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Regulators were 'angered' and 'disturbed' by FPL tactics

Three state utility regulators targeted by a negative campaign conducted behind the scenes by Florida Power & Light said Tuesday they were angered and disturbed by news reports that the company used secretive tactics to find personal information about them.

Commissioners Nancy Argenziano, Nathan Skop and David Klement each condemned what the company described in internal memos as “opposition research.’’ Sources in and close to FPL told the Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times that FPL officials used people inside and outside the company to investigate state utility regulators, challenge their impartiality and post negative comments about them and the governor on the Internet.

“To be very honest, my first reaction was anger such that, upon reflection, I realized there’s a lot at stake,’’ said Commissioner David Klement, who was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in October to replace Commissioner Katrina McMurrian. “They’re doing what they think they have to do. I certainly wouldn’t go that way.’’

Klement said he will reserve his “overall reaction to what that article said" to the Jan. 13 hearing when the full commission will decide FPL’s rate case. “I’ll address the executives when we start debating it from the bench,’’ he said.

FPL vigorously denied using negative tactics and said the Herald/Times story was "designed to politicize'' the pending rate case. FPL is seeking a $1.3 billion increase in its base rate.

According to internal FPL documents obtained by the papers, the company assigned an employee to "plan and execute opposition research, media countermeasures and a social media campaign.'' An FPL manager told the Herald/Times that meant using computers untraceable to FPL to post blog comments about commissioners and the governor using aliases and conducting credit, property-records and criminal-background checks on commissioners Klement, Nancy Argenziano and Nathan Skop, along with Crist's new appointee, Benjamin ``Steve'' Stevens, the FPL manager said. 

Argenziano, who becomes the commission chairman in January, recalled how she knew she was the target of negative attacks but, “I didn’t think it would be the company because I didn’t think they would be that stupid. Well, I’m being enlightened every day seeing how stupid some people can be.’’

Skop said the tactics were “reprehensible’’ and reminded him of  Watergate dirty tricks. “If the facts are indeed true, I would find it to be deeply disturbing,’’ he said. “I don’t know why someone would have to engage in opposition research.’’

Commissioner Chairman Matthew Carter, who will be replaced by Stevens in January, said he was “really, really offended’’ that it appeared that the company thought it right to target a commissioner based on a prediction about how he or she would vote.

“I’m offended any time people think that they can predict how I will vote,’’ he said. “I’m even more offended that they think they can predict how my colleagues can vote.’’

Argenziano and Skop said that while they were disappointed in learning of the activities by the company, they do not expect it to influence how they vote on the FPL rate case.

 “I never let anything like that get in the way,’’ Argenziano said. “I don’t think anybody can point to when I’ve ever been unfair. My promise is to God and me that I will never be unfair. I have to question the other side though, whether they play fair.’’

Skop said, “it has no bearing on my ability to make a fair and deliberate decision.’’