FirstEnergy Gave Big Money to Political Parties

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An Ohio utility at the center of investigations into last week's blackout is no stranger to Washington, giving more than $1 million to Republicans and Democrats in the last election and counting a top executive among President Bush's fund-raisers.

Roughly 70 percent of the donations from FirstEnergy (search) and its employees to the national parties and congressional candidates in the last election season went to Republicans, figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (search) show.

Company officials are also active in the 2004 election. FirstEnergy chief executive H. Peter Burg helped organize a June 30 fund-raiser headlined by Vice President Dick Cheney in Akron, Ohio, which brought in $600,000 for the Bush-Cheney re-election effort.

"We participate in the political process like many companies do," FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said Tuesday.

FirstEnergy also is familiar with Capitol Hill.

The company spent $2.25 million last year lobbying on issues such as clean-air regulations and oversight of nuclear power plants and electricity markets, lobbying reports compiled by the nonpartisan Political Money Line Web site show.

Company employees have given at least $37,500 to the Bush campaign so far this year, a campaign finance report Bush filed last month shows. They donated at least $47,000 to Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.

President and chief operating officer Anthony Alexander was a Bush fund-raising "pioneer" in the 2000 race, lining up more than $100,000 for the campaign and donating $100,000 himself to help finance inaugural festivities.

After the election, the incoming president named Alexander to his transition team. Alexander was a member of Bush's advisory panel on energy, Schneider said.

The company was among sponsors of fund-raising galas, featuring Bush, for the Republican National Committee and the GOP's House and Senate party committees in Washington last year.

FirstEnergy gave at least $270,350 to the Republican National Committee, $150,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (search) and $57,000 to the GOP's House fund-raising committee.

White House spokesman Adam Levine said FirstEnergy's political contributions will have no impact on the blackout investigation.

"We're going to look at this investigation, look at the facts, no matter where they lead, who they lead to," Levine said. "Somebody's political contributions don't determine how they're treated in an investigation."

The company donated to Democrats as well in the 2002 election cycle, including at least $131,800 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (search) and $51,000 to its Senate counterpart.

Since the nation's new campaign finance law took effect in November, corporations are banned from contributing to national party committees.

Asked if FirstEnergy's familiarity with Washington helps when the company finds the federal government taking a look at it, as it is now, Schneider said the company's goal right now is getting to the bottom of the blackout.

"Right now we're focused on gathering information for the investigations about what happened, where it happened and when it happened," he said.

Last Thursday's power failure left millions from Michigan to New York and Canada in the dark. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and his Canadian counterpart are heading a U.S.-Canadian task force investigating the blackout.

An Ohio congressman said Monday that the shutdown of a FirstEnergy generator along Lake Erie may have been the first sign of problems that led to the blackout.

Akron-based FirstEnergy has 4.3 million customers in Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A law firm that says it is acting on behalf of the millions affected by the blackout sued the utility Monday.

"It's interesting that the lawyers are filing suits before the cause has been found," Schneider said.