As the primary season approaches, records show incumbent to the Public Service Commission (PSC) Tricia Pridemore, who was appointed to fill an unexpired term in February, received significant financial support from people and companies associated with entities regulated by the PSC.
A review of campaign finance records filed through March showed associates of Georgia Power, Southern Company and law firm Troutman Sanders pouring financial support to Pridemore’s campaign.
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Pridemore’s campaign has received $222,225 from contributors, $40,000 of it from individuals associated with Southern Company, attorneys with Troutman Sanders and Georgia Power. The $40,000 was donated before Pridemore was appointed to the commission by Governor Nathan Deal in February following the resignation of former chairman Stan Wise.
The donations may not pose legal problems for the candidate, said Sara Henderson, the Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia, an organization that looks at the processes of democracy in the state, but they are an indication of the state’s weak campaign finance laws coupled with a lack of legislative support in improving the laws governing campaign money.
According to Daniel Tait with the Energy and Policy Institute, a fossil fuel and utilities watchdog group, the contributions reveal a larger systemic issue with the state’s campaign finance laws.
State finance laws allow general corporate contributions, but restrict certain regulated entities from making contributions to candidates.
Pridemore declined to comment on the contributions, instead offering a general perspective of what her campaign aims to achieve for Georgians.
“I am running to continue my service on the Public Service Commission to ensure reliable, affordable energy is provided to individuals and businesses throughout the state for years to come,” she said via email.
Her opponent for the district 5 Republican primary, John Hitchins however questioned her ability to remain independent on matters affecting the utilities she has received donations from.
“I believe there needs to be a separation between the people on the PSC and the folks they are regulating,” he said during a recent primary debate organised by the Atlanta Press Club. Hitchins has only raised $5,389.43 to his campaign.
In total, all the candidates running for the PSC have raised $1.12 million, according to reports filed on the campaign finance commission’s website.
Commissioners at the PSC provide regulatory oversight over utilities in the state, deciding rates, ensuring the state has long-range energy plans and the safety of natural gas pipelines and underground utility systems
The PSC primaries will feature three races.
In District 5, Democrats Dawn Randolph and Doug Stoner will face each other in the primary and the winner will run against the winner of the race between incumbent Pridemore or John Hitchins.
Democrat Lindy Miller who is in a three-way primary in District 3 is the leading recipient of campaign contributions, totalling $424,830.26. A proponent of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, Miller said it takes work to raise the visibility of the PSC among voters, let along raise campaign money.
Miller will be facing John Noel and Johnny White in the primaries. Noel, a small business owner in the energy sector has raised $262,362.10. He says Vogtle needs to be stopped and the money re-invested in other forms of energy like solar.
“The economics don’t make any sense and the only reason its continued is because the PSC commissioners are too scared to cross the utilities,”said Noel.
The other candidate, Johnny White, has not raised any cash for his campaign.
The winner of the primary will face incumbent Chuck Eaton who is running unopposed on the Republican ticket during the general election in November.
If the winner in the race does not get over 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be called.
Eaton who has served at the commission since 2006 has received no contributions to his campaign this election period, according to campaign contribution records. A January 2017 filing shows he received $155,445.08.
to his campaign, which included $14,100 from attorneys with Troutman Sanders and $6,000 from people associated with Southern Company.
According to Eaton, raising money for a race that receives little attention from the public is difficult.
“Bottom-line is it’s just who ends up being interested in the PSC,” said Eaton.
Noel however views the flow of cash as a warning about how candidates may vote in future commission decisions.
“Campaign contributions tell a great story,” said Noel adding that the donations reflect the candidates’ relationships and values.
MORE ON CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS
Primaries are scheduled for May 22 with the general elections scheduled for November 6.
Georgia is among 30 jurisdictions countrywide that allow corporate contributions. However, certain regulated entities or non-resident companies may be restricted from making contributions.
According to the Campaign contribution law, individuals, parties, PACS, Corporations and unions are allowed to contribute $6,600 for the primary and general election and $3,900 for a primary of general runoff, for a total of $17,100.
11 states nationwide impose no limits on individual contributions.
Campaign cash raised by PSC candidates
Lindy Miller -$424,830.26
Tricia Pridemore -$222,225
John Noel -$262,362.10
Doug Stoner -$50,675
Dawn Randolph -$6,044.53
John Hitchins -$5,389.43
Johnny White - no contributions
Chuck Eaton - no contributions for this election year, $155,445.08 in the January 2017 report
Update: Contribution amounts updated