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Utilities FPL and TECO in Florida lead pack in political contributions

TALLAHASSEE — A pair of energy giants, Florida Power & Light and Tampa-based TECO Energy, were the largest donors to political parties and candidates in the latest reporting period that ended Sept. 30.

Their six-figure donations led a lengthy parade of deep-pocket contributors, and come as state policymakers are engaged in a debate over how to promote alternative energy sources while balancing the cost to utilities and their customers.

FPL gave $329,000 in political contributions in the July-to-September quarter, including $181,000 to the Republican Party of Florida and $130,000 to the Florida Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, TECO made $213,000 in political contributions, with $145,000 going to the Florida GOP.

The donations by FPL and TECO helped the Republican Party of Florida fatten its bank account by $3.9 million in the quarter, while the Florida Democratic Party fortified its coffers by $2.5 million, according to reports filed with the state Division of Elections. The state GOP's haul equates to $43,333.33 every day during the 90-day period ending Sept, 30.

FPL is seeking a $1.3 billion increase in its base rates beginning next year — the first major increase the Juno Beach-based electric company has sought in 24 years. FPL has hit a buzz saw of opposition as Gov. Charlie Crist, consumer groups and large commercial users have all lined up in opposition.

FPL has been under fire for its aggressive lobbying of the PSC, whose five decisionmaking commissioners are appointed by the governor. Crist refused to reappoint two commissioners and said it was time to "clean house" at the PSC after a series of news stories about FPL lawyers and lobbyists who were in near-daily contact with commission staff members, who were invited to attend social events and urged commissioners to make appearances on industry-sponsored panels.

TECO, or Tampa Electric Co., received PSC approval in April for a higher base rate that added $1.45 to customers' monthly bills for residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours. It was the company's first base rate increase since 1993. The utility's coverage area includes all of Hillsborough County and parts of Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties.

A third energy-related firm, Florida Energy Associates, the umbrella group for out-of-state interests advocating offshore oil drilling in Florida, gave $70,000 in contributions, including $40,000 to the Republicans and $30,000 to the Democrats. The unit's chief lobbyist, David Rancourt, has promised a "bipartisan" lobbying push in search of Democratic votes to counter opposition to drilling by at least a half-dozen Republicans in the Senate, most of whom represent coastal districts.

Most large donors gave far more to the Republican Party than to the Democrats. The GOP is viewed as more supportive of business interests, and Republicans control the Governor's Office and both houses of the state Legislature, where key policy decisions on taxation, budgeting and policy take place.

Walt Disney World and its affiliated businesses contributed $194,000 in the quarter, including $137,000 to the Republican Party.

Blue Cross Blue Shield contributed $179,000 in the quarter. The Jacksonville-based health care giant gave $100,000 to the GOP and $50,000 to a Democratic fundraising operation called the Florida Mainstream Democratic Forum.

The Florida Medical Association, the lobbying arm of physicians, contributed $154,000 in the quarter, $150,000 of it to the Republican Party.

Dosal, a Miami-based cigarette manufacturer, contributed $147,500, which included $112,000 to the Republican Party and $22,500 to the Democrats. The company and its small army of lobbyists helped it avoid an increase in the cigarette tax in the 2009 legislative session.

Parimutuel interests, working on behalf of horse and dog tracks, contributed $142,000. Those interests are lobbying fiercely in support of a gaming compact between the state and the Seminole Indian tribe, which includes a reduction in the tax rate the tracks pay to the state.

St. Petersburg-based Progress Energy Corp. contributed $80,000, including $50,000 to the Republican Party. Preferred Care Partners, a Miami-based managed care company, wrote checks totaling about $74,000, including $47,000 to the Florida GOP. Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar, seeking to sell a large swath of its land to the state, contributed $60,000 — all of it to the Republican Party of Florida.

The largest single individual contribution of the quarter was a $200,000 check to the Florida Democratic Party by the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt and Adler. Name partner Scott Rothstein is a supporter of Republican Gov. Charlie Crist's bid for the U.S. Senate, and former Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne works at the firm.

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas, Times researcher Carolyn Edds, and Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.

Utilities FPL and TECO in Florida lead pack in political contributions 10/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 19, 2009 10:57pm]
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