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Critics say DTE Energy should not be allowed to use dark money groups to sway policy and elections

Courtesy of Kate Madigan

A new dark money group has formed in Michigan — and critics say it's another example of DTE Energy's outsize influence in state politics.

Protect Our Values is a spinoff of another dark money group, Michigan Energy First, which is led by a DTE Vice President.

The spinoff group supports the state Senate campaign of the current House Energy Committee Chairman, Republican Joe Bellino.

Nick Dodge, communications director with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in the state House, Bellino blocked a popular bill that DTE opposed. It would have lifted the cap on households allowed to be in rooftop solar credit programs.

The league has also criticized Bellino for accepting an in-kind $1,500 donation to his campaign from DTE which allowed him to participate in the Delta Dental Pro-Amateur golf tournament.

"If they have all of this money to meddle in politics and try and pick and choose the lawmakers who are supposed to be regulating them, that's a serious problem," said Dodge. "The status quo has been protected for far too long, and we think something needs to change here, because we're not able to get legislation through to allow more people to take control of their energy costs."

Dodge said DTE Energy and Consumers Energy are near-monopolies, so voters can't choose another utility if they disagree with the utilities' political activities. He said the Michigan Public Service Commission should be requiring more transparency and reining in utilities' use of dark money groups to influence elections and state policies on energy.

In an unprecedented move, the Michigan Public Service Commission tried to do that in 2019, after Consumers Energy contributed millions to a dark money energy industry group that targeted a pro-rooftop solar incumbent, Republican state Representative Gary Glenn. Glenn subsequently lost to a candidate backed by the Consumers dark money group.

Consumers agreed in 2019 that it would not spend corporate dollars to fund political advocacy groups for several years. But a Consumers Energy official later said the MPSC order did not apply to its parent company, CMS Energy, because CMS is not a Michigan-based corporation.

The Michigan Public Service Commission declined to comment on the formation of the new dark money group, Protect Our Values.

State Representative Joe Bellino did not respond to a request for comment.

DTE Energy said it doesn't speak for either the spinoff group, Protect Our Values, or the dark money group, Michigan Energy First, which is led by DTE Energy officials.

DTE Energy and the Consumers Energy Foundation are corporate sponsors of Michigan Radio.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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