Executives at some of the largest utilities in the country, including Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning, Dominion Executive Chair Tom Farrell, and AEP CEO Nick Akins, contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of ex-Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue between the November 4, 2020 general election and the January 5, 2021 Georgia runoff election. 

Utility and fossil fuel company PACs and company executives contributed at least $334,752 to the Georgia Battleground Fund, Georgians for Kelly Loeffler, and Perdue for Senate campaign committees in the time between the November general election and December 16. 

The executive contributions, along with the tens of thousands of dollars that utilities’ political action committees contributed to Loeffler and Perdue, came despite some Wall Street analysts forecasting that utilities would fare well from Democratic control of the Senate due to the increased prospect of policy support for renewable energy, energy storage, transmission, and electric transportation.  

“Fundamentally, U.S. utilities seem uniquely positioned to benefit from Biden’s green infrastructure plan, which would support higher infrastructure spending, renewables in particular,” wrote Andrew Weisel, an analyst at Scotiabank, in an outlook report released on January 7. 

President-Elect Joe Biden promised as part of his campaign to invest $2 trillion in clean energy research and to put the country on a path to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2035, which would require a substantial redirection of investment away from fossil fuels and into clean sources of energy. While some of the Biden campaign’s climate proposals can be accomplished through executive orders, other policies will depend on Democratic control of the Senate and House of Representatives. An analysis by EPI found that most of the largest investor-owned utilities have adopted carbon reduction goals that are not on track to achieve Biden’s goal, jeopardizing economy-wide decarbonization plans.

The utility contributions poured in after the general election  and weeks after Perdue’s mispronunciation and mocking of now-Vice President Kamala Harris’ name. Loeffler’s campaign was beleaguered by photos of her posing with Chester Doles, a neo-Nazi who attended the 2017 white spremacist rally in Charlottesville after serving time in prison for assaulting a Black man in the 1990s. Loeffler posed in photos with other white supremecists, such as Jack Prosobiec, QAnon supporters, such as the now Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, and far-right militia groups, such as the Georgia III% Martyrs, according to an article from the Huffington Post. 

Loeffler and Perdue both sowed doubt about the validity of the November election results. Loeffler planned to object to the results of the election all the way up until the morning of January 6, though she ultimately voted to certify the election results after the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob who believed falsely that President Trump won the election. Perdue, in a December 2020 interview with Fox News, defended Trump’s attacks on Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and said, “There are implied inaccuracies in the count down here […] and we know there are potentially some improprieties there […].”

The Energy and Policy Institute analyzed contributions reported by Loeffler’s and Perdue’s campaign committees as well as the Georgia Battleground Fund, which is a joint fundraising account formed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to benefit both Loeffler and Perdue. 

The data in the Federal Election Commission database is current through December 16, which means any checks received or fundraisers that generated contributions from other utility PACs and executives between December 17, 2020 and January 5, 2021 is not included in this analysis.

Southern Company executives lead the charge

Southern Company executives led all utilities and fossil fuel companies in contributions supporting Loeffler and Purdue, with $59,900. $12,500 came from CEO Tom Fanning, and $20,500 came from Georgia Power executives. Of the Georgia Power executives, $15,000 came from CEO Paul Bowers, who is retiring later in 2021, and $4,000 from John D’Andrea. D’Andrea listed his occupation as an “electrician” on his contribution, when he is, in fact, a Senior Vice President of External Affairs, according to his LinkedIn profile. Other utility executives, including Dominion’s Farrell, have similarly appeared to obscure their contributions by mis-entering data on their contributions.

Southern Company executive Tom Bishop, a Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer, contributed $2,600 to the Georgia Battleground Fund while Southern Executive Vice President and President of External Affairs Bryan Anderson contributed $5,600. Southern Company Services Executive Vice President of Operations Stan Connally contributed $7,500, and Southern Company Gas CEO Kim Greene contributed $10,000.

Dominion Executive Chair Tom Farrell contributed $25,000 to the Georgia Battleground Fund. 

AEP CEO Nick Akins contributed $3,600 and two other AEP Vice Presidents, Charles Patton and Tony Kavanaugh, each donated $1,000. 

Utility PACs, including AEP, Alliant, Dominion, DTE, Duke, MDU Resources, NextEra, Pinnacle West (APS), and Vistra, contributed at least $60,500. PACs from other fossil fuels companies and trade associations added another $169,400 and included contributions from Alliance Coal, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, Norfolk Southern, Occidental Petroleum, Peabody, and the Western Energy Alliance, among others.

Utilities oppose environmental regulations

AEP, Duke, and Southern, which are among the most polluting utilities in the country, contributed the most to the runoff re-election efforts for Loeffler and Perdue. Perhaps more appealing to management than the upside of renewables and storage investment, is the long history utilities have opposing environmental regulations. Since 2010, Southern has spent more than $135 million on lobbying at the federal level, the most of any utility in the country. Southern has actively lobbied or litigated against the Clean Power Plan, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Cross State Air Pollution Rule, Coal Combustion Residual rules, and the Paris Climate Accord, among others. 

AEP has been caught up in an Ohio racketeering scandal. EPI exposed that the utility contributed more than $500,000 to a dark money group, Generation Now, which worked to secure a legislative bailout for failing coal and nuclear plants, including coal plants in which AEP holds equity. Duke has long fought efforts to regulate its toxic coal ash.

Data Note

The data used in this article is from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). EPI searched contributions made between November 4, 2020, the date of the general election, through the last-date data available in the FEC system, which was December 16, 2020, as of the time of publication.

Header image source: YouTube

Posted by Daniel Tait

Daniel Tait is a Research and Communication Manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.

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