Utilities have been using dark money to undermine canditates supporting climate change action and support candidates who support the utilities. This is legal under the disastrous 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310, which allows unlimited spending on political campaigns and using the shield of 501(c)(4) “social welfare organizations” which do not have to reveal donors, thus shielding them from their identities being revealed and the attendant blowback from shareholders and customers.
One of the concerns of the use of these so called “social welfare organizations” is that they can be used to shield criminal activities as is not alleged in an Ohio case where the recently deposed House speaker is accused of running a racketeering ring. The case is a rare instance where federal prosecutors have brought criminal charges against people associated with dark money expenditures, according to campaign finance experts. The question now is whether they will charge the utility that financed it.
In the Ohio case, a dark money group allegedly controlled by Larry Householder, the former Republican speaker of the Ohio House, ran ads supporting a bailout of two nuclear plants. The prosecutors accuse Householder and four associates of running a racketeering ring and accepting almost $60 million from a utility to enrich themselves and expand their political power. In return, Householder finalized legislation that provided $1.3 billion in subsidies to a pair of struggling nuclear plants and also bailed out a pair of coal plants and repealed the state’s clean energy standard.
The charges do not name the energy company (it is called Company A in court documents) said to have contributed nearly $60 million toward Householder’s group, but there is little doubt that it is FirstEnergy Corp., which owned the only two nuclear plants in Ohio until recently. A lobbyist for its former subsidiary was one of the four people arrested along with Householder. And its CEO, Chuck Jones, has admitted that the utility contributed around $15 million to Householder’s dark money group called Generation Now while denying that the company did anything wrong.
The article notes that it’s unclear whether the company crossed any legal lines in its support of Householder. FirstEnergy could face a campaign finance violation if thegovernment proved it used Generation Now to circumvent caps on contributions to individual candidates. Federal investigators allege say Householder channeled contributions from Company A to Generation Now that went toward paying staff and political advertisements to support his own reelection bid.
Investigators say $97,000 in contributions from Company A were used to pay for political advertisements supporting Householder. Ohio law caps contributions to individual House candidates or political action committees at $13,292.
Read the full report here:
E&E News: How utilities use secret campaigns against climate action