How utilities use secret campaigns against climate action

Federal investigators have accused Ohio’s recently deposed House speaker of running a racketeering ring. The question now is whether they will charge the utility that financed it. The case has significant implications for how corporations seek to shape public opinion on climate and energy policy. Electric utilities have joined the rush to employ dark money groups since 2010, when the Supreme Court eased restrictions on corporate spending in elections. There’s been a rash of freewheeling influence ever since. An Arizona utility admitted last year it contributed to dark money groups that attacked pro-solar candidates running for the Arizona Corporation Commission, the state board overseeing power companies. In Michigan, utility officials acknowledged pumping millions of dollars into a dark money group that savaged a state lawmaker who favored breaking up a corporate monopoly on electricity generation. Those actions were within the limits of legality under Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court case that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. Then the Ohio scandal arrived. The case is a rare instance where federal prosecutors have brought criminal charges against people associated with dark money expenditures, according to campaign finance experts. “We only have a decade of the velociraptors testing the fence,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor at Stetson University and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. Many of the legal questions surrounding the use of dark money groups have yet to be litigated, she said.

ENERGY TRANSITIONS: How utilities use secret campaigns against climate action — Friday, August 14, 2020 —

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