Lawmakers from across the Ohio Valley have received nearly half a million dollars in campaign contributions from 2019-2020 from a political action committee associated with FirstEnergy Corp., the electric utility implicated in a $61 million bribery and racketeering scheme related to Ohio’s controversial energy bill that bailed out several struggling nuclear and coal plants.
FirstEnergy’s PAC donated $484,490 to elected officials in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The elected officials came from both parties and encompassed a vast range of political offices — from the U.S. Senate and House to statehouses and even state auditors offices — according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission documents compiled by HEATED, a climate-focused newsletter written by journalist Emily Atkin.
Last month’s revelation by federal prosecutors that the Ohio-based company funneled millions of dollars of dark money into a group, Generation Now, controlled by former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and his political allies, pulled back the curtain on the out sized political influence wielded by the utility, which is one of the largest in the country.
For example, recent reporting by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, found a highly-connected attorney with deep ties in Kentucky Republican politics is linked to the Ohio case. Former Kentucky Republican Party General Counsel Eric Lycan is listed as the treasurer of Generation Now. Lycan is connected to several PACs and tax-exempt organizations in Kentucky and West Virginia.
While the investigation is ongoing and continues to unearth connections between the utility, coal company Murray Energy and lawmakers, contributions made by FirstEnergy’s PAC during the 2019-2020 campaign cycle offer a window into the company’s priorities.
Six U.S. Senators from West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania received campaign contributions from FirstEnergy’s PAC totaling $24,500.
West Virginia’s three U.S. House representatives — Republicans David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — each received $7,500 in campaign donations this election cycle. In addition, 21 Republican House candidates and six Democrats from Ohio and Pennsylvania also received campaign contributions.
Every member of Ohio and West Virginia’s U.S. Congressional delegation took political contributions.
Dozens of lawmakers in West Virginia also received donations from the utility’s federal PAC, including 45 members of the statehouse, Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia Chief Justice Tim Armstead, Secretary of State Mac Warner and State Auditor J.B. McCuskey.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was the sole governor to have received money from the utility’s PAC. Justice, a Republican, received $2,800, records show. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, also a Republican, received $4,800. The Morrisey 2020 PAC received $2,800.
Some regional energy policy watchers argue the exposure of this dark money scandal should serve as a wake up call for lawmakers in states where FirstEnergy does business, including West Virginia. The company operates two coal-fired power plants in West Virginia — the Fort Martin Power Station and Harrison Power Station.
Its former subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, which emerged from bankruptcy restructuring as Energy Harbor in February, is the largest beneficiary of H.B. 6. The company operates two nuclear plants in Ohio, one in Pennsylvania, and two coal plants — the W.H. Sammis plant in Stratton, Ohio and the Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia.
Last summer, the West Virginia Legislature gave the Pleasants Power Station a $12.5 million tax break during a hasty special session.
The Ohio Valley ReSource reached out to many of the politicians who received campaign contributions from FirstEnergy’s PAC asking if the officeholder was concerned about undue influence from the utility and if they had or would consider returning the money
Only Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign explicitly said the lawmaker had taken steps to distance himself from the donation. Brown’s team said the senator donated FirstEnergy’s contributions to local Ohio charities including food banks and YWCAs.