Utilities Wage Stealth War To Kill Restructuring
Multiple electric utilities have waged a clandestine campaign
over the past 3 years to funnel about $17 million through two
Washington, D.C. front groups in an effort to stall electric
restructuring legislation in the House Commerce Committee's Energy
and Power subcommittee, the Washington Post reported last week.
Secret memos given to the Post by deregulation advocates, reveal
a utility-funded, "grass roots" lobbying effort to attack key
congressmen on their home turf through radio ads directing
listeners to call "1-800-BAD-BILL" and through phone banks
connecting angry residents to congressional offices.
The effort was started in 1995 by the law firm of Ryan,
Phillips, Utrecht & MacKinnon, which enlisted several existing
utility clients and soon thereafter brought in nine others. The
utilities paid between $300,000 and $700,000 a year to fund the
effort, the Post reported. The main corporate sponsors included
Carolina Power & Light, Florida Power & Light, Texas
Utilities, Commonwealth Edison, Reliant Energy, First Energy,
Consumers Energy, Teco and Union Electric.
Two front groups, the conservative Citizens for State Power and
the union-affiliated Electric Utility Shareholders Alliance, were
used for a lobbying effort dubbed "The Project," which was created
to bottle up electric restructuring in the subcommittee. The
Project was run by law firm partner Jeffery MacKinnon, a former top
aide to Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House subcommittee,
and Tim Ridley, a former Democratic staff member in Congress who
now runs a firm specializing in "grass roots" lobbying campaigns.
The Project included more than 50 "mobilizations" in congressional
The utilities' stealth campaign is one reason electric
restructuring has been stalled although one partial deregulation
bill made it to the full committee level last fall, the Post noted.
Commerce Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr., a Virginia Republican, is a
staunch industry critic who is determined to move a bill. The Post
quoted memos describing meetings in Washington where utility
lobbyists and consultants shaped strategies for stopping Bliley.
"The number one goal of 'The Project' has always been to bottleneck
legislation," said one memo. The participants also spoke of the
need to "demonize" the federal agency that regulates utilities and
to use debates about nuclear power as "a highly provocative wedge
issue" to destabilize legislative adversaries, according to the
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