MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A candidate for Alabama's utility regulatory board has lined up a fundraiser with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who helped to found a Washington lobbying firm that has represented the parent company of Alabama Power Co.
Republican Chip Beeker said Barbour is scheduled to appear at an Oct. 29 campaign event in Mountain Brook. Beeker is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Terry Dunn from the Public Service Commission. The primary is June 3.
With the exception of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee helping PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh with an ad in 2012, it has been unusual for big-name politicians to get involved in a low-key, low-budget race like the PSC.
Beeker is proud of getting help from Barbour. "In the Deep South, we call it pretty high cotton," he said Thursday. Beeker said the event was arranged through family members who are friends, and he was unaware of Barbour's connection to the Atlanta-based Southern Co., which is the parent company of Alabama Power.
Dunn questioned Barbour's involvement. "When you've got the lobbyist for the Southern Co., it tells where he's headed. I think it would be unethical," the incumbent said.
Alabama Power is the state's largest electric utility and is regulated by the three-member PSC.
Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said the Birmingham-based company has never employed Barbour's lobbying firm, but its parent has. He said Alabama Power had nothing to do with Beeker's fundraiser. State law prohibits the company from contributing to PSC candidates, and the company has a policy against employees and their spouses contributing, Sznajderman said.
State law does not prohibit the involvement of companies or individuals that do work for Alabama Power or Southern Co., such as lobbying groups or law firms.
Southern Co. spokeswoman Jeannice Hall said the company does have a business relationship with BGR Group, Barbour's lobbying firm. But Hall said Southern Co. doesn't get involved in state elections.
Barbour did not return phone calls seeking comment. But in a speech last month in Mississippi, he defended a coal-fired plant being built by Mississippi Power, which is also part of the Southern Co. Afterward, he acknowledged that Southern Co. has been a longtime client of BGR Group, which he helped start in 1991. He left the firm during his eight years as governor of Mississippi and returned in January 2012.
Dunn upset Alabama Power earlier this year by calling for formal rate hearings for the company. He got outvoted 2-1 by his fellow commissioners, who pursued more informal public hearings. Those public hearings resulted in the PSC changing Alabama Power's rate structure, but it won't have any immediate effect on rates paid by consumers.
Beeker, a former chairman of the Greene County Commission, said he got in the PSC race because he felt the Obama administration was trying to curtail coal production and coal-fired steam plants. He said Alabama Power's coal-fired steam plant in Greene County is a major employer in his rural west Alabama county and provided more than half of the county's property tax revenue.
"We couldn't have made it without it," the former commission chairman said.
Two other Republicans, Phillip Brown and Jonathan Barbee, also are running against Dunn. No Democratic candidate has announced.