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Power Play: Political influence of Florida’s top energy corporations

0 Comments 31 March 2014

Nonpartisan government watchdog group Integrity Florida released a research report titled “Power Play: Political influence of Florida’s top energy corporations” on March 31, 2014.
Click here to read the press release.
The findings conclude that, increasingly, the Florida Legislature sets its agenda and policy outcomes based on the needs of large political donors rather than the public interest.  In one recent example, the sitting state senate president openly explained his position on a public policy issue as supporting whatever one major campaign donor tells him to support.  A large Budweiser distributor contributed nearly $300,000 to political candidates and committees aligned with Senate President Don Gaetz and had the edge on its smaller craft beer industry competitors.

A similar pattern exists for the energy sector in Florida where the Florida Legislature maintains a traditional, regulated monopoly-utility model.  This report examines the political influence of the state’s four largest electric utility companies: Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy (formerly Progress Energy), TECO Energy and Gulf Power.

These four corporations registered, on average, one lobbyist for every two state legislators each legislative session between 2007 and 2013.  For the last five election cycles, these electric utilities were among the largest donors to state-level campaigns in Florida.

In the same period of time, the policy wins for the four electric utilities included rate increases for customers, legislation that allows early cost recovery for nuclear facilities that have not been built, the defeat of a proposal that would have increased electric bill transparency and the removal of consumer-friendly state regulators who opposed two proposed rate hikes.

Summary of Research Findings  

  1. Major campaign donations.  Electric utilities contributed more than $18 million to state-level candidates and party organizations between the 2004 and 2012 election cycles.
  2. Significant lobbying.  Lobbying spending by Florida’s four largest electric utilities was more than $12 million between 2007 and 2013.
  3. Revolving door and cronyism.  Electric utilities have made a point of hiring former state regulators and have employed the firms of several sitting state legislators.
  4. Higher electric bills for consumers.  Floridians have faced higher electric utility bills from each of the four corporations examined in this study in recent years.
  5. Anti-consumer regulations.  The Florida Legislature and the Florida Public Service Commission routinely side with electric utilities rather than consumers.

Summary of Policy Reform Recommendations  

  1. Apply uniform ethics rules for legislators and local officials.  If local officials are banned from legislative lobbying, then apply the same rules to legislators lobbying local officials.
  2. Put inspector general reports online.  Inspector general investigative reports and audits should be posted online by the Florida Public Service Commission and all state and local agencies.
  3. Put gift and client disclosures made by all state and local officials online.
  4. Require additional disclosure for political donations from government vendors and companies regulated by the Public Service Commission.
  5. Establish electric bill transparency.  Unbundle bills with detailed disclosure of rate components.
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