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Lawmaker seeks study of utilities' political spending

Lawmaker seeks study of utilities' political spending

May 11th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Missouri News

State Sen. Doug Libla wants the Missouri Public Service Commission to investigate the influence of Missouri's regulated utilities' political contributions.

Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, hand-delivered a three-page letter Thursday to PSC Chairman Daniel Hall, asking the commission to "require production and public disclosure of electric utility political spending information, and asking the PSC to open a case to investigate utility political spending."

Warren Wood, Ameren Missouri's vice president of External Affairs and Communications, told the News Tribune the company's contributions already are publicly disclosed with the Missouri Ethics Commission (mec.mo.gov), and "all political contributions Ameren Missouri makes come from shareholder money, not customers."

Libla's letter to the PSC noted the commission's analysis of two bills currently being considered by the Legislature — Senate Bill 564 and House Bill 2265 — shows they "would increase electric rates by hundreds of millions of dollars (and) would weaken the Commission's statutory authority over electric rates."

He reminded the PSC the bills also would "diminish the Commission's legal power to ensure that consumers obtain the full benefit of rate reductions from the (federal) Tax Reform Act of 2017."

Libla began his 15-minute news conference in the Senate Lounge with a reminder: "the Missouri Public Service Commission was established in 1913 to ensure that Missourians receive safe and reliable utility services at just, reasonable and affordable rates from monopoly utility companies."

But, Libla added, in his six years in the state Senate, "There has been a tremendous effort by utility companies to, legislatively, change and to circumvent the oversight of the PSC regarding their operations."

Libla's request covers only Missouri's regulated utility companies, not the rural electric cooperatives.

Three main companies fit that description — St. Louis-based Ameren, which has more than a million customers in eastern and central Missouri, including Jefferson City; Kansas City-based KCP&L; and Joplin-based Empire District Electric.

Libla's letter asks the PSC to look at a number of different kinds of expenditures, including political campaign contributions, those related to government actions, meals and entertainment, charities, organization memberships, and payments for lobbyists and public affairs.

He also asked the PSC to require the utility companies "to produce information, documentation and records regarding all expenditures" that are reported to federal regulators.

Libla's letter said even a limited review of that information "shows that electric utility 'below the line' spending (is) high enough to have a material impact on shareholder profits and customer rates."

Wood said Ameren does not contribute to "Super PACs" (political action committees), and it did contribute $50,000 "to the nonprofit set up to run the 2017 gubernatorial inauguration."

He added: "We contribute to the inauguration almost every four years."

Wood also said: "The Center for Political Accountability, a national watchdog on political contributions, ranks our company in the top 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies for the thoroughness of our political contribution reporting."

PSC spokesman Kevin Kelly said the commission had received Libla's letter, and had no comment about it.