Public Service, gave $227,000 from its PAC to politicians who sought to overturn the results of the election, including $30,000 in the past 3 election cycles to Rep. Andy Biggs, and $30,500 to Paul Gosar, two Arizona members of Congress who led efforts to overturn the election results. Biggs and Gosar have also been credited with helping to organize the rally that led to the deadly riot, according to the Arizona Republic.

Pinnacle West is now “reviewing [its] approach to political contributions,” the Arizona Republic’s Ryan Randazzo reported on twitter.

Utility PAC giving runs against stated principles

The investor-owned utility PACs are funded by contributions from employees, but the employees are encouraged to contribute by management, and the money is generally withdrawn directly from their paychecks. High-ranking corporate executives generally make the decisions about how to spend the PAC money. 

DTE Energy’s Corporate Political Participation Policy says that its PAC considers a number of criteria when choosing recipients, including “Public integrity of the candidate” and “Representation of a district that includes a DTE Energy facility or service area.” DTE Energy serves customers in Michigan. The company’s PAC gave $118,000 in recent cycles to members of congress who opposed the election certification, including House members in Arizona, California, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

In addition to the PAC contributions, employees of the utilities also gave over $1.1 million directly to the members of Congress who attempted to overturn the election results. For instance, while NextEra’s CEO James Robo has contributed nearly $10,000 to the NextEra PAC since the 2016 election cycle, he also made a $2,800 donation to Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) in October, 2020. Nicholas Akins, CEO of American Electric Power (AEP), has contributed a total of $9,500 to the American Electric Power PAC over the last three election cycles, and on top of that, he donated a total of $5,600 directly to Republican House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Utility money supported 501(c)4 group that backed protest preceding Jan. 6 riot

Beyond the members of Congress who supported overturning the election results, some utility interests have funded a dark-money group that helped organize the protest preceding the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. 

The Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), the 501(c)(4) wing of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), appeared on a list of groups who participated in organizing the “March to Save America” event, and issued robocalls promoting the event, according to reporting from Documented.

The Edison Electric Institute provided $50,000 to RLDF between 2014 and 2016, according to its tax filings, which are current through 2019. RLDF has worked with Republican state attorneys general to fight EPA clean air and water rules.

EEI is funded primarily by dues from utilities, who generally recover the vast majority of dues from ratepayers’ bills.

In its statement to EPI, EEI spokesperson Brian Reil said that “We have made contributions to both the Republican and the Democratic Attorneys General Associations as part of our work with policymakers on both sides of the political aisle to advance policies that recognize the vital role of the energy grid and the importance of maintaining reliable, affordable, secure, and clean energy. We last contributed to RAGA’s Rule of Law Defense Fund more than 4 years ago, in September 2016, before Donald Trump was elected President.

“EEI made a decision in 2016 to stop funding RLDF and, in light of current events, we have hit pause on all of our other political contributions.”

Funds from at least one individual utility also made their way to RLDF via a dark-money, 501(c)(4) group of its own. 

AEP, which sells electricity to customers in 11 states, has been the exclusive funder of a dark-money group called Empowering Ohio’s Economy. As a 501(c)(4) group, Empowering Ohio’s Economy was not required to disclose AEP as its donor, and AEP never volunteered that information until it became evident via a federal criminal investigation that revealed the group’s role in a corruption scandal in Ohio.

Tax forms revealed that Empowering Ohio’s Economy contributed $50,000 to RLDF in 2018 and $100,000 in 2019

Steve Marshall, the Attorney General of Alabama, is chairman of RLDF. He received $110,000 from Alabama Power’s PAC since 2017, according to Alabama Secretary of State campaign finance records. Marshall has said that he “was unaware of unauthorized decisions made by RLDF staff with regard to this week’s rally,” and was directing an internal review of the matter.

Utilities have separately given over $3.7 million to RAGA since it registered as a Section 527 political organization in January 2014. NextEra and its subsidiary Florida Power & Light are the largest utility donors to RAGA. RAGA Executive Director Adam Piper has resigned in the wake of the attack.

Total contributions by utilities to the Republican Attorneys General Association

Utilities have funded campaigns of state legislators who sowed election conspiracies

While not included in the totals that EPI assessed, utilities also contribute to the campaigns of state legislators, including to some who have peddled lies about the election’s integrity. 

Pinnacle West Capital, the parent company of Arizona Public Service, has contributed $6,000 to Rep. Mark Finchem, who has repeatedly peddled conspiracy theories and supported militant right-wing groups since taking office in 2015. Pinnacle West’s PAC wrote Finchem a $500 check as recently as September of 2020, as it had done in June and January.

Finchem promoted and attended the rally-turned-deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, and has since publicly expressed no regret about his actions, instead blaming Antifa for the violence at the Capitol, a theory which the FBI has debunked. Finchem won his election by a narrow margin in 2020.

Utility dark money has gone to election fabulists

Other utility money that goes to politicians who have peddled lies about the integrity of the 2020 election is harder to track, due to the untraceable money that utilities are able to contribute to 501(c)(4) groups without disclosure as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case. 

Nonetheless, EPI has exposed some examples of utility dark money campaigns, leading to utility money landing in the coffers of state legislators who have peddled disinformation about the integrity of the 2020 election.

The Michigan utility Consumers Energy has spent at least $43 million via its dark-money effort, Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy (CEME), since 2014. In 2020, CEME promoted at least five candidates in competitive primaries, all of whom went on to win their primary and general elections. 

One of them, newly-elected Michigan state representative Andrew Fink, said in a November 5 Facebook post that “I join all my Republican colleagues in concern and outrage over the lack of transparency and irregularities in counting and recording votes across Michigan. We’re lucky this whole mess is being investigated by the Trump campaign and our state party, and the outstanding election attorneys they’ve retained.”

A number of Ohio state representatives signed a letter on Dec. 10 to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost asking him to join the Texas Attorney General’s lawsuit aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 election. 

Many of those state representatives had benefited from spending by the Growth & Opportunity PAC, a super PAC which was funded by Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) dark money group that’s been indicted on federal corruption charges, which in turn had been funded almost entirely by the utility FirstEnergy.

Methodology

The Energy and Policy Institute used the Center for Responsive Politics’ database to collect data showing political contributions from 63 of the nation’s largest investor-owned utilities and trade associations over the 2016, 2018, and 2020 election cycles. We used EEI’s membership list as a guide, so the companies all have electric operations, though many also own gas utilities. We then filtered data for contributions to the members of Congress who voted against the certification of the 2020 presidential election on the basis of lies and disinformation about the integrity of the election.

Image: CSPAN video from January 6, 2021. Joint Session of Congress Certifies Joe Biden as next U.S. President.

Posted by David Pomerantz

David Pomerantz is the Executive Director of the Energy and Policy Institute.

3 Comments

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