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ComEd Uses Your Ratepayer Money For Political, Charitable Contributions

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 23, 2015 8:30PM

Photo credit: Ed Fisher

Did you know a few cents from every ComEd bill you pay is collected for the electric utility’s charitable arm? Neither did we until we read a wonderful article in the Tribune by Julie Wernau detailing how the utility company is able to do this and how much ratepayer money ComEd has funneled to charitable and political groups.

Wernau discovered ComEd has amassed $60 million dollars in charitable contributions the past eight years. The charges are hidden in electricity delivery rates and ComEd told the Tribune the cost amounts to nearly 15 cents per customer. The problem is in transparency regarding how much money is being given to an organization or the nature of the donation.

ComEd defended the practice and said the money "supports organizations and programs, which align with the company's community and educational goals and meet our rigorous standards, and benefit our customers and the communities we serve."

That must be why ComEd spent $10,000 to help fund a 2012 cocktail reception where its chief executive Anne Pramaggiore received a “Woman of Achievement” award.

Or why World Business Chicago, Mayor Emanuel’s economic development group, received $736,000 from ComEd while the CEO of the utility’s parent company Exelon sits on World Business Chicago’s board.

Or why ComEd donated $1 million to help fund construction of the Bloomingdale Trail project. Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-state contributions made by ComEd on behalf of Exelon.

ComEd is able to do this thanks to a 1987 law that allows utilities to make charitable contributions for “public welfare or for charitable scientific, religious or educational purposes.” The gray area here is donations to some of these groups could be lobbyist money without being labeled as such. The timing of some of the donations like the money given to World Business Chicago came as ComEd lobbied for a rate hike to invest in smart-grid technology. Compound that with the fact ComEd is the only choice customers have for electricity delivery and one can see why the call for transparency is loud. Charlie Harak of the National Consumer Law Center in Boston told the Tribune regulators “should be wary of allowing something that might legally look like a charitable contribution but also looks like it advances the political interest of the utility.”

The local utility watchdog Citizens Utility Board and other groups wants ratepayers to receive credit for sponsorships of organizations from ComEd.