The largest contribution so far to an anti-consumer measure to impede access to solar energy just came from a mysterious new donor.
This new donation comes as the battle over whether consumers in Florida can install home solar is heating up, with rival state constitutional amendments both aiming for the ballot in 2016.
On one side are consumer and environmental groups promoting home solar, and on the other—trying to block consumer access—are major utilities, groups linked to the Koch brothers and a new mysterious funder.
“Consumers for Smart Solar” is the misleading name of the group created to promote an amendment to the Florida Constitution that would protect the monopoly of the utilities. CMD/PRWatch has reported on its known funders and activities, and has jointly with the Energy & Policy Institute published research on the corporate ties of Consumers for Smart Solar.
These funders include Duke Energy ($160,000), Florida Power and Light ($175,000), Gulf Power ($180,000,) and Tampa Electric Company ($175,000). It has also received checks from groups known to be backed by the Koch brothers: the 60 Plus Association ($150,000) and the National Black Chamber of Commerce ($50,000). A complete list is below.
“Let’s Preserve the American Dream” Spends $200K
The largest contribution so far, for $200,000, was reported by Consumers for Smart Solar as being received in September from a state Political Action Committee called “Let’s Preserve the American Dream PAC,” a group that is run by leadership from Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), a powerful industry lobby group.
Under Florida’s campaign finance system, Let’s Preserve the American Dream PAC is required to disclose its expenditures and sources of funding, but in its own September filing it made no reference to having given $200,000 to Consumers for Smart Solar.
So what gives?
Jeremy Wallace of the Miami Herald, who first reported on this, asked Ryan Tyson, Executive Director of the PAC, about the discrepancy and was told it was an error by Consumers for Smart Solar.
According to Tyson, the grant should have been reported as being from a newly formed group, also called Let’s Preserve the American Dream (yes, that is the exact same name as the PAC), but which has been created as a 501(c)(4) Social welfare organization, and so it does not have to disclose its funding. Since the Miami Herald ran its story, the filings have been updated and now record the grant as coming from the new 501(c)(4) group.
Tyson separately claimed to CBS Miami that “the Let’s Preserve the American Dream organizations are entirely different, with separate missions and purposes.”
As if that were not confusing enough, leadership for Let’s Preserve the American Dream, former U.S. Congressman Tom C. Feeney (President) and Ryan Tyson (Executive Director), are also the President and Vice President respectively of AIF.
And yet, AIF claims that it is itself not taking a position on the solar fight. Perhaps unsurprisingly, AIF’s own Political Action Committee receives funding from Florida utilities, having received $156,500 from Florida Power & Light in 2015
Despite the tangle of relationships between Let’s Preserve the American Dream (both entities), their shared leadership with each other and with AIF, and the identified connections to the Florida utilities, it may never be possible to discover the original source of the $200,000 grant.
The funding might be from the Florida utilities, but it could also be some other donor trying to keep voters in the dark.