Testimony in Support of LD 325, An Act To Require Transparency in Transmission and Distribution Utility Advertising Expenditures (Note: bill name was changed)
Senator Lawrence, Representative Zeigler, and members of the Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, my name is Rebecca Schultz. I am a Senior Advocate for Climate and Clean Energy at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM has been working for more than 60 years to protect, restore, and conserve Maine’s environment, on behalf of our 25,000 members and supporters. I am testifying today in support of LD 325, An Act To Require Transparency in Transmission and Distribution Utility Advertising Expenditures, with suggested modifications to strengthen the proposed bill.
Maine’s 2021 ballot measure (Question 1) on Central Maine Power’s (CMP) transmission corridor broke all records for political spending. According to the Maine Ethics Commission, CMP and its affiliated companies spent more than $54 million through two Ballot Measure Committees (Clean Energy Matters and Mainers for Fair Laws) in an effort to defeat the referendum. Hydro-Quebec spent more than $22 million on its campaign to defeat Question 1.
Mainers have various views about the CMP corridor, even though 60 percent of voters cast their ballots in support of the measure. Debate is a sign of a healthy democracy. But I hope we can agree on the principle that companies given a monopoly franchise with guaranteed returns in exchange for providing an essential service to Maine people should not be spending that kind of money to influence the outcome of our elections.
I’m even more confident we can agree that political influence campaigns should not be charged to Maine ratepayers through electric bills they have no choice but to pay.
Maine’s current rules governing the political and advertising activities of our public utilities were last updated substantively in 1987. That was a long time ago. That was well before the 2010 Citizen United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that super-charged corporate spending in politics, and well before the proliferation of Political Action Committees (PACs) and “dark money” vehicles that have made campaign finance so hard to trace. It was also years before the various acquisitions and reorganizations that brought Maine’s largest electric utilities under complex structures of multinational corporate ownership. These rules are long overdue for an update.
LD 325 takes an important step forward in amending the disclosure requirements related to advertising. However, the requirements should apply to all public utilities in Maine, not just to transmission and distribution (T&D) companies. Furthermore, the Committee should take this opportunity to consider additional ways to strengthen the law. The following are three no-nonsense revisions we urge the Committee to adopt:
- The rules barring Maine’s public utilities from charging political activities to ratepayers should be expanded to include charitable and unapproved education spending.
- The prohibition should be broadened to apply to parent companies and all affiliated interests who may be acting on behalf of a public utility.
- The disclosure requirements should be expanded to include charitable and educational spending and spending by all affiliated interests, and detailed annual reports should be readily accessible to the public.
These revisions are in line with recommendations made by the Energy and Policy Institute, a non-partisan research organization tracking the political activities of public utilities across the United States.
In closing, there is a lot of money being spent by our utilities to influence their political environment, and much of it is very hard to track. Our current rules are woefully out of date and fail to protect consumers. Ahead of what is poised to be another year of record spending to affect the outcome of dueling referendum campaigns on the 2023 ballot, Maine people will surely welcome these prudent measures to help shine a light on the influence of political spending by our public utilities. I urge the Committee to vote ought to pass with these suggested changes.
Thank you for your consideration of this testimony.
 Prior to 2021, the most money spent in Maine on a ballot measure campaign was $9.4 million in 2017 in a failed effort to get voters to approve a casino in York County, see Ballotpedia available at https://ballotpedia.org/Maine_Question_1,_Casino_or_Slot_Machines_in_York_County_Initiative_(2017).
 CMP was acquired by Spanish utility Iberdrola in 2007 and reorganized under new U.S. parent Avangrid in 2016. Emera was acquired by ENMAX, changed to Versant Power, in 2020.
 Title 35-A §302, Limitations on rates, available at https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/35-A/title35-Asec302.html.
 Title 35-A §707, Affiliated interests, available at https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/35-A/title35-Asec707.html.
 Title 35-A §302-A, Rules governing political activities, promotional advertising and institutional advertising, available at https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/35-A/title35-Asec302-A.html.
 Energy and Policy Institute, January 2023, Getting Politics Out of Utility Bills, report available at https://energyandpolicy.org/guide-to-protect-ratepayers-from-utility-scandals/.