A bill in the Kansas legislature would make Corporation Commissioners be elected statewide and no longer be appointed by the governor.
It would follow what Oklahoma has done for decades—force candidates to gather money and run for the office. But the Senate Bill 88, the one considered in Kansas would also include a proposed ban of regulated public utilities from contributing campaign money to KCC candidates. Political action committees would also not be allowed to make campaign contributions to the commission candidates.
It raises an interesting scenario were such a ban be implemented in Oklahoma. First of all, we’re talking significant chunks of change if regulated utilities would be banned from giving money to commission candidates. But—a check of the records reveals it might not be as big as some contend.
When Oklahoma’s recently elected Corporation Commissioner Kim David won her race last November, her reports showed she received a total of $638,706. More than $423,700 came from individuals while $171,582 came from PACs. In all, she spent $602,515 and finished the race with $36,191 still in her campaign fund, according to records on file with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
A review of her campaign contributions revealed about 6% or nearly $39,000 came from regulated utilities and their executives including $5,000 from the OG&E PAC, $2,500 from the ONEOK Employees PAC, and $2,900 from OGE Energy Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Sean Trauschke. OG&E attorney Kimber Shoop, who often goes before the commissioners contributed $500 to Kim David’s campaign.
Other contributions came from OGE’s General Counsel, Engineer, Treasurer, Officer, Director, Manager and Vice President.
Officers at Public Service Company, another regulated utility contributed to David’s campaign. They included a Vice President and Director, and an Executive. But OG&E and ONEGas were the highest contributors from the regulated utilities.
A last-minute dump just prior to the November 8, 2022 election included $42,100 to David’s campaign and most came from ONE Gas executives including the President and CEO, directors, engineers, vice presidents, managers and attorneys.
The largest contribution in the week before the election was $15,000 from the Koch PAC in Wichita, Kansas. The ONEOK Employees PAC also gave $5,000 to David’s campaign.
Here is the link to the last-minute dump:
What of the remaining two Corporation Commissioners? Chairman Todd Hiett, last elected in 2020, reported $336,499 in total contributions from individuals and did not list any money from PACS or officers of regulated utilities.
Commissioner Bob Anthony’s last campaign in 2018 showed $3,450 in contributions from officers of regulated utilities. Ethics campaign records showed a $250 contribution from a PSO Executive, $500 from a PSO Director and $2,700 from a ONEOK Executive.
The records reflect much more money was given by other energy companies to all three commissioners. Most came from oil and gas companies which are not regulated in the sense that utilities are by the agency.
It would appear such a ban as the one in Kansas might not affect Oklahoma Corporation Commission candidates as much. Mounting a statewide political campaign as such launched by the three commissioners and their challengers is obviously not cheap. It costs money to campaign across Oklahoma, driving from the Panhandle to the other points in the state.
Campaign contributions from the energy companies, whether they be regulated or not, raise some ethical questions. The people and firms making the contributions no doubt want their side of the story represented and yes, want their voices to be heard on decisions affecting them.
Does their money really influence the decision makers? The public often thinks it does. These are financially and politically power regulated utilities that come before the Corporation Commission and it does raise questions whether campaign contributions do influence the regulators.