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Utilities contribute to expanded GOP hold on state offices, report finds

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Utilities contribute to expanded GOP hold on state offices, report finds

In the first half of 2017, investor-owned utilities spent far more to help elect Republican governors and attorneys general than they did to aid Democrats, according to a new report from UtilitySecrets.org.

Utilities and their executives contributed $1.15 million to the Republican Governors Association in the first six months of 2017, about four times as much as the $286,427 they gave to the Democratic Governors Association, the study said. In the same period, utilities donated $271,575 to the Republican Attorneys General Association, far outpacing the $65,450 they spent on the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Of the nearly 30 utilities and company executives included in the tally, only six donated money to the Democratic Governors Association in the first half of 2017, and just three made contributions to the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

UtilitySecrets.org, a joint project of watchdog groups the Energy and Policy Institute and the Center for Media and Democracy, compiled the data from midyear company filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

The spending comes ahead of 36 gubernatorial elections planned for 2018, as well as two to be held this year in New Jersey and Virginia. Republicans are hoping to maintain and expand the number of seats they hold; they recently achieved a record number, 34, when West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice in early August announced that he was switching to the GOP party, according to the Republican Governors Association. Democrats hold only 15 governorships, their lowest number in nearly a century.

Republican governors and attorneys general have partnered to challenge many federal regulations and policies for the energy sector. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Joe Manchin, helped lead a group of over 20 states in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to overturn the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan. The U.S. Supreme Court has stayed the rule, which the Trump administration is expected to repeal and replace with a less stringent regulation. Morrisey and other GOP attorneys general also sued to strike down the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Clean Water Rule, which has been put on hold by a federal appeals court and also is in the process of being dismantled by the Trump administration.

Republican governors have played a big role in setting energy policies at the state level. In early August, the Maine legislature failed to override a veto from Republican Gov. Paul LePage on a bill that sought to reduce but keep net metering compensation for rooftop solar panels "in perpetuity" unless state regulators decided otherwise. LePage instead wants to phase out net metering in the next three years. And in May, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed legislation into law that will end net metering in that state by 2047 and reduce compensation for rooftop solar owners.