Group says FirstEnergy wants return on political investments

For immediate release
December 8, 2003

Shari Weir, Cleveland Program Director, Ohio Citizen Action (216) 861-5200
Catherine Turcer, Legislative Director, Ohio Citizen Action (614) 263-4111

COLUMBUS -- Ohio Citizen Action today released a new study of FirstEnergy political contributions, saying, "by asking for a quick OK to at least $3 billion in extra electric costs, FirstEnergy is looking to collect a dividend from lavish political investments over the years."

Spokeswoman Shari Weir said, "At the national, state and local levels, FirstEnergy is a political heavyweight, aggressively flexing its sizable political muscle built through years of campaign contributions."

The study showed contributions from FirstEnergy Political Action Committees and employees totaled $113,955 from 1997-1998 to Ohio statewide and legislative candidates and Ohio statewide political party committees.

From 1999-2000, FirstEnergy interests contributed a total of $289,291. During 2001-2002, FirstEnergy PACs and employees contributed $315,040. In 2002, FirstEnergy gave $50,000 to the same PAC, now called Ohioans Against Unsafe Drug Laws. FirstEnergy also contributed $25,000 directly to Governor Bob Taft’s issue PAC in 2000 and in 2003 they gave $200,000 to Taft’s Ohioans for the Third Frontier PAC.

On July 14, 2001 FirstEnergy spent $5,000 on a Legislative Day in Put-in-Bay. FirstEnergy also expended $11,000 on a legislative day at Put-in-Bay on August 14,2003. FirstEnergy lobbyists are not required to identify who attended this event because they invited all the members of the Ohio General Assembly. If every member of the legislature attended, FirstEnergy would have spent approximately $82 per legislator.

On the federal level, FirstEnergy PACs and employees contributed over $2.1 million during the 1998, 2000 and 2002 election cycles.

In a statement, Weir said: "The contributions are, in effect, an 'investment' that delivers regular and often huge rewards for the company."

  • In 1999, when the state considered a bill to let customers choose their electric supplier, FirstEnergy threatened legal action if it was not allowed to collect for past expenses. Those costs included management mistakes and $7 Billion in nuclear plant construction cost overruns;
  • The legislature, in S.B. 3, approved the framework for recovery of those costs. The Public Utilities Commission, appointed by the governor, approved FirstEnergy’s application for nearly $9 billion despite evidence that the requested amount was inflated by several billion dollars.
  • Governor Taft has not withdrawn his support for FirstEnergy’s evacuation plan for the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, even though that plan may be based on unduly optimistic assumptions about the likelihood and consequences of nuclear accidents and ignores the dangers that would result from a rupture in a corroded reactor lid or a terrorist attack.
FirstEnergy is now counting on its campaign 'investment' to pay another multi-billion dollar dividend. On October 21, the company asked the Utilities Commission to quickly approve a plan to maintain current rates through 2008. That move would force residential customers to continue to pay about $30 a month for past mistakes -- a cost S.B. 3 said had to end December 31, 2005. The loophole: FirstEnergy changed the name of the charge from 'generation transition' charge to 'rate stabilization' charge.

On November 25, the Public Utilities Commmission of Ohio extended the case for two months, but it is still a rush-job, skipping the normal 275-day Commission review in rate cases, and shielding the plan from careful scrutiny. The Commission could and should order a typical, thorough rate case review. The legislature and Governor Taft could and should lean on the Commission to do so, since to date, the Commission is paving the way for the plan to speed through.

Ohio Citizen Action is the largest environmental organization in the state, with 100,000 dues-paying members.
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