Louisiana should follow the example of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia by prohibiting the campaign contributions that utility companies give the elected officials who regulate their industries, the Alliance for Affordable Energy argued in a report on ethics to be released Tuesday.
“What we found is that this is not a public process. It’s an inappropriate influence,” said Casey DeMoss, the chief executive officer of the New Orleans-based consumer group.
The amount of dollars given by utility companies provides considerable influence over the elected Public Service Commission members, who decide how much the monopoly utility companies can charge customers for electricity and natural gas.
Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia specifically prohibit contributions by utility companies and their employees.
But in Louisiana, the regulated utility company officials and their PACs gave $195,100 to sitting commissioners between 2009 and May 2015, plus another $89,800 in post-election campaign contributions between 2009 and 2012, according to the report.
“Utilities before the Public Service Commission regularly avail themselves of a loophole in campaign limit laws by engaging in ‘bundling,’ grouping many separate donations by company employees and family members into one pile of checks,” the report says.
Additionally, the utility companies hire legions of lobbyists to push their cases to Louisiana legislators. Entergy hired 14 lobbyists, including former Jindal administration officials and former legislators, paying them up to $1 million, according to the report. Cleco has nine lobbyists making up to $441,994.
In 2013, utility companies received $219,700,900 in state tax credits.
“Electric and gas utilities have a high-stakes interest in the outcome of policy and regulatory decisions and therefore, spend a troublesome amount of resources attempting to gain the policy outcomes that best suit their shareholders,” the report stated.
The five elected PSC commissioners were not available for comment on the holiday weekend.
The report noted that members of the public often “experience a bewildering neglect during public testimony.” Legislators and PSC commissioners spend a lot of time looking at their smartphones, wandering around, leaving the room, talking to others while members of the public give their testimony.