The politicians in FirstEnergy's pocket

The utility behind a $61 million anti-climate bribery scheme is trying to buy public officials across the country, a HEATED investigation shows.

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. (Unlike all these politicians, am I right?)

The climate case against FirstEnergy

FirstEnergy’s Bruce Mansfield Power Plant, which was one of the 12 most climate-polluting power plants in the U.S. before it shut down due to “a lack of economic viability” in 2019. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images.


Want to prevent the climate crisis from spiraling out of control? You might want to start paying more attention to FirstEnergy.

FirstEnergy is one of the largest investor-owned electric utilities in the country. With more than $43 billion in assets, it’s also one of America’s largest corporations, ranking 294 on the Fortune 500.

But FirstEnergy is also the ninth-largest greenhouse gas polluter in America—which means it contributes more to the ongoing climate crisis than ExxonMobil. It also means the company’s business model currently relies on a practice which climate scientists say is causing catastrophic damage to public health and the economy, and threatening potentially irreversible damage to the planet’s livability.

FirstEnergy could use its vast resources to change that practice, and become a profit leader in the transition to a clean energy economy.

Instead, however, it appears FirstEnergy has been using its treasure chest to bribe public officials into allowing the company to continue its legacy of climate destruction.

“The largest bribery, money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated”

The evidence of FirstEnergy’s illicit use of political spending comes in the form of an FBI criminal complaint.

Last month, federal prosecutors accused Ohio House Speaker of the House Larry Householder of accepting $61 million in bribes from FirstEnergy, in exchange for passing one of the worst anti-climate laws in the nation: a $1.6 billion taxpayer bailout of the company’s failing coal and nuclear plants, and the removal of all state incentives to build renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

FirstEnergy’s alleged attempt to buy off Householder constitutes “likely the largest bribery, money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio,” said David DeVillers, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio who is prosecuting the case.

But the FBI’s complaint is likely just the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg. While FirstEnergy has yet to be officially charged, the company has received subpoenas in the ongoing federal investigation. And experts tracking the case don’t expect FirstEnergy to emerge unscathed.

"We are not done with this case," DeVillers said.

“Citizens must demand that politicians stop taking money” from FirstEnergy

The FBI may not yet have enough evidence to be done with FirstEnergy’s case. But climate policy experts who track electric utilities say there’s already more than enough evidence that politicians should be done with FirstEnergy’s money.

“Across the country, most private utilities are resisting the clean energy transition, and many are buying off politicians with campaign contributions to do it,” wrote Leah Stokes, a political science professor at UC Santa Barbara who wrote a book about electric utility corruption, in a recent piece about the FirstEnergy scandal for Vox.

Indeed, the FirstEnergy scandal is just the latest “in a wave of utility wrongdoing that has come to light in recent years across the nation,” Justin Gillis wrote in The New York Times yesterday.

“Corruption like this within the electric utility industry is a barrier to solving the climate crisis,” Stokes wrote. “But the way forward is clear: Citizens must demand that politicians stop taking money from these fossil fuel companies and start holding them accountable.”

Gillis agreed. “Using money to influence politicians and regulators is nothing new,” he wrote. “But there is reason to be especially alert to it now, because these companies too often are standing in the way of the switch to clean energy that the country so desperately needs.”

The 2020 election is awash with FirstEnergy PAC money

Tracking all of FirstEnergy’s political contributions will be difficult. The company has numerous subsidiaries which are constantly being re-named. And if the FBI’s complaint is any indication, there are likely many dark groups quietly receiving money from the company.

However, FirstEnergy’s federal PAC donations during the 2020 election cycle are a good window into how widespread the utility’s political operation is, and who is most important to the company’s anti-climate goals.

Since January 2019, FirstEnergy’s PAC has given more than $500,000 to more than 350 state lawmakers; nearly $300,000 to 54 federal lawmakers, and more than $450,000 to at least 50 political party organizations and PACs. You can explore the individual contributions in this Google spreadsheet.

In the meantime, here are just a few examples I pulled out from the data of public officials who are taking FirstEnergy money this election cycle, despite the company’s implication in a $61 million anti-climate bribery scheme.


Ohio’s entire congressional delegation

FirstEnergy’s federal PAC has given a combined $115,500 to members of Ohio’s U.S. House and Senate delegations during the 2020 campaign cycle.

Every single member of Ohio’s U.S. Congressional delegation is currently taking FirstEnergy PAC money. No incumbent from either party has refused it, nor have any indicated they would return it after the release of the FBI’s indictment.

The U.S. lawmakers from Ohio who have taken the most FirstEnergy PAC money this  cycle are Democratic Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Tim Ryan, and Republican Representatives Bob Latta, Bill Johnson and Anthony Gonzalez. Each have received the max donation of $10,000.

Click HERE to see the entire chart, get a shareable and embeddable version, and/or explore the data behind it.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown

Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who has called climate change “one of the defining moral issues of our time,” has received $5,000 from FirstEnergy’s PAC this election cycle.

That’s more than twice the $2,000 FirstEnergy has given to Ohio’s other U.S. senator, Republican Rob Portman. It’s also the same amount FirstEnergy gave to Rep. Jim Jordan, who recently praised his climate denier colleague Rep. Thomas Massie for speaking “truth” about climate change.

Asked by E&E News last year if he thought Democrats should be taking money from fossil fuel interests, Brown replied, “I really have not thought about it.” A few months later, he pledged not to take corporate PAC money if he ran for president.

Neither Brown nor Portman are up for re-election in 2020. 

Click HERE to see the entire chart, get a shareable and embeddable version, and/or explore the data behind it.

A dozen House Democrats, including the House Majority Leader

FirstEnergy’s PAC has given a combined $63,000 to 12 individual House Democrats this election cycle.

The top Democratic recipient of FirstEnergy PAC money in the House (who’s not from Ohio) is New Jersey Rep. Donald Norcross. The Sierra Club has called Norcross “a leader on climate change.”

The second ranking Democrat in the House, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, is also a top Democratic recipient of FirstEnergy PAC money. Hoyer’s campaign fund received $5,000 from the utility, and his leadership PAC received another $5,000.

Click HERE to see the entire chart, get a shareable and embeddable version, and/or explore the data behind it.

Prosecutors, judges, and police

FirstEnergy’s federal PAC has given a combined $10,490 to state and local law enforcement officials during the 2020 campaign cycle.

The top recipient from this group was West Virginia’s top legal officer, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The pro-coal Republican notoriously led the multi-state and industry lawsuit against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, and successfully halted the first significant climate regulation in America. Morrisey currently has more than six times the cash on hand as his Democratic challenger.

Other top recipients of FirstEnergy in the law enforcement category include Kandy Fatheree, a Democrat running for sheriff in Summit County, Ohio, and Tim Armstead, the Chief Justice of West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals.

Click HERE to see the entire chart, get a shareable and embeddable version, and/or explore the data behind it.

Bonus recipient: A former top Trump advisor

This isn’t about FirstEnergy’s PAC, but it’s notable because it shines a light on what FirstEnergy is trying to do when it contributes to federal officials.

Since President Trump was inaugurated, FirstEnergy has spent more than $8 million lobbying the federal government on energy, climate and environment policy—and has hired at least one lobbyist close to Trump to do it.

Approximately $1.3 million of FirstEnergy’s lobbying budget since 2017 has gone to Jeff Miller, the former vice chair of President Trump’s inaugural committee and one of Trump’s “top fundraisers.”

FirstEnergy currently pays Miller about $440,000 per year to lobby Congress, the president, and the vice president on “issues related to grid resilience” and “organized electricity markets.”

Other FirstEnergy lobbying priorities include the Trump administration’s repeal of Obama-era climate regulations; two bills to ease pollution control requirements for power plants and industrial facilities, and a bill to allow more toxic emissions from power plants that burn coal waste byproducts


OK, I think that’s enough for one day! I’ll be back tomorrow with a closer look at more recipients of FirstEnergy PAC money.

As a reminder, you can explore FirstEnergy’s PAC donations from 2019 to 2020 by clicking HERE. And if you’d like to make a suggestion about what I should dive into next, email me: emily@heated.world.

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