WATERTOWN — Following pressure from the New York State Common Retirement Fund and state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, FirstEnergy Corp. agreed Monday to publicly share its political spending figures.
The Ohio-based electric company, which serves seven Mid-Atlantic states including New York, is currently under several investigations and has been sued for past political donations.
According to a report from Mr. DiNapoli, FirstEnergy has contributed at least $4.5 million in corporate funding to various political causes since 2010, but that number does not include what the comptroller called “secret payments” to political powerbrokers and influential leaders in exchange for benefits.
Federal investigators say FirstEnergy and its family of companies spent more than $60 million to lobby for a state bailout of two nuclear energy plants owned by a former subsidiary of the company.
In July 2020, former Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Larry L. Householder, former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges and three other people were accused of taking the money and using it to expand their own political influence and enrich themselves.
While nobody from FirstEnergy, nor the company itself, have been charged criminally, Chief Executive Officer Chuck Jones was fired in October following an internal investigation.
The state Common Retirement Fund, which manages $247.7 billion in pension funding for state civil servant retirements, holds about $21.2 million in FirstEnergy shares, representing about 0.14% of all shares of the company.
The retirement fund used shareholder resolutions to pressure the company to begin keeping closer track, in public view, of what political causes it donates funding to.
The shareholder resolutions would have gone to a vote at the next FirstEnergy shareholder meeting, and if passed would have required the company to implement a financial disclosure plan.
Under the agreement announced Monday, the shareholder resolutions were withdrawn. FirstEnergy will instead voluntarily disclose all corporate political activity on their website twice per year through May 2024.
The company will disclose all its spending on candidates, political parties and ballot measures, as well as payments over $25,000 to any trade organizations for political purposes and any payments to organizations that write or endorse legislation for the state or federal governments.
Spending on lobbying is not included in the agreement.
“Many publicly traded companies use corporate funds to influence political process and it is important investors know how that money is being spent,” Mr. DiNapoli said. “This is a positive step for a company that has run into significant troubles with its political spending.”
This is only the latest in a string of public moves by the state Common Retirement Fund to push American companies to be more forthcoming with their political donations. Since 2010, the fund, led by the state comptroller, has filed more than 155 shareholder proposals asking companies to more publicly share their political spending figures, with 43 companies adopting or agreeing to adopt disclosure policies.
“Transparency is crucial and so is accountability,” Mr. DiNapoli said. “In a starkly divided country, companies need to answer whether the benefits of political donations outweigh the risks.”