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Energy industry a major contributor to Sununu's campaign coffers

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 02. 2018 9:30PM
Gov. Chris Sununu (John Koziol/Correspondent)

CONCORD — From the moment Chris Sununu raised his right hand to become New Hampshire’s 82nd governor last Jan. 5, the Newfields Republican promised to be bold when it came to keeping businesses and ratepayers from getting further crushed under soaring energy costs.

“We can’t be passive anymore,” Sununu said. “We have to find the right solutions to get it done and get it done our way. Do we need to look at Northern Pass? You bet we do — 1,100 megawatts of clean, renewable energy? How do we say no to that when we have the highest rates in the country? We can help ratepayers.”

Since then there’s plenty of evidence industry executives, their lobbyists and their key supporters have donated to Sununu.

According to campaign finance reports released earlier this month on the governor’s 2018 reelection campaign, Sununu has raised significant sums from the energy sector.

Just consider these examples:

• More than 1 in every four dollars to Sununu’s Inaugural Fund, $120,000, came from energy sources;

• Sununu’s 2018 reelection is off to a robust start with energy-related individuals and firms kicking in at least $72,100, or one in every six dollars, to help make his next campaign and,

• Nearly $50,000 of the energy money for 2018 comes from one source, NextEra Energy, the owners of the Seabrook nuclear power plant.

Sununu’s spokesman said donations are the result of Sununu’s activism and the money does not affect his policy views.

“Governor Sununu is working tirelessly to lower electric rates and provide energy independence for the families and businesses across the state,” said Benjamin Vihstadt, Sununu’s press secretary. “He welcomes the support of those who share this goal.”

Conversely, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party maintains it’s legitimate to question whether the governor has promised to do their bidding and is now raking in the dividends.

“It’s no wonder Gov. Sununu’s priorities are out of whack, given how much he’s taking from corporate special interests. He has a tendency to make decisions based on what benefits his family, friends and donors instead of what will help hard-working Granite Staters,” Raymond Buckley said in a statement, adding a reference to the Trump tax plan.

“Now, he’s backing a dangerous tax bill that will give his corporate special interest backers a massive tax cut at the expense of working families,” Buckley said.

Industry friends

Energy industry groups supporting Republican leaders predicted they would be happy with Sununu’s performance.

“Granite Staters should feel optimistic about Gov. Sununu’s commitment to developing a thoughtful long-term energy plan that protects our ratepayers, employers and our environment,” said Gary Lambert, an advocate for Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions less than an hour after Sununu took office.

“We must secure New Hampshire’s energy future and strike a balance that protects public health and our natural resources while reducing burdens on innovation.”

It’s also worth noting that many of these energy firms are political institutions that can be counted on to chip in when it comes to throwing a party for the new governor, whoever that person is.

When Democrat Maggie Hassan won her second term in 2014, these same firms gave $80,000 in support of her inaugural balls. Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities, the Constitution Pipeline, NextEra Energy all wrote sizable checks.

No other governor in recent memory got what Sununu did in the weeks around his inaugural.

The Union Leader found over a seven-week period — from Dec. 2, 2016, to Jan. 23, 2017 — NextEra gave Sununu nearly $40,000 in 19 different checks from Juno Beach, Fla., to Legend City, Texas.

They were from 16 executives and three limited liability companies all tied to NextEra and 13 of them came in different days.

Three of them — NextEra Energy PAC, NextEra Energy Transmission LLC and NextEra Power Marketing LLC — gave the $7,000 maximum amount allowed under state law until any candidate files to run in 2018 next June.

Another energy group, Gexa Energy LP of Juno Beach, Fla., a subsidiary of NextEra turned in another $7,000 check on Jan. 24.

Candidate Sununu faced questions about money from energy interests going back as far as the Republican primary.

Then-GOP rival and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas questioned what Sununu was promising Eversource in exchange for taking $18,950 in donations from 25 different individuals working for the company over a two-week period.

“Councilor Chris Sununu has dutifully parroted Eversource talking points on the campaign trail, and the last-minute flood of campaign donations from Eversource executives is troublesome,” said Gatsas.

Sununu said his support for Eversource’s project — Northern Pass — was public record before he ran for governor.

Energy and industry

It’s important to note Sununu hasn’t embraced every energy project to come down the pike. While the state still needs more gas, Sununu opposed the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, concluding the company had not made the case for that project.

Last spring, Sununu told a Business and Industry Association symposium that energy developers better come up with the “right” plans if they want his support.

“And look, I don’t mind putting my politics behind it — if you will, my political capital. If we are going to get a better result for the state of New Hampshire, that is all that matters, that is all that matters,” Sununu said.

“And I think that’s the mindset that I hope you in this room, and I hope folks outside of this room, take going forward.”

Finally, there are plenty of other industry leaders beyond energy helping to fill Sununu’s coffers.

Commercial real estate, drug making, ski industry, trucking, paving, trash collecting and computer consulting firms all primed Sununu’s 2018 pump.

Right after the election, Geo Corrections of Boca Raton, Fla., a major developer of private prison construction projects, gave Sununu’s 2018 war chest $5,000. Then last September, Geo’s biggest competitor in the private prison field, Core Civic of Tennessee LLC, sent Sununu’s campaign the same-sized check to match that investment.

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