We Energies Has Capitol Clout
Its holding company spent $1 million on lobbying and $1 million donating to mostly GOP candidates.
WEC Energy Group has been the leader in political giving since 2010 among about 30 natural gas and electric utilities across the country that make campaign contributions to influence Wisconsin state elections.
Based in Milwaukee, WEC Energy Group is a holding company created in 1981 that provides electricity and natural gas service through several companies to more than 4.5 million customers in four states.
WEC’s companies include Wisconsin Electric Power and Wisconsin Gas (which is known as We Energies), Wisconsin Public Service, We Power, Michigan Gas Utilities, Minnesota Energy Resources, Upper Michigan Energy Resources, and The Peoples Gas Light and Coke Co. and North Shore Gas, which serve Chicago. WEC is also part owner of American Transmission Co., which builds, maintains, and operates high-voltage transmission lines.
That’s 50 percent of the $2.1 million in contributions from all natural gas and electric utilities during the same period.
And like other savvy special interest groups, WEC and its companies’ executives and PACs targeted their campaign contributions to maximize their influence. Republicans, who have controlled the governor’s office and legislature most of the time since 2010, received more than four times more campaign contributions than Democrats, about $858,800 versus about $183,200. The top recipients between January 2010 and July 2018 were:
Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, $364,555
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, about $98,000
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, about $81,120
State Senate Democratic Committee, about $42,200
Former Democratic candidates for governor Tom Barrett, about $40,275
Top contributors from WEC and its companies between January 2010 and July 2018 were:
Gale Klappa, Milwaukee, WEC chairman of the board, $29,900
Allen Leverett, Shorewood, WE Energies former president, $23,300
Christopher LaRowe, Sun Prairie, WEC lobbyist, $19,065
Larry Weyers, De Pere, former chairman of Wisconsin Public Service Corp., $19,010
Kevin Fletcher, of Mequon, WEC Energy chief executive officer, $17,900
WEC, which is regulated by the state Public Service Commission (PSC), did not register to lobby the legislature until 2015. Since then, the company has spent nearly $1 million lobbying mostly on environmental proposals and bills affecting the PSC and utility industry. WEC has been among several powerful special interests behind controversial bills that became law, including measures that:
Provided more than $3 billion in state giveaways for Foxconn to locate a manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin;
Let utilities more easily resolve electric and natural gas rate disputes by allowing utilities to reach rate settlements with groups of homeowners or businesses and then send the settlements on to the PSC for approval;
Loosened state regulations on what individuals and businesses can do on their waterfront property and adjacent waterways and wetlands;
Restricted local government authority involving private land use and development, and prohibited courts from giving deference to the state in cases involving private property disputes;
Repealed Wisconsin’s 33-year-old ban on nuclear power plant construction;
Reduced state regulation of sulfur dioxide pollution caused by coal-burning utilities and some large manufacturers.
Nationally, WE Energies was part of the Utility Air Regulatory Group , an umbrella organization of coal-burning power companies that paid more than $6 million to a lobbying firm that challenged air regulations approved during the administration of President Barack Obama. WE Energies recently left the group, which it paid about $262,600 to in 2017.