By Elizabeth Ouzts
An analysis from a campaign finance expert shows a surge in political spending by Duke Energy’s PAC, board members, and the company itself, with some Democrats fearing retribution for opposing its bill.
As Duke Energy promotes contentious energy legislation in North Carolina, a new analysis shows the Charlotte-based company and its associates have been pouring money into state politics like never before — spending at least $1.2 million on an intricate web of campaign contributions over the last 18 months.
The spate of donations from board members, Duke’s employee political action committee, and the company itself follows its push in 2019 for lopsided multi-year ratemaking legislation — a measure critics said would have fleeced ratepayers and that ultimately fell to bipartisan opposition in the House of Representatives.
The company’s outlays since its defeat show a clear pattern of rewarding those who backed it that year and punishing those who didn’t. The bulk of its beneficiaries have been Republicans who control both chambers of the General Assembly.
Now that Duke is pushing a second attempt at multi-year ratemaking — one component of sweeping legislation that detractors say weakens utility oversight, harms ratepayers, and slows the clean energy transition — rumors are rampant that the company is setting the stage for another electoral push to help Republicans next year.
‘Impossible to trace’
The traceable contributions are only the tip of the iceberg, said Bob Hall, a MacArthur fellow and veteran campaign finance expert who pored over a wide range of reporting forms to produce the new research.
“It is impossible to trace all the ways Duke spends to influence policy and election outcomes,” he said. “They can use a different bucket at different times.”
Campaign finance law allows Duke to contribute unlimited “dark money” to political groups not required to disclose their donors, and many Democrats believe the company used such outlets to pour millions of dollars into last year’s election to help Republicans maintain their majority.