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Utilities gave legislators $1.3 million in push for ‘Smart Grid’ bill

Updated: November 15, 2011 12:25PM

In the months leading up to the Illinois Legislature’s approval of a bill that would have increased electric rates statewide, utility giants Commonwealth Edison and Ameren and their executives and affiliates gave more than $1.3 million to campaign funds benefitting state lawmakers and their party organizations, an analysis by the Better Government Association has found.

The “Smart Grid” bill was approved in late May, but Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed it Sept. 12, branding it “a nightmare for consumers.”

Attorney General Lisa Madigan also opposed the bill, saying it would guarantee ComEd and Ameren yearly profits of at least 10 percent and calling the proposed technological fixes to the electricity grid “expensive and unproven.”

There are efforts to revive the measure, in some fashion, in the Legislature’s veto session, starting this month.

A Smart Grid proposal was presented to legislative leaders in spring 2010 but withdrawn for lack of support. The ComEd and Ameren campaign contributions were made between the start of 2010 and May 31 of this year. Between June 1 and Aug. 31, the utility interests gave additional contributions totaling more than $170,000 to legislators and their party organizations, Illinois State Board of Elections records show, boosting the total amount to about $1.5 million.

Representatives of the two utilities said the contributions had no impact on the voting. Legislators who got donations from the utility interests in the months before the “Smart Grid” vote said the money played no part in how they voted.

Still, the BGA analysis found that, of the 98 legislators who voted in favor of the bill, 90 reported contributions from the ComEd and Ameren interests that ranged from $500 to $93,750. The most money went to House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego).

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) was second, getting $55,000. The Democratic Party of Illinois, which Michael Madigan runs, received $62,500.

In the Senate, minority leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) ranked first, getting $52,500. President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) was the top recipient among Demo­cratic senators at $21,300.

Among other findings:

House members who voted for the bill received six times more campaign money from the energy interests between Jan. 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, than those who voted against it. On the Senate side, supporters received three times more.

Of 177 legislators in both chambers, 157 received donations from ComEd, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Exelon, and Ameren interests during that period.

Though most donations went to individual lawmakers, the energy companies, their employees and affiliates donated roughly $470,000 to the state Democratic and Republican parties and related campaign funds that benefit legislators.

In the three months after the May balloting, the two utilities contributed $15,540 to 10 of the 24 senators who voted against the bill.

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