Human Behavior

There is definitely no logic to human behavior.

It’s legal, but is it right?

This is how business is conducted these days among some members of Georgia’s political community.

Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise voted on June 21 to allow Georgia Power to charge off $3.2 million in disputed expenses related to service outages at its nuclear power plants to its ratepayers.

Wise’s vote on that June 21 cost allowance question was pivotal for Georgia Power, because two of the five commissioners said the utility’s shareholders should have absorbed the $3.2 million in expenses because of “imprudent” management by the utility.

The PSC vote to allow Georgia Power to pass along the $3.2 million cost to its ratepayers was 3-2.

Two days before that crucial PSC vote, on June 19, Wise’s campaign disclosure report shows that he received a $5,000 contribution from Troutman Sanders, the law firm that for years has represented Georgia Power before the PSC.

On that same June 19 date, Wise reported a $1,500 contribution from Troutman Sanders attorney Kevin Greene, a $1,000 contribution from Troutman attorney Brandon Marzo, $1,500 from Troutman attorney Charles Palmer, and $1,000 from Troutman attorney Robert P. Edwards.

Greene and Marzo appeared before the PSC on June 21 to successfully argue Georgia Power’s contention that the utility should be allowed to charge off the $3.2 million in service outage costs to the utility’s customers.

When asked about this close link between the $10,000 in campaign contributions and his subsequent vote to give the utility $3.2 million in financial benefits, Wise at first said he did not know when he had received the donations.

“I have no idea,” Wise told a reporter.  “I’ll have to check with my accountant on when they were received.”

When asked if he should have recused himself from that June 21 vote because he had received the campaign contributions so recently, Wise said, “The answer is no.”  When asked if there was a conflict of interest involved in his vote for Georgia Power, he said, “No, there’s not.”

Although Wise has been criticized for accepting a large number of political contributions over the years from people who either work for or represent utilities that are regulated by the PSC, those contributions are allowed under Georgia’s campaign finance laws.

“They are legal contributions,” Wise said.  “They’re legally disclosed.”

Others have suggested that even though the contributions may be legal, they should be avoided.

“I can only speak for myself, but I don’t take contributions from utility companies, employees, lawyers, or executives that we regulate,” PSC Chairman Tim Echols said. “It makes fundraising harder, but I don’t want the pressure that can come from those situations.”

“The PSC was created to protect citizens and businesses against the tremendous power of utility monopolies,” said Pam Davidson, a consultant who is running against Wise in the July 31 Republican primary.

“In a just world, the five commissioners elected statewide would regulate energy, natural gas and telecommunications as citizens’ last defense against monopoly power in maximizing profit and protecting turf,” Davidson said.  “That system cannot work when it is overtaken by money and favors and an incumbent commissioner bought by the utilities.”

In his campaign disclosure report for the three-month period ending June 30, Wise said he raised $98,650 in contributions to his campaign for a fourth term on the PSC.

More than $35,000 of that money came from persons who work for utilities or for law firms that represent clients before the PSC.  Wise received $7,750 from executives of SCANA energy, $4,000 from executives of ComSouth Corp., $1,000 from executives of Atlanta Gas Light entities, nearly $14,000 from law firms, and $6,250 from executives of small telephone companies.

At that June 21 meeting, the Public Service Commission members were trying to decide how to handle $3.2 million in expenses related to service outages last year at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle and Plant Hatch generation facilities.

The engineering consultant who monitors Georgia Power’s operations for the PSC, William R. Jacobs, had classified the service disruptions as “clearly imprudent nuclear plant outages” that the utility giant should be required to pay for.

Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald made the initial motion that Georgia Power should be required to absorb the $3.2 million in costs.

“In business, sometimes things just happen,” McDonald said.  “Sometimes in business, you have to make decisions and you have to eat a little bit (of business costs).”

Echols voted with McDonald to disallow the $3.2 million, but they were outvoted by Wise, Chuck Eaton and Doug Everett.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year analyzed Wise’s contributions over the past few election cycles and determined that some 91 percent of that money came from people who either work for, or whose law firms represent, companies that are regulated by the PSC.

Wise’s son, by the way, is also employed by the law firm that gave him $10,000 just two days before Wise cast the key vote to give Georgia Power a $3.2 million financial benefit.

That’s how it goes these days.

Tags: campaign contributions , Georgia Power , Stan Wise , Troutman Sanders

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