An Alabama utility regulator is funding his re-election campaign with a loan from his private farm, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal subsidies, despite the regulator’s frequent criticism of “the overreach of the federal government” in his election campaigns.
Alabama Public Service Commissioner Chris “Chip” Beeker Jr. owns the Beeker Catfish & Cattle Farm. The farm loaned $100,000 to Beeker’s campaign on May 10, 2022, according to campaign finance records from the Alabama Secretary of State.
Beeker Catfish & Cattle Farm received a $45,600 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan in April 2020, and the government had forgiven $46,078 (including accrued interest) as of April 27, 2021, according to ProPublica’s PPP tracker.
Beeker has been a frequent critic of the federal government, including former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. He has made fighting the federal government a core part of his campaigns since at least 2014.
Beeker did not respond to questions from the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) about the subsidies.
Another entity from which Beeker derives income, Alabama Catfish Feedmill LLC, had $224,797 forgiven through the PPP, as of November 5, 2020. The company does not list Beeker as an owner, but Beeker’s 2021 statement of economic interest filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission disclosed $10,000 to $49,999 of income from the company.
Other contributions to Beeker from coal interests, manufacturers with ties to Alabama Power
Beeker’s campaign has received only four non-PAC contributions since the beginning of 2019, including his farm’s $100,000 loan to the campaign. The non-PAC contributions included $10,000 from JJ Kane, an automotive auctioneer whose website listed it as a seller of used cars, trucks, utility and construction equipment from Alabama Power’s fleet; $5,000 from Alabama Coal Cooperative, which provides coal to Alabama Power’s EC Gaston plant; and $2,500 from George Clark, the President of Manufacture Alabama. Manufacture Alabama has been supportive of Alabama Power’s positions at the Alabama Public Service Commission and the utility has been a funder of Manufacture Alabama, including as a “diamond sponsor” of the group’s annual meeting last year (the highest available level).
Beeker is currently running for reelection and will face Republican challengers Robin Litaker and Robert McCollum in the May 24, 2022, primary. No Democrats have qualified for the race.
Phone records: Beeker rarely uses office phone, government cell phone
Phone records from the year 2020, obtained by EPI via a public records request, showed that Beeker rarely used his office phone and his state-issued cell phone. Beeker made just one nine-minute phone call from his office that year, on August 24. The COVID-19 pandemic limited office use for many government agencies for much of 2020, but according to the records, Beeker’s government cell phone also averaged just under nine minutes of use per month and also averaged less than one text message sent per month.
Beeker did not respond to questions from EPI about how he communicated with key stakeholders and his constituents other than by means of his voice calls on his office phone or government cell phone, or text messages on that cell phone.
Each Commissioner makes a salary of $103,490 per year.
Beeker’s solar lease proposal rejected by Alabama Ethics Commission
Beeker asked for an opinion from the Alabama Ethics Commission regarding a potential solar lease on his farm, despite his stated preference for coal and gas. The Ethics Commission voted 3-2 in September 2016 to stop Beeker from entering into an agreement with a solar company that would have paid him $225,500 per year and $5.6 million over 25 years. The solar company was hoping to sell power to Alabama Power, an entity regulated by the Public Service Commission. Beeker’s lawyer at the time said he was disappointed in the ruling.
Shortly after Beeker’s election in 2014, his son, Chris Beeker III, took a job with Steele and Associates, a utility staffing company which lists Southern Company as a client, as first reported by Eddie Curran, a critic of Beeker and Alabama Power’s influence over the PSC. Chris Beeker III was appointed in November 2017 to be the Alabama Rural Development Director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Trump Administration.
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