Editorial: Dark money fuels anti-solar amendment

Published Oct. 28, 2015

It's bad enough the electric companies already have spent nearly $700,000 to try to kill a constitutional amendment to expand access to solar power. It's bad enough their strategy is to confuse voters by pushing a competing amendment. But it's appalling that the deep-pocket utilities are now relying on dark money that cannot be traced to help fuel their devious approach.

Let's Preserve the American Dream Inc. contributed $200,000 in September to the misnamed Consumers for Smart Solar amendment effort that is backed by the utilities. Because it is a so-called "social welfare'' nonprofit regulated by the Internal Revenue Service and not a political action committee, it does not have to disclose its donors. Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Florida Power & Light apparently got tired of getting all of the attention for this charade. Or some deep pockets did not want to be directly associated with them.

Florida voters should know who is spending big money to persuade them to amend the state Constitution. Yet anonymous money is flowing into national and state political campaigns thanks to court opinions that gave rise to the super PACs, which have to disclose their donors, and the social welfare groups, which keep their donors secret. As Jeremy Wallace of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reported, Consumers for Smart Solar first listed the $200,000 contributor as Let's Preserve the American Dream — a PAC that reported no donations in September. Turns out it was from Let's Preserve the American Dream Inc. — the sister social welfare group. Got it?

Let's connect the dots. The PAC and the social welfare group are traced to a mailbox at a UPS Store in Tallahassee. Both were established earlier this year. They are tied to Ryan D. Tyson, a Tallahassee lobbyist who is vice president of Associated Industries of Florida. Associated Industries receives support from the utility companies. Two guesses where that $200,000 came from for the anti-solar amendment.

Let's Preserve the American Dream Inc.? More like Let's Preserve the Utilities' Monopolies Inc.