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

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Southern Company

Southern Company is a utility company that serves 4.68 million electric customers and 4.248 million gas customers across Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Illinois.

Basic Facts:

  1. EPI estimate of Southern’s total charitable giving in most recent 5 years (2013-2017): $209,214,246.45 (1)
  2. Names of Foundations:
    • Alabama Power Foundation
    • Georgia Power Foundation
    • Mississippi Power Foundation
    • Southern Company Gas Foundation
    • Southern Company Foundation
  3. Southern Company-Affiliated Foundation Giving (2013-2017): $140,150,574.93
    • 2017: $26,828,283.18
    • 2016: $31,623,572.48
    • 2015: $33,814,025.27
    • 2014: $26,559,737.00
    • 2013: $21,324,957.00 
  4. Corporate Charitable Giving (2013-2017)
    • Sum of total corporate giving in most recent 5 years according to Corporate Social Responsibility reports: $69,063,671.52
      • 2017: $51,687,244.00. (2)
      • 2016: $17,376,427.52. (3)
      • 2015: Did not report
      • 2014: Did not report
      • 2013: Did not report
    • Sum of total charitable giving in most recent 5 years according to FERC Form 1 and Form 60 filings (including all subsidiaries): $133,992,895.00
      • 2017: $32,059,222
      • 2016: $17,548,034
      • 2015: $26,866,136
      • 2014: $32,177,867
      • 2013: $25,341,636
  5. Southern Company-Affiliated Foundation Leadership:
    • Alabama Power Foundation: Myla Calhoun, Vice President of Charitable Giving, Alabama Power
    • Georgia Power Foundation: Michael K Anderson, Senior Vice President, Georgia Power
    • Mississippi Power Foundation: Rodger Meinzinger, Manager Community Affairs, Mississippi Power
    • Southern Company Gas Foundation: Elizabeth W Reese, Executive Vice President of Southern Company Services Shared Services
    • Southern Company Foundation: Michael K Anderson, Senior Vice President, Georgia Power
  6. Southern Company-Affiliated Foundation Boards of Directors:
    • Alabama Power Foundation:
      • Myla Calhoun, President, Alabama Power Foundation
      • Celia Shorts, Assistant Secretary, Alabama Power
      • Kimberly Jackson, Assistant Corporate Secretary, Alabama Power
      • Christopher Blake, Assistant Treasurer, Alabama Power
      • Richard King (separated), Director of Charitable Giving, Alabama Power
      • Zeke Smith, Executive Vice President of External Affairs, Alabama Power
      • Anita Alicorn-Walker, Vice President and Comptroller, Alabama Power
      • Gregory Barker, Executive Vice President, Customer Services, Alabama Power
      • Alexia Borden, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Alabama Power
      • Matt Bowden (deceased), ex-Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Alabama Power
      • Susan Comensky, Vice President, Environmental Affairs, Alabama Power
      • Stephanie Cooper, Vice President of Public Relations, Alabama Power
      • Mark Crews, Vice President Western Division, Alabama Power
      • Mark Crosswhite, Chairman, President and CEO, Alabama Power
      • John Hudson III, Executive Vice President, Chief External and Public Affairs Officer, Southern Company Gas
      • Gordon Martin, Senior Vice President of Corporate and Administrative Services, Alabama Power
      • Jeff Peoples, Senior Vice President Employee Services and Labor Relations, Alabama Power
      • Jonathan Porter, Senior Vice President, Customer Operations, Alabama Power
      • Phillip Raymond, Executive Vice President, CFO and Treasurer, Alabama Power
    • Georgia Power Foundation:
      • Rita Breen, Customer Satisfaction Manager, Georgia Power
      • Roger Steffens, Director of Trust Finance, Southern Company
      • Valerie Searcy, Associate Executive Director, Georgia Power
      • Brad Gates, Director of Private Markets, Southern Company
      • W. Craig Barrs, Executive Vice President, Operations, Georgia Power
      • Pedro Cherry, Executive Vice President, Customer Service and Operations, Georgia Power
    • Mississippi Power Foundation:
      • Nicole Faulk, Vice President of Customer Service and Operations, Mississippi Power
      • Sherry Wescovich, Community Affairs Specialist, Mississippi Power
      • John Atherton, Vice President of Public Relations (ret.), Mississippi Power
      • Rodger Meinzinger, Manager, Community Affairs, Mississippi Power
      • Moses Feagin, Vice President, Treasurer, and Chief Financial Officer, Mississippi Power
      • Vicki Pierce, Corporate Secretary and Assistant Treasurer, Mississippi Power
      • Billy Thornton, Vice President of External Affairs and Shared Services, Mississippi Power
    • Southern Company Foundation:
      • Michael K Anderson, Senior Vice President, Georgia Power Foundation & Charitable Giving, Georgia Power
      • Christopher C Womack, Executive Vice President and President, External Affairs, Southern Company
      • Mark S Lantrip, President & Chief Executive Officer, Southern Company Services
      • Arthur M Beattie, ex-Chief Financial Officer, Southern Company
    • Southern Company Gas Foundation:
      • Elizabeth W. Reese, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Southern Company Gas
      • Myra C. Bierria, Vice President, Corporate Secretary, and Securities Counsel, Southern Company Gas

Examples of Southern Company using charitable giving to manipulate policy:

In 2015, the Alliance for Jobs and the Economy (AJE) and Oliver Robinson, through the Oliver Robinson Foundation, waged a public disinformation campaign to convince residents of Tarrant and Inglenook, Alabama not to have their soil tested by the EPA for toxins related to a Drummond Coal Company facility. Robinson is a former Alabama representative who was convicted of felony bribery charges over the affair.

AJE, a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization, was funded by Alabama Power, among others, according to federal court documents. Alabama Power’s Matt Bowden, now deceased, was invoiced $30,000 for the utility’s 2015 AJE membership dues. Alabama Power, Drummond Coal Company, and other polluters fought the EPA’s soil testing fearing the results would lead to corporate liability for contamination.

Balch and Bingham partner Joel Gilbert was later convicted on six federal charges including conspiracy, bribery, three counts of honest services wire fraud, and money laundering. Balch and Bingham is the lead law firm for Alabama Power. Current Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite previously spent 17 years working for Balch and Bingham, eventually becoming a partner.

Southern Company has used its various charitable arms to endow professors at universities throughout its service territory, such as a “Georgia Power Professor of Environmental Remediation & Soil Chemistry” at the University of Georgia, and the “Mississippi Power Professorship in Electrical and Computer Engineering“ at Mississippi State University. The University of Southern Mississippi offers the “Mississippi Power Endowed Scholarship” to undergraduate students pursuing degrees in the marketing and public relations fields, as opposed to energy or engineering fields. Similar tactics have been used by the Koch Brothers in order to “inculcate the next generation with a philosophy like their own,” according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.

Alabama Power received a “2019 Stars of Energy Efficiency” award from the Alliance to Save Energy. In the company’s news release touting the award, it did not disclose Chris Womack’s position on the board of directors.  Alabama Power ranks as the worst utility in the southeast for energy efficiency performance, according to a report from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.


(1) EPI estimate based on a combination of Southern’s corporate sustainability reports and Form 990s filed with the IRS. In some cases, EPI subtracted IRS Form 990 data from corporate sustainability reports because the CSR reports contained both charitable and corporate giving and in some cases the CSR reports contained only corporate giving.

(2) Southern Company’s 2017 CSR report only cites corporate giving and not charitable giving.

(3) Southern Company charitable giving reported on IRS Form 990s was subtracted from the amount included in its 2016 CSR report to leave corporate giving remaining.

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