Glenn: Consumers Energy, DTE funding "dark money" ads for Daley

Auburn, Mi. -- Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Williams Twp., a Republican candidate for the state Senate seat representing Bay, Lapeer, and Tuscola counties, Monday said that Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison are using corporate funds to finance nearly $300,000 on television and radio ads aired over the last month promoting the candidacy of his Republican primary opponent, former state Rep. Kevin Daley, R-Lum.

"Michigan's current monopoly system, which as chairman of the House Energy Policy Committee I've vocally opposed, guarantees Consumers and DTE a 10 percent annual profit from the money we're all forced to pay them for our electricity bills. That means monopoly utility bosses have millions in state-guaranteed profits to spend on deceptive TV ads trying to handpick and elect politicians -- such as Kevin Daley -- who they believe won't stand up to their Lansing lobbyists or threaten their monopoly privileges," Glenn said.

"Monopoly utility bosses know that if I'm elected to the state Senate, I'll continue to oppose their government-privileged monopoly and promote Electricity Choice to give homeowners, businesses, farmers, and schools the freedom to buy electricity from the cheapest provider available," Glenn said.

Glenn supports giving all electricity customers the freedom to choose, but in order to illustrate the negative economic effects of Consumers' and DTE's monopoly status, he has introduced legislation to exempt all farms and food processing operations from the existing cap on Electricity Choice. Electricity is the biggest cost of doing business for the Michigan Sugar Co. in Bay City, the POET ethanol plant in Caro, and the Dairy Farmers of America facility in Cass City.

He's also supported legislation to exempt all public schools from the Electricity Choice cap. The program has saved $200,000 for public schools in Bay County, over $800,000 in Tuscola County, and over $1.5 million for schools in Lapeer County. Schools save $17 million a year under the program, according to Tuscola ISD Supt. Gene Pierce, president of the Michigan Schools Energy Cooperative, but 75 percent of the state's schools by law are blocked from participating in the program, being forced to buy from Consumers and DTE because of their government-granted monopoly.

Glenn noted that utility lobbyists' TV and radio ads promoting Daley deceptively don't mention such energy issues at all, but repeatedly mention Daley's name without expressly advocating his election, which under IRS 501(c)(4) regulations allows utility lobbyists to finance the ads with corporate funds without being required to disclose the source of the funding.

In a May 10th report, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported that a secretive front group called "Faithful Conservatives for Michigan" had spent over $100,000 on the ads promoting Daley.

That figure has since grown to nearly $300,000, according to a more recent review of public records the Federal Communications Commission requires television and radio stations to make available to the public.

"Faithful Conservatives for Michigan," which refused to identify its board of directors or source of funding to MCFN, nonetheless shares the same street address -- 2145 Commons Parkway, a law firm in Okemos, east of Lansing (see attached photo) -- with another utility front group, "Citizens for Energizing Michigan's Economy," which a Consumers Energy spokesman in a 2014 MLIVE interview admitted the utility finances using corporate funds.

Over the last three years, that front group has aired TV ads opposing Michigan's "electricity choice" program and defending utilities' monopoly status, under which Consumers and DTE are guaranteed 90 percent of the electricity market in their respective service areas plus a 10 percent annual profit by law.

"Citizens for Energizing Michigan's Economy" has also run a reported $55,000 in radio ads over the last month promoting the state Senate candidacy of Rep. Brett Roberts, who has supported utility executives' monopoly status. Roberts is opposed in the Republican primary by Rep. Tom Barrett, who agrees with Glenn that electricity customers should not be forced to buy from a monopoly utility.

Glenn said utility lobbyists got sloppy and tipped their hand when -- according to publicly-available records at WSGW Radio in Saginaw -- "Citizens for Energizing Michigan's Economy," the front group Consumers Energy has admitted it funds, scheduled a radio buy in Glenn's media market and then later switched the buy to "Faithful Conservatives for Michigan," which utility spokesmen have thus far publicly refused to confirm or deny funding. Glenn said Consumers Energy has admitted in private conversations, however, that the corporation is responsible for funding the Daley ads.

Three other related "dark money" front groups also list 2145 Commons Parkway, Okemos, the law office of attorney Eric Doster, as their street address:

* Michigan's Voice, which in 2016 spent tens of thousands of dollars on mailings attacking state Rep. Gary Howell, R-North Branch, in his special election campaign to fill the state House seat vacated by former Rep. Todd Courser, who resigned.

* "Save Roads Yes" and "Michigan Citizens for Better Roads and Schools," which lists Democratic political strategist Howard Edelson as its treasurer, both of which supported Proposal 1, the May 2015 statewide ballot measure rejected by voters that would have raised Michigan's gas and sales taxes by $2 billion.

Glenn has made Proposal 1 a focal point of his state Senate campaign, citing Daley's vote in favor of the $2 billion tax increase, which Daley called "historic" and "sustainable" in comments published in late 2014 by the Lapeer County Press. Glenn and now-Congressman Paul Mitchell were leaders of the ballot campaign opposing the massive tax hike, which Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected, including 85 percent of voters in Bay County and 88 percent of voters in Lapeer and Tuscola counties who voted against it.

"The same monopoly utility bosses who doubled or tripled many homeowners' electricity bills this past winter, who've turned people's power off if they object to having so-called "smart meters" installed, and who are pushing to put industrial wind turbine projects up across our rural landscapes, they're the ones who are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to elect Kevin Daley to the state Senate," Glenn said. "It's entirely reasonable for voters, every time they see one of those 'faithful family farmer' ads that utility bosses are buying for Daley, to ask why."

Glenn noted that during a Consumers Energy shareholders meeting earlier this month, a proposal by shareholders -- to require utility executives to publicly disclose corporate spending on advertising intended to affect the outcome of legislation or elections -- was narrowly defeated, 55 to 45 percent, after Consumers' board of directors urged shareholders to reject it.

Glenn said in response that he would introduce legislation requiring utility monopolies to disclose such spending.

"Electrical utilities are the only corporations in Michigan who have the privilege of a government-guaranteed 90 percent of the market plus a government-guaranteed 10 percent profit each year," Glenn said. "As long as monopoly utility bosses enjoy those government-granted privileges, ratepayers have a right to know how much of the money that utility bosses collect from our electricity bills is being used to try to buy elections and block legislation that would allow electricity customers more freedom of choice."

Glenn said he assumes utility executives "thought they were being clever" in naming their newest front group, "Faithful Conservatives for Michigan," hoping it would offset what Glenn believes are among his biggest strengths among Republican primary voters:

* He was ranked as the most conservative member of the state House of Representatives in each of his first two years in office by the American Conservative Union, based on his votes on fiscal, social, and veterans issues. His voting record was also graded A+ by the National Rifle Association during the 2016 election, which graded Daley only a B-minus in his last race in 2014 against Sen. Mike Green.

* As president of the American Family Association of Michigan for nearly two decades, Glenn has led a faith-based advocacy group for traditional family values, in which capacity he coauthored with Catholic law professor Patrick Gillen the Marriage Protection Amendment approved by nearly 60 percent of voters on the 2004 statewide ballot.