Transparency Prevails in Case Targeting Political Pay-to-Play

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a victory for transparency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) stated Thursday that PJM’s Finance Committee meetings should be open to the public.

The ruling stemmed from a complaint by Public Citizen against PJM, a private corporation that operates one of the largest power markets in the U.S. Public Citizen’s 2018 complaint noted that decisions about spending ratepayer money were made by PJM’s Finance Committee, which has barred Public Citizen and all other members of the general public from attending.

In paragraph 12 of today’s order, FERC agreed with Public Citizen that the secretive financing meetings should be open to members of the public who become nonvoting PJM members: “Public Citizen could join PJM as a non-voting member and thus be able to represent its interests by attending PJM Finance Committee meetings.”

“We view this as a clear FERC acknowledgment that PJM’s closed Finance Committee meetings should be open to active participation by Public Citizen and other public interest groups,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “We intend to vigorously participate in such meetings to ensure the public’s money is being wisely spent.”

Although this part of FERC’s order promotes consumer interests and transparency, the order denied Public Citizen’s rehearing request in Public Citizen vs. PJM. PJM has an annual administrative budget of $300 million paid through the monthly electric utility bills of 65 million Americans living in 13 states. In 2018, Public Citizen filed a complaint alleging that PJM’s payments to the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations were unlawful uses of ratepayer money for political contributions.

In rejecting Public Citizen’s complaint, FERC emphasized that PJM did not make the contributions “in order to finance electoral campaigns,” but instead to obtain “access” to meetings of the organization that allow it to engage on “policy matters” with state governors and their staffs. FERC therefore sanctioned such “pay-to-play” practices as acceptable, even if ratepayer money is used.

“While FERC today rejected our call to end such payments and refund ratepayers, Public Citizen did lodge a partial victory for transparency,” Slocum said.