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Friday, August 6, 2010

State Political Corruption and Your Electric Bill

The story of how the system of control by the utilities works in Florida.

By Sid Riley

This story was initially written within one of this writer weekly columns. It generated so much widespread interest that it is now being rewritten in a report format.

If you are one of those citizens who has been amazed, dismayed, and angered by the doubling or tripling of your home or business electric bills over the past three years, then you should read this article. It describes how and why this has been allowed to happen to you. It is, “The rest of the story”.

The ongoing re-staffing of the Florida Public Service Commission and the obvious element of political reprisals involved in the process has been the subject of numerous recent stories in newspapers throughout the State. During the past year, all five of the then existing commissioners resisted a move by Florida Light and Power and Progress Energy to gain a large, $1.2 Billion rate increase. Instead of merely “rubber stamping” the approval for the increase (as has historically been the case), this group of commissioners denied the increase. Now we see that four of the five are being removed from the Commission in a flagrant political reprisal for daring to defend the needs of the public instead of feeding the profits of the giant utilities.

How does the system of selecting and appointing members the Public Service Commission work? (the commission was organized to PROTECT the interest of the consumer) And more importantly, “How do the powerful utilities exert the level of power and influence required to control the process of selection?” These questions generated a period of research into the inner workings of the sysem.

The five members of the PSC are selected by a twelve member nominating council. The nominating council is comprised of six members selected by the President of the Senate, and six members selected by the Speaker of the House. Of the six selected by these officials, three are politicians and three are from the private sector or the bureaucracy. Thus the council is normally comprised of three appointed state senators, three appointed state representatives and six other appointees. They develop a list of “approved candidates” for the Governor to use when selecting a replacement when a vacancy occurs. Thus, the Governor is restricted in his choices. The final choice must then be approved by the Senate.

The current composition of the nominating council is: Senator Michel Bennett (Chairman) of Bradenton, Representative Dave Murzin (Vice Chair) of Pensacola, Bevin Beaudet of W. Palm Beach, Tracy Chapman of Orlando, Mike Hightower of Jacksonville, Senator Arethenia Joyner of Tampa, Representative Mark Pafford of W. Palm Beach, Gerri McPherson of Vero Beach, Senator Steve Oelrich of Gainesville, Representative Stephen Precourt of Orlando, Scott Thomas of Jacksonville, and John Vogt of Tallahassee. Our research of their backgrounds and major campaign supporters led to little linkage to the powerful utilities which mysteriously seems to control their decisions.

In one of the numerous articles about the shenanigans of the Nominating Council and the PSC, a remark made by Senator Nancy Argenziano was quoted after she was ousted from her PSC seat for voting against the powerful utilities. She stated in an interview, “It is really the Associated Industries of Florida which pulls the strings on the Nominating Council.” This triggered research on this organization.

It seems the AIF is perhaps the most powerful and influential lobbying organization in Florida. It’s mission is to foster the interest of the business community in government. The board of directors for the AIF is comprised of Jeb Bush, and a panel of educators, businessmen, artists, and other seemingly non political people. Again, a search for a strong link to the utilities, revealed nothing.

Then it was noticed that there was an allied organization, the Associated Industries of Florida Foundation. “Aha!” “The foundation is probably the controlling element of their funding. Let’s see who is on the Board of Directors of the AIF Foundation”.

The computer screen switched to the listing of the members of the Board of Directors for the Associated Industries of Florida Foundation ……and the first name to appear was the Board Chairman, Mr. Ed Tancer. It listed Mr. Tancer’s credentials as being Senior V.P. and Vice Chairman for Government Affairs for Florida Power and Light!! The connection between the utility and the government officials was discovered!

The system appears to work this way… (1) The Florida Power and Light Board of Directors of which Mr. Tancer is a member decides which politicians are supportive of their desires. (2) Mr. Tancer directs the Board of the AIF Foundation as to which politicians to fund with AIF monies. (3) The funds are used to buy seats on the PSC 12 member Nominating Council. (4) The Nominating Council only nominates candidates which are aligned with supporting the wishes of the utilities. (5) The Senate committee only approves nominees which have the “correct” outlook. (6) The PSC is thus ready to approve all requested utility rate increases….and (7) Your electric bill skyrockets!

We are describing a dirty, politically corrupt system involving billions of dollars in utility revenues and millions of dollars in political influence buying - all at the expense of Florida residents.

As part of this journey this reporter was privileged to have a telephone conversation with former Senator and PSC Chairperson, Nancy Argenziano. She quickly confirmed that the “chain of political influence” which had been defined, with Mr. Tancer as a key link, is the way the system works. “It was my public disclosure of that fact which led to me being ousted from the PSC,” she explained. “It is a terrible, politically corrupt system filled with hidden funding, payoffs, money laundering, reprisals, and influence buying. It is sad to say, but in most instances, unless you are willing to sell your soul and become part of the corrupt system, you will never rise to a position of authority within the Florida political system. Those elected officials who remain honest and pure are relegated to positions of low importance, rendering them ineffective within the political environment. In my opinion…the Florida Legislative process has been bought,” she stated openly.

“We are talking about billions of dollars,” she continued. “I am encouraged by many of my friends and supporters to again run for office, but I am not sure I still have the energy for it. I may try to form an organization to expose and fight corruption and waste within our government. I feel I could do some good in that effort.”

She went on to describe the intricate system of shuffling funding between 527’s, EOC’s, CCE’s, and Leadership Funds. She described how these organizations operate under names designed to hide their real purpose, such as “The Committee for the Greening Of Florida”, or “Social Interaction Committee”, or some other harmless sounding title. Funding is shuffled between these numerous organizations until they finally are properly distributed between intended political entities. It is a system of money laundering and secretive political financing. It is the way political influence is bought. It explains how our politicians are dirt poor when first elected, earn a paltry salary as a politician, yet are worth millions when they leave their post.

Thus the system has chewed up and spit out another honest politician. The PSC is again being loaded with new members who are hand picked by the corrupt system which has been described. We can all expect higher utility rates in Florida’s future.

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