One year after nearly half of Duke’s shareholders voted in favor of the company disclosing its political contributions, the company has made little progress to address the shareholder concerns. According to the Center for Political Accountability, from 2013 to 2014 the company made small changes to its political spending policies, like adding board oversight, but it has still fallen far short of the full disclosure that shareholders want.
Given Duke’s track record, shareholders are right to be concerned about the company’s political contributions. In fact, it’s hard to overstate Duke’s role in making North Carolina politics feel like the Wild West. In a recent report, the Institute for Southern Studies (ISS) rated the utility giant as the No. 1 corporate power-broker in the state of North Carolina. ISS ranked Duke fifth in state election spending for dropping $944,250 into state elections in 2012 and 2014, and it rated Duke second in lobbying clout. Taken together ISS writes that Duke is, “a clear leader in its ability to both elect and pressure state lawmakers.”
ISS also details how Duke’s spending impacts states beyond North Carolina. Since 2011, Duke has contributed $3.4 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which uses its war chest to help Republican gubernatorial candidates all over the country, and of course in states where Duke does business. The RGA spent $2.8 million to re-elect South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Ohio Governor John Kasich. The RGA also contributed $9 million to the independent political committee Let’s Get To Work, which in turn spent $10.8 million to re-elect Florida Governor Rick Scott. And of course, this is just the money we know about. There’s nothing that requires Duke to disclosure corporate funds that it contributes groups that act as conduits for corporate dark money, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which spends millions on state and federal elections every cycle).
What does Duke’s political spending and influence peddling mean for North Carolinians? While we can’t draw a direct line from A to B, it’s possible that Duke’s status as North Carolina’s No. 1 power broker contributes to lax regulatory enforcement and enables it to block progress toward renewable energy, since it helps elect the governors responsible for appointing heads of state-based regulators. Duke’s environmental record in North Carolina has catastrophe written all over it.
You can get the details here, but in a nutshell, the company has spilled millions of gallons of toxic coal ash into North Carolina waterways. And then, to add insult to injury, Duke may have used its clout in the North Carolina statehouse to lessen clean-up requirements at its 14 coal ash facilities around the state, and to negotiate sweetheart settlements that provide little incentive for the company to clean up its act.
Duke has also had a hand blocking progress on access to renewable energy in North Carolina. According to Greenpeace, the company plans to attack a policy called net metering that would require utility companies to offer credit to customers who send extra electricity back to the grid via home solar panels. Attacks on home solar panels are old-hat for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which coordinates similar attacks around the country. Duke Energy is, of course, a member.
When Duke’s shareholders vote on political spending disclosure tomorrow, hopefully the ramifications will be on their minds. If any company could use a dose of accountability, it’s Duke Energy.
Kelly Ngo is the online advocacy organizer with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.