Update (Feb. 1): The Public Citizen’s request to BEGA is now available (PDF). The D.C. Public Service Commission may meet behind closed doors this week to make a decision on the fate of the merger.
Jan. 29, 2016
Did D.C. Power Broker and Exelon Withhold Lobbying Information?
Exelon Claim That It Did Not Lobby on Merger Is Implausible; Public Citizen Calls for Review
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen is challenging Exelon’s claim that it did not lobby the D.C. government at a critical time when the mega-utility was attempting to resuscitate its failed bid to take over Pepco.
On Friday, Public Citizen asked the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) to conduct a review of Exelon’s lobby activities during the most critical period of the Exelon-Pepco merger battle – from July, just months before the D.C. Public Service Commission rejected the corporation’s proposed takeover of Pepco, through the end of December. This includes the period during which Exelon and Bowser’s administration negotiated and announced a settlement that paved the way for the merger.
In required lobby disclosure reports covering the period between July 2015 and January 2016, Exelon and its registered lobbyists, including Earle “Chico” Horton, former chair of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s political action committee, claimed no lobby activity.
Exelon reported only one expenditure for that time period, totaling $2,750, which it identifies as “other expenditures” for lobbying, even though its lobbyists reported receiving almost no payments from Exelon and reported no lobbying expenditures. In the same disclosure period the previous year, Exelon lobbyists reported 21 meetings with Councilmember offices and the mayor’s office, and were paid a total of $5,018 – a sizable sum for D.C. lobbyists.
“It is highly improbable that Exelon suspended its lobbying activity at a time when it desperately needed the blessing of the mayor’s office to revive the merger,” said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “It is equally unlikely that one of the mayor’s closest supporters retained by Exelon had no communication with the mayor’s office on merger related matters. You don’t bench your offensive line when you are trying to score.”
In late September, the chair of Bowser’s political action committee, Earle “Chico” Horton, registered as a lobbyist for Exelon. The filing came just days before the mayor reached a controversial settlement with the Chicago-based mega-utility. However, in lobbying activity disclosures filed this month, Horton claimed that he did no lobbying on the merger and received no compensation from Exelon.
In statements made earlier this month to both the Washington City Paper and WAMU, Horton explained the discrepancy by claiming that he was retained to represent Exelon as a strategic adviser and that he registered as a lobbyist only in an “abundance of caution” in the event that he was called on to lobby.
“The term ‘strategic consulting’ has increasingly become a euphemism for conducting lobbying activities by another name in an effort to avoid the threshold for registering as a lobbyist,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “Many private lobbyists want to avoid publicly disclosing their lobbying activity and thus claim to be conducting only strategic consulting.”
The Public Service Commission is on the brink of deciding the fate of the merger.
“The public has a right to know whether Exelon and those it hired to peddle their influence withheld information about its activities from District decision-makers,” Fisher said.
Public Citizen’s request to BEGA will be available by the end of the day.