A report by government watchdog Integrity Florida examines how the state's four largest utility companies are able to yield considerable political power.
The findings conclude that the Florida Legislature sets its agenda and policy outcomes based on the needs of large political donors rather than the public interest. In the last five elections, the report says Florida utility companies were among the largest donors to state-level campaigns.
The utilities say the report has no credibility because it was funded by a grant from the "anti-utility" group Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
We sat down with Integrity Florida executive director Dan Krassner, who co-authored “Power Play: Political influence of Florida’s top energy corporations.”
Q: Let’s talk about the influence of the utilities. You say they have one lobbyist for every two lawmakers.
A: That’s right. The lobbying and political influence we found in our research report is really outsized. It’s one of the most influential industries in the state Capitol.
Q: The most surprising findings from the report may be the makeup of the PSC – the Public Service Commission, which is the utility regulator. Tell us about the connection between the PSC and the utilities.
A: In Florida, we have this Public Service Commission. But it’s - at the moment – not serving the public very well because you have the state Legislature doing the hiring process, the screening process. The one time in the last few years when a couple members of the Public Service Commission, appointed by former Gov. Crist, decided to go against a rate increase for the state’s electric utilities, they were removed.
Q: The utilities say your report has no credibility because it was funded by a grant from Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. These companies say this is an "anti-utility" group. Do you understand why someone might be skeptical when they see who funded the report?
A: The public deserves the truth. There are facts in our report. We haven’t heard about the electric utilities complaining about any inaccuracies. What groups typically do is attack the messenger, but you can go on our website – see all of our donors, see our board. It’s all transparent, it’s all disclosed in the report. That’s the kind of transparency we’re proud of.
Q: The report lists five recommendations to keep utilities from having so much power in the Legislature. Could you hit on the main reforms that you think are necessary?
A: Right now, there’s an ethics bill that the Legislature has just passed through the Senate. It’s going through the House next, and one example in there of where lawmakers have a different set of rules is they want to ban local elected officials from working for private clients to lobby the Legislature. But they don’t want to apply that rule on themselves.
You have a lawmaker from the Miami area, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who lobbied local governments in South Florida for Florida Power and Light. The ethics bill wouldn’t prohibit a lawmaker from doing that, but it would prohibit a local Miami official from coming to Tallahassee for a private client. So we’re urging our lawmakers be consistent, be fair, have a uniform set of ethics standards.