Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Utility campaign contributions

The House conducted a rare Committee of the Whole Tuesday that included hours of testimony about Illinois’ electricity rates. Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois customers have experienced increases ranging from 24 percent to as high as 300 percent (anecdotally) since a decade-long freeze was lifted on electric rates in January. A lot of downstate legislators have gotten earfuls from constituents, particularly those who use only electrical power. The electric-only customers of Ameren Illinois have been hit the hardest, leading Democrats and Republicans to raise a storm of opposition to the current rate-setting process.

Those lawmakers want immediate action, but the committee didn’t take a vote on any proposed solutions (the most recent being Rep. George Scully’s House Bill 1750 that would reinstate the rate freeze and refund customers with interest). The governor wasn’t present, and the Senate wasn’t involved. There’s no telling how long a compromise to relieve electricity rates could take, if it could happen at all this session. Senate President Emil Jones Jr. has said he opposes reinstating a rate freeze.

The debate has become particularly political because the major utilities have a huge stake in the outcome, and they’ve been putting their money where their mouth is by donating to political campaigns in recent elections.

The Campaign for Political Reform says Commonwealth Edison is a “career patron” of Senate President Emil Jones, Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson and House Republican Leader Tom Cross. Records from the group’s Sunshine Database show ComEd gave $2,429,000 from January 1, 1993, through June 30, 2006, to candidates for Illinois statewide candidates and legislative candidates. Of that, 53 percent was contributed to Republicans.

Cross also received $22,000 from Ameren Illinois’ political action committee in 2005 and 2006. House Speaker Michael Madigan received $50,000 total from Ameren Illinois between 2003 and 2006. He also received $15,000 from the interest group for Dynegy, the utility that purchased Illinois Power before it merged with Ameren Illinois the election cycle before that.

You can find more campaign donations at the Campaign for Political Reform’s Sunshine Database.

For more context on the electricity challenge faced by state officials, see our December blogs and our feature about the Illinois Commerce Commission.

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