Of the roughly $220,000 Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) candidate Tricia Pridemore (R) has raised for her campaign, over $40,000 has come from Georgia Power, Southern Company and various legal representatives and affiliates of those companies. That’d be a nice fundraising benchmark, if it wasn’t for the fact that PSC has direct regulatory oversight over Southern Power and exists as the only regulatory body that separates consumers from these utilities.
The funny thing is that it’s entirely legal for them to do so. Georgia has notably weak campaign finance laws and little legislative support in improving these laws. In fact, Georgia’s campaign contribution law states that any corporation, individual, PAC, party or union can donate up to $6,600 to a given candidate, but no more. So long as the individuals donating are not being coerced, incentivized or directly forced by their corporation to donate, there’s no foul play. There are certain regulated entities that cannot donate to candidates, but these utilities do not fall under that regulation.
Pridemore, who is running for re-election in the 5th district, was able to reach this $40,000 mark due to the language in that law allowing members of corporations to make individual donations outside of the $6,600 their corporation is allotted. For example, Troutman Sanders, LLC, the law firm that represents Southern Company donated their full allotted amount to Pridemore on December 6 of last year. In addition to that, seven other representatives of Troutman Sanders have made donations to Pridemore, ranging from $500-3,000. Pridemore also received donations from Consolidated Pipe and Supply Co. Inc., 17 representatives of Southern Company and Southern Company Gas, five representatives of Georgia Power, among numerous others.
Pridemore isn’t the only candidate that’s been able to raise a considerable amount of cash in this traditionally low-profile election, but she’s the only one getting considerable donations from utilities. In fact, the top-three candidates in terms of funds raised account for 81% of all contributions over the three elections; the district 3 primary and the districts 3 and 5 general elections. Of these top-three candidates, Pridemore ranked third. In the district 3 primaries, which were voted on on May 22, the first-ranked fundraiser, Lindy Miller (D) defeated the second-ranked fundraiser John Noel (D). Miller has received financial backing from different renewable energy companies, though those figures pale in comparison to what Pridemore has received from Southern Company and companies that do business with it.
Georgia’s PSC elections are odd to begin with, featuring statewide elections of officials that oversee specific and drastically varied geographic regions. PSC races are normally relatively low-profile affairs, which could partially explain why these utilities have been shown such visible financial backing in an election for their regulation.