Strings Attached: How utilities use charitable giving to influence politics and increase investor profits

Download full report


Ameren is a utility company that serves 2.4 million electric customers and more than 900,000 natural gas customers across Illinois and Missouri. 

Basic Facts:

  1. EPI estimate of Ameren’s total charitable giving in most recent 5 years (2013-2017): $35,276,349. (1)
  2. Name of Foundation: Ameren Charitable Trust
  3. Ameren Charitable Trust Giving (2013-2017): $19,914,915. (2)
    • 2017: $3,796,600
    • 2016: $3,283,205
    • 2015: $3,993,474
    • 2014: $3,964,812
    • 2013: $4,876,824
  4. Corporate Charitable Giving (2013-2017)
    • Sum of total corporate charitable giving according to annual Corporate Social Responsibility reports: $39,832,000. (3)
      • 2017: $8,500,000
      • 2016: $7,300,000
      • 2015: $8,000,000
      • 2014: $7,553,000
      • 2013: $8,479,000
    • Sum of total charitable giving according to FERC Form 1 and Form 60 filings: $35,276,349. (4)
      • 2017: $6,262,826
      • 2016: $8,635,304
      • 2015: $8,168,026
      • 2014: $7,235,123
      • 2013: $4,975,070
  5. Ameren Charitable Trust Executive Director:
    • Sarah Kramer. Also serves as Ameren’s Director of Corporate Contributions & Community Initiatives.
  6. Ameren Charitable Trust Board of Directors:
    • Warner Baxter, Ameren Chairman, President, and CEO is listed as a co-trustee. Also listed as a co-trustee along with Bank of America.

Examples of Ameren using charitable giving to manipulate policy:

Senate Bill 564 – 2018

For years the utility industry has lobbied the Missouri legislature to pass sweeping changes to the regulatory process that determines electricity rates. In 2018, Ameren, the state’s largest utility was finally able to celebrate when SB 564 was signed into law. The bill allowed utilities to recover more through rates as long as the company doesn’t hit self-imposed caps established in the bill.

“They’ve been pretty transparent with the reason they’re doing it,” Andy Smith, a utility analyst with Edward Jones, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the time the legislature was debating the legislation. Jones explained that Ameren wanted to change the regulatory environment in the state and make it “more favorable” like Illinois and under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. For instance, legislation passed in Illinois in 2011 allowed Ameren’s Illinois subsidiary to spend and earn profit from billions of dollars on grid investments.

Ameren said the new Missouri bill will allow it to invest and earn profits from $1 billion in new infrastructure in the next few years. 

During an earnings call, Warner Baxter, Ameren Chairman, President and CEO, said the law “will support our ability to invest an incremental $1 billion in infrastructure through 2023 that will drive significant long-term benefits to customers and create good-paying jobs as well as earn fair returns on those investments.”

Republican State Senator Doug Libla, who co-led a 25-hour filibuster of the legislation, said that the bill is a handout to the industry. 

“This bill adopts ratemaking mechanisms that greatly benefit utilities with even higher profits and all classes of customers will experience much higher electric rates,” Sen. Libla wrote in a January 2018 op-ed.

After the legislation passed, Ameren lobbyist Rick Eastman gave a presentation to the Southern States Energy Board which revealed that the utility credits the passage of the legislation in 2018 in part to the stakeholders it got to support the legislation through a coalition called PowerForward.

Archived pages on the PowerFoward website show that the coalition wasn’t that diverse when Ameren began pushing for the legislation. 

In 2016, a list of entities in PowerFoward included various electric and construction companies, along with several cities and the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce. The PowerForward coalition also included a 501(c)(4) advocacy group called Missourians For A Balanced Energy Future. 

The coalition featured more organizations the following year. The new supporters were groups like local IBEW chapters, along with the Edison Electric Institute, which is the trade association for investor-owned utilities. A front group utilities occasionally use to portray a ‘consumer’ voice called the Consumer Energy Alliance was also a member of PowerFoward.

Photo: Ameren Corporation’s 2017 contribution to the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. Source: Ameren News Release

But in 2018 the PowerForward coalition presented itself as more racially diverse, with greater support from community groups. 

It now included advocates for communities of color and charities like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis, Rainbow Village, Pianos for People, St. Louis Art Works, St. Louis County NAACP, United Way of Greater St. Louis, and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. Several of these charities had been recipients of contributions from the Ameren Charitable Trust since 2013.

Table 1: Ameren Corporation and Ameren Charitable Trust contributions to members of the PowerForward coalition (2013-2018)
Heat-Up St. Louis – $450,000
Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future – $64,835*
Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry + Missouri Chamber Foundation – $40,224* + $20,000
Rainbow Village – Ameren’s Matthew Thayer is a board member
St. Louis Regional Chamber – $75,300*
Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis – $700,000
United Way of Greater St. Louis – $8,174,144
*Amount of money disclosed by Ameren Corporation as the “lobbying portion”

Ameren filed a $6.3 billion five-year grid modernization plan in February 2019.

Weakening Energy Efficiency Rules in Illinois

In December 2016, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Future Energy Jobs Act, with support from utilities, environmentalists, renewable energy advocates, and politicians from both sides of the aisle. The legislation preserved net metering, created a community solar program, fixed the state’s renewable energy standard, subsidized two Exelon nuclear power plants, and required both large utilities in the state – ComEd and Ameren – to significantly expand their energy efficiency programs. 

Months after the legislation became state law, Ameren told the Illinois Commerce Commission, the state’s utility regulatory agency, that it could not realistically or cost-effectively meet the new efficiency targets for 2018. 

Environmentalists and the state’s consumer advocacy organization, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), filed testimony to prevent Ameren’s plan from being adopted by the ICC. Ameren fought back. 

“Chicago-based bureaucrats like CUB and the Clean Jobs Coalition don’t have knowledge of or interest in downstate Illinois,” Ameren spokesperson Marcelyn Love told Midwest Energy News. “In fact, they have likely never been to the southern region of the state. We know the needs of our customers best. We have designed programs to meet the needs of people living in central and southern Illinois, not Chicago.” 

NRDC energy efficiency expert Noah Garcia said at the time that Ameren’s request “adjusts the goal posts so if Ameren’s goals are lower it potentially makes it easier for them to receive a financial reward by going above those targets.”

As Ameren and opposing groups exchanged barbs in the press and submitted testimony to support their positions in front of the ICC, Ameren mobilized politicians in its service territory as well as influential civil rights groups to write letters in support of the utility’s plan. 

Midwest Energy News reported that the president and vice president of the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, the president of the Springfield Urban League, and the state president of the Illinois NAACP all voiced support for the company’s proposal.

Photo: Ameren Illinois’ 2017 contribution to the Springfield Urban League. Source: NewsChannel 20 – ABC affiliate.

The Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, Springfield Urban League, and Illinois NAACP had either received money from the Ameren corporation between 2013 and 2018, or have an Ameren-sponsored program in which the funding isn’t disclosed. Additionally, months before the Springfield Urban League’s president wrote a letter to the ICC in support of Ameren’s plan, the utility announced a partnership with the organization and presented a $15,000 grant to the League for an after-school program.

Table 2: Ameren Corporation and Ameren Charitable Trust contributions to supporters of the company’s energy efficiency plan (2013-2018)
Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce – $3,750*
Illinois NAACP – Ameren listed as corporate sponsor on website
Springfield Urban League – $100,000**
*Amount of money disclosed by Ameren as the “lobbying portion”
**Reportedly over the past eight years

The ICC approved the utility’ energy efficiency plan in September 2018.


(1) Estimate based on Ameren’s reporting to federal regulators.

(2) This report analyzed 2013-2017 data. In some instances, utility foundations have released their 2018 IRS Form 990. In 2018, the Ameren Charitable Trust contributed a total of $3,798,715 to organizations.

(3) Ameren’s CSR reports note that it contributed $39,832,000 to charities between 2013 and 2017, but certain years do not specify if the money reflects Ameren Corporation Charitable Trust donations as well as Ameren Illinois and Ameren Missouri. The CSR reports also use approximate dollar amounts.

(4) Ameren Illinois (2013-2017): $17,650,424. Ameren Missouri (2013-2017): $17,014,026. Ameren’s Form 60 (2013-2017): $611,899.

Read the rest of the report and other utility case studies here.