By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
The push to influence Michigan’s energy overhaul likely soared beyond $4 million in 2015.
The total includes an estimated $2.5 million in broadcast TV advertising by a single group, $823,444 in lobbying expenses and $667,245 in donations to campaigns tied to state officeholders.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and state lawmakers set out in 2015 to redesign state laws that regulate energy standards and competition among energy companies. While no proposals made it through the Legislature last year, the effort to influence the ultimate outcome was unrelenting.
The heaviest spending was done by the nonprofit group Citizens for Michigan’s Energy Future. The group, which isn't required to disclose donors but is suspected to be funded by energy utilities, spent an estimated $2.5 million on broadcast TV ads that aired in 2015.
That $2.5-million number comes from a combination of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filings and estimates provided by TV stations to MCFN.
One of the ads, entitled “Urgent,” said, “Our Legislature must fix our looming energy shortage and pass a plan that puts Michigan first.” Another encouraged the public to urge their lawmakers to support a plan from two Republican lawmakers.
In the Detroit market alone, Citizens for Michigan’s Energy Future spent about $796,000, according to one estimate provided to MCFN.
However, the $2.5-million figure doesn’t include spending on mailers that were sent out by the group or spending at TV outlets that don’t report to the FCC. And even some who typically report to the FCC didn’t report the group’s ads. Multiple advertising representatives told MCFN that the group’s ads weren’t focused on an issue of national importance so they didn’t have to be filed with the FCC.
On top of the TV advertisements, MCFN has been tracking the lobbying disclosures and campaign finance reports of seven energy interest groups. Combined, the seven groups reported $823,444 in lobbying in 2015. The most active were the state’s dominant electric utilities: DTE Energy and Consumers Energy.
DTE reported $361,242 in lobbying in 2015, an $111,225 increase over 2014. DTE’s 2015 total was its largest annual total posted on the Secretary of State’s website, which goes back to 2003. In the last six months alone, DTE reported buying meals for Senate Energy Chair Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), House Energy Chair Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
Consumers Energy reported $311,117 in lobbying in 2015, its largest total since 2008 and its second largest total since 2003. Consumers’ most recent filing, included a September reception for lawmakers and staff that cost $2,500.
The Entergy Corp, an energy production company, reported $90,000 in lobbying in Michigan in 2015. That’s a $30,000 increase overs its 2014 spending. Likewise, ITC Holdings Corp., which is focused on the electric grid, also reported increased lobbying activity. ITC reported $51,369 in lobbying in 2015, up from $45,918 in 2014.
Nextera Energy, which describes itself as a clean energy company, registered as a lobbyist in Michigan in April 2015. Then, it reported $9,717 in expenses over the rest of the year.
On top of lobbying, the seven energy interest groups that MCFN tracked gave $667,245 in campaign contributions to state officeholders and in other donations to accounts tied directly to state lawmakers between November 2014 and the end of 2015.
MCFN looked at contributions from the group’s main PACs or the groups themselves to state officeholders’ campaign committees, the four legislative caucus committees, officeholders’ administrative accounts and the governor’s nonprofit organization, which discloses its donors.
DTE made $307,170 in contributions. CMS Energy, the parent company of Consumers Energy, made $240,400 in contributions. The Action Committee for Rural Electrification made $22,725 in contributions. NextEra made $28,000 in contributions. American Electric Power made $17,250 in contributions. ITC Holdings made $47,000 in contributions. And Entergy made $5,000 in contributions.
The seven groups’ disclosed contributions touched 37 of the 38 state senators and 100 of the 107 state House members. The largest individual recipients in the state were the following: Gov. Rick Snyder, whose nonprofit and administrative account received $50,000 from Consumers; House Energy Chair Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), who received $25,900; and House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant), who received $21,000. But, overall, the House Republican Campaign Committee received the most from the groups at $58,250.
In 2012, Consumers and DTE spent a combined total of $24 million to defeat a ballot proposal to increase Michigan’s renewable portfolio standard for electricity.