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Down in the polls, utilities pump another $3.5 million into Amendment 1 campaign

Solar panelsFlorida's largest utilities decided last week that $22 million wasn't enough to spend on Amendment 1, so they pumped in another $3.5 million into the effort, according new campaign finance reports.

Amendment 1, which has been dubbed a "pro solar" amendment by the political committee financed by the utility giants, would inject language into the state Constitution that could be used to keep solar competition out of Florida, making it easier for the utilities to control the solar market and preserve their utility monopolies. (For an explanation of how the amendment creates a barrier to competition, see our story here.)

At least $2 million of the added cash came from Florida Power & Light, the state's largest electric company, and $1 million came from Duke Energy, the second largest utility. The remaining $500,000 was split by two dark-money groups, the conservative 60-Plus Association and the mysterious Let's Preserve the American Dream, both 501c(4) organizations that do not have to disclose their donors.

Consumers for Smart Solar, the political committee financed primarily by the state's investor-owned utility companies and groups they sponsor, reported the cash injection Oct. 28, a week after hiring Hill Research to do an $80,000 poll.

The committee has not released the results of that poll but a statewide poll by Bay News 9 in Tampa on Oct. 20-24, found that the utility-backed Amendment 1 is falling short of the 60 percent it needs on Nov. 8 to become law. Only 40 percent of the likely voters polled said they support the amendment, 33 percent said they oppose it and another 26 percent said they still were still uncertain. 

The poll came after the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times broke the story that Sal Nuzzo, the vice president of policy for a Tallahassee think tank that has supported Amendment 1, conceded in a leaked audio recording that utilities created Amendment 1 as an act of “political jiu-jitsu” by shrouding it as a pro-solar proposal that would instead “negate” the efforts of solar advocates.

A week later, FPL and Duke sent another shot of cash into the campaign, bringing FPL's total for the ballot effort up to more than $8 million -- which records indicate could be the largest amount any single entity has ever spent on a ballot initiative in Florida.

Records show that Duke has spent $6.7 million, the second highest amount spent on a single ballot initiative, surpassing the $5.5 million spent in 2014 by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to oppose the legalization of medical marijuana.  

Division of Elections records show that Consumers for Smart Solar is not yet the most well-funded ballot initiative effort in Florida’s history, but it is on track to become the most expensive. CSS has raised a total of $26.1 million, below the $28.9 million spent on the trial lawyer-backed  Floridians for Patient Protection in 2004, but that campaign had to spend money to get two different ballot measures approved.

Research by the Energy and Policy Institute revealed that only 12 individual consumers have contributed to CSS, and 11 of them are affiliated with the campaign. CSS has raised a total of $10 from unaffiliated consumers.

“This latest cash dump by FPL and Duke is a desperate effort to buy themselves an election with a flood of last-ditch deceptive advertisements,” said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, an energy advocacy group. “But the public is rapidly learning that Amendment 1 is anti-solar and a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No amount of utility money can hide the truth.”

The Energy and Policy Institute has documented the Consumers for Smart Solar contributions here

Meanwhile, although it's hard to find elected officials whose web sites support Amendment 1, the numbers of current and hopeful candidates who oppose it is mounting. 

“In all my years of public service, I have never seen such a thinly veiled attempt to intentionally mislead Florida voters,'' said Mike Fasano, a Republican and former state Senator who now serves as tax collector of Pasco County. "Voters should vote down Amendment 1 and send a clear message to the monopoly utilities that deception against solar power is not going to work in the Sunshine State.” 

State Senate candidate Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, has called the amendment "a step backwards towards clean power production in our state" because it could open the door to "Florida’s utility monopolies to charge individuals for creating their own power, effectively eliminating the economic upsides to installing solar panels in their homes and businesses."