The Empowerment Alliance

The Empowerment Alliance is a 501(c)(4) dark-money group aligned with the gas industry. The group was launched in September 2019 to promote the gas industry and oppose clean energy policies like the Green New Deal. Matthew Hammond, who was TEA’s executive director in 2022, previously worked as president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and a lobbyist for Chesapeake Energy.

In 2021, The Empowerment Alliance (TEA) established the Affordable Energy Fund PAC that then spent over $1 million dollars on election mailers and digital ads supporting Republican candidates in Ohio ahead of the 2022 general election. Documents made public by The Intercept revealed TEA and its president Brooke Bodney, a longtime political fundraiser from Ohio, raised money for the RHR PAC that supported Republican candidate Herschel Walker in Georgia’s U.S. Senate run-off election in 2022.

The Empowerment Alliance’s Year in Review 2021 report said the Affordable Energy Fund PAC “would run parallel to the education and advocacy efforts of TEA.” The report identified key 2022 and 2024 election swing states as TEA targets, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin. 

TEA supports increasing exports of methane gas, also known as natural gas, the driving factor in the rising costs of gas used for home heating and generating electricity in the U.S. TEA, which has spent thousands of dollars on Facebook ads since its launch in 2019, regularly attacks renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

TEA’s first annual report to the IRS, which covered the year 2019, identified Bodney as the group’s president, and Kentucky attorney Eric Lycan as its treasurer.

Lycan is a Republican operative and lawyer based in Kentucky who has been involved in a long list of Super PACs and dark money 501(c)(4) organizations. In 2019, Lycan was also the treasurer of a separate 501(c)(4) called Generation Now Inc., which pleaded guilty to racketeering in 2021. Generation Now secretly received approximately $60 million in bribes paid by FirstEnergy to influence the now-indicted former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and secure lucrative ratepayer-funded bailouts for FirstEnergy through the enactment of House Bill 6. Generation Now’s president Jeff Longstreth also pleaded guilty to racketeering in 2020. 

Generation Now’s only publicly available annual report to the IRS, which covered the year 2017, listed Bodney as a fundraiser for the organization. Generation Now’s federal tax-exempt status was automatically revoked earlier this year for not filing a Form 990 for three consecutive years. 

Lycan and Bodney have not been named or charged in the federal criminal investigation into House Bill 6.

TEA’s annual report to the IRS for 2020 identified Brad Elgin, an Ohio-based accountant who has worked for other dark money organizations, as the group’s bookkeeper. Two other individuals, Thomas Hubert and Christopher Brady, were listed along with Bodney as TEA directors for that year. Lycan’s name was not listed in the 2020 report. Much of the money spent by TEA and its affiliated Super PACs has been paid to Majority Strategies, a political consulting firm that employed Hammond while he was TEA’s executive director in 2022.

A project of longtime gas industry executives Karen BuchWald Wright and Tom Rastin

The right-leaning National Review Institute described TEA as a “new project” of Karen Buchwald Wright and her spouse Tom Rastin in 2021. At the time, Buchwald Wright was the CEO and chairman of Ariel Corp., a leading manufacturer of compressors used by the methane gas industry worldwide. Rastin was an executive vice president for the company.

Emails obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute later confirmed Rastin’s personal involvement in TEA’s communications with state lawmakers in Ohio, as first reported by the Washington Post.

American Gas Association documents identified Entergy as a supporter of The Empowerment Alliance

Documents from a 2020 meeting of the American Gas Association’s Executive Committee identified Entergy as an AGA member involved in The Empowerment Alliance. Entergy is an electric and gas utility that operates in parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. A map included in the documents identified Texas, one the states where Entergy operates, as one of TEA’s target states.

Entergy was also a client of the lobbying firm HDMK until the end of 2018, according to federal lobbying reports. Terry Holt, a partner at HDMK, was the spokesperson for TEA when the group launched in 2019. The Empowerment Alliance did not appear in Entergy’s corporate political contributions reports for 2019-2021, which are publicly posted online and include contributions to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups. 

One Ohio United: A dark money pass-through for money to The Empowerment Alliance

Between 2019 and 2020, over $3.4 million in funding for TEA was routed through One Ohio United, another anonymously-funded 501(c)(4) organization. The TEA funding was reported on One Ohio United annual tax reports to the IRS. 

In 2023, federal prosecutors revealed that they plan to introduce One Ohio United’s 2018 report to the IRS as evidence at the trial of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, who is charged with participating in a racketeering conspiracy that involved $60 million in bribes paid by FirstEnergy. 

One Ohio United has received funding from electric and gas utilities in the past. Duke Energy and American Electric Power each paid One Ohio United at least $1 million in 2011.  Those earlier contributions were publicly reported by Duke Energy in an annual report filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and by AEP in a report on the company’s lobbying.

“Natural gas is green” resolutions and legislation

In 2022, TEA met with county commissioners in multiple counties in Ohio, some of whom then adopted “Natural gas is green” resolutions based on a draft provided by TEA. The resolutions urged Congress to support a similarly themed resolution announced by U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson of Ohio that summer at an event with gas industry groups.

A press release from Balderson’s office included statements of support from Mark Jordan, president of Knox Energy, and representatives of the Consumer Energy Alliance, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, and Utica Energy Alliance. Balderson’s resolution also received support from the The Ohio Gas Association, Marcellus Shale Coalition, and Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia, according to the press release. 

Members of those groups include major oil and gas producers like ExxonMobil and gas utilities like Dominion Energy and Duke Energy that operate in Ohio and other states.  

Ohio State Senator George Lang also emailed Rastin and two other state lawmakers to say that he would be bringing back model legislation defining methane gas as green energy from a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, as reported by the Washington Post. TEA later supported state legislation defining methane gas as green energy in Ohio that was signed into law by Governor Mike DeWine. After the Ohio bill became law, TEA called on Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia to “follow suit, encouraging their local and state lawmakers to enact similar legislation.”

The Empowerment Alliance attacks wind and solar projects

TEA’s “How to Run On Energy” election guide includes a “Guide to Understanding the Impacts of Wind and Solar Projects” that is clearly aimed at stoking opposition to renewable energy projects. The election guide also includes numerous bullet points with anti-renewables messages, some citing special interest groups like the Heartland Institute that have received funding from the fossil fuel industry and long opposed wind power in Ohio.

The Empowerment Alliance’s Ad Spending

Utilities continue to stall and limit climate action by funding front groups to spread climate misinformation and false solutions to solve the crisis through advertising on social media networks.

Using data from the Meta Ad Library API and existing code from Brown University, EPI created a tool to expose the amount utility front groups are spending on advertisements about social issues, elections, or politics across Meta technologies, along with the specific regions the advertisements target.

Posted by Energy and Policy Institute