No fossil fuel money? Not quite.

Congressman Tim Ryan has taken at least $27,500 from FirstEnergy this election cycle, a breach of his promise to reject money from fossil fuel companies.

This week, HEATED will be taking a closer look at elected officials who are still taking campaign money from FirstEnergy, the utility at the center of a $61 million anti-climate corruption scheme alleged by the FBI.

There have been far too many recipients of FirstEnergy PAC money from 2019-2020 for this newsletter to cover them all. But you can help choose which individuals, PACs, parties, or trends HEATED should focus on by exploring the data, and emailing your suggestions to emily@heated.world.

If you’re a reporter, you can also feel free to use the data I compiled on FirstEnergy’s PAC donations this election cycle for your own stories. The more the merrier.

You can also help support and expand this project by becoming a subscriber today. HEATED is 100 percent independent and reader-funded.

Tim Ryan breaks climate pledge with FirstEnergy cash

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) speaks to the press after participating in the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season. Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.


Congressman Tim Ryan has taken at least $27,500 in campaign contributions from FirstEnergy and its executives during the 2020 election cycle, a breach of the Ohio Democrat’s promise to reject money from fossil fuel companies, a HEATED investigation shows.

Ohio-based FirstEnergy—the electric utility at the center of a $61 million bribery scheme alleged by the FBI—has donated the maximum $10,000 to both Ryan’s campaign committee and Ryan’s leadership PAC through the utility’s PAC this cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ryan’s leadership PAC, America 2.0, has also received at least three individual $2,500 donations from FirstEnergy executives this campaign cycle. Those executives are:

  • Joel Bailey, FirstEnergy vice president of state & local affairs & economic development;

  • Anthony J. Alexander, FirstEnergy’s former president and CEO; and

  • John Blickle, a member of the board of directors at FirstEnergy Solutions, the subsidiary FirstEnergy spun off to control two of its failing nuclear plants. Technically, the two companies are independent of each other.

The donations appear to violate the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, which Ryan signed last year during his failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Ryan signed the pledge both for his presidential campaign and his congressional re-election bid.

The No Fossil Fuel Money pledge states that “a politician and their campaign will adopt a policy to not knowingly accept any contributions over $200 from the PACs, lobbyists, or SEC-named executives of fossil fuel companies—companies whose primary business is the extraction, processing, distribution, or sale of oil, gas, or coal.”

The pledge also contains a list of companies considered "fossil fuel companies,”—and FirstEnergy is on the list. It says any signatory who takes money from FirstEnergy “is in violation of the pledge, and must return the donation.”

Ryan’s office did not return a request for comment.

FirstEnergy is a longtime Tim Ryan supporter

Ryan has been in Congress since 2003. He represents Ohio’s 13th district, a large northeastern portion of the state which includes the city of Akron.

Akron is also the home base of FirstEnergy, one of the largest investor-owned electric utilities in the country and the ninth-largest greenhouse gas polluter in America.

FirstEnergy is currently at the center of “likely the largest bribery, money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio,” according to federal prosecutors. The political figures who were arrested in that scandal called FirstEnergy their “bank,” a company that would give them “unlimited money” to secure bailouts for their coal and nuclear plants.

FirstEnergy hasn’t given Ryan unlimited money, but the utility has been somewhat of a bank for the Democratic congressman over his 17-year career. Since 2001, FirstEnergy’s PAC and its employees have given Ryan a combined $103,058, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That makes FirstEnergy Ryan’s second-largest campaign contributor overall.

Ryan praised by fossil fuel front group

While running for president, Ryan cast himself as a champion for aggressive climate action, calling it a “top priority.” In an interview with the New York Times, he said Americans must “marshal every aspect of our society, our government, our free enterprise system, our educational institutions, our venture capital, all has to be pointing in the direction of reversing climate change.”

Ryan also has a section on his website dedicated to climate change, in which he calls the threat “one of the most critical issues facing our nation, and the world today.”

I believe that we owe it to future generations to tackle this problem head on and get serious in addressing the reduction of carbon emissions. The science is clear that if greenhouse gasses continue to be emitted at the current rate, we will see increased signs of climate instability, including more frequent severe weather, sea level rise and damage to natural resources and wildlife. These effects could have a major impact on our quality of life and could result in a devastating loss of life and property. 

Ryan has also, however, been recently praised by a powerful front group for the fossil fuel industry.

That praise comes from the Consumer Energy Alliance, which presents itself as a consumer-led advocacy organization but is actually “an advocacy front group for some of the country’s largest fossil fuel corporations and trade associations,” according to the Energy and Policy Institute.

In a letter to The Tribune Chronicle earlier this year, the CEA’s midwest director wrote that it was a shame Ryan was no longer running for president, because he would have worked to preserve fracking, natural gas, and nuclear energy.

“Every presidential candidate can benefit from considering and adopting the sensible, realistic approach to the energy solutions Ryan brings to the table for our future’s sake,” the CEA said.

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