Welcome to, “Mr. Dunn Goes to Montgomery”
By Eddie Curran
First, as brief as I can make it, how and why I got involved, and then, my goals.
In late August of 2013, I was contacted by a Mississippi non-profit called Bigger Pie Forum, which is devoted to pro-growth economic policy in Mississippi.
I met with them in Jackson. They asked me to research two Montgomery-based non-profits, one called JobKeeper Alliance, the other, the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy, or PACE. Both had used various means, such as advertising, to harshly criticize Bigger Pie.
This criticism was the result of Bigger Pie’s opposition to Mississippi Power requests before Mississippi’s Public Service Commission for additional rate increases to help pay for the company’s vastly over budget new plant in Kemper County.
The Bigger Pie folks suspected that Mississippi Power’s sister company, Alabama Power, was in some manner involved with the two non-profits. I had been recommended as a capable investigative reporter who was familiar with Alabama politics. I accepted the assignment.
At the time, I was only vaguely familiar, from news stories, with the Alabama Public Service Commission hearings on Mobile Gas, Alabama Power, and AlaGasco; and that the hearings regarded the extraordinarily high “rate of return on equity” — or profit — that Alabama’s PSC allows the state’s regulated utilities. I can’t say that I’d even heard of Terry Dunn. I recently came across an old e-mail from early on in which I referred to him as Mike Dunn.
Dunn, as I soon, learned, was a successful businessman from north Alabama. He’s twice been a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and once an alternate delegate. That’s something you won’t hear from the propagandists falsely portraying him as a liberal environmentalists.
In 2010, he spent a grand total of $13,000 in becoming an upset winner for on of three spots on the Alabama Public Service Commission.
“After I got the message out (about reviewing Alabama Power’s allowed profits), we had visitors come in and say, ‘You just need to leave everything alone, don’t make no waves, keep your head down, and you’ll be here as long as you want to.'”
— Terry Dunn
He came to Montgomery with a novel idea: Review the unusually high rates of return allowed for Alabama’s utilities, and hold formal rate hearings.
Novel? Not really. Other states do this routinely. Only in Alabama, where the utilities run the show, are rate hearings for all intents and purposes, prohibited.
Dunn urged the PSC to simply consider lowering Alabama Power’ rate of return on equity, or allowed profit. It was, after all, by a long shot the highest allowed rate of return of any power company in the country, and miles above the national average.
In 30 years, no PSC commissioner had dared suggested such a thing.
Within the first day of my research I came across the attacks on Dunn. This site is full of those details, so I won’t go into all that here. I decided to go Montgomery to both learn more about JobKeeper and PACE and interview Dunn. I took a Flip camera. I’d arranged the interview through his chief of staff, David Rountree, who I’d not met before. David held the camera during the interview that became the basis for, “Mr. Dunn Goes to Montgomery,” the four-part video available on this site.
Soon after that interview I made the decision — bad for my bank account, good for this project — to forego any payment from the Bigger Pie group. I told them this. Though I did not bill them, they sent me a check. I tore it up. I have spent more than $4,000 and have long stopped counting my hours. I estimate, that at my normal and most reasonable rate of $50 an hour, I’ve got at least $30,000 into this. Hurts to say that but it’s true.
I did this — am still doing it — because what I saw made me, well, mad as hell.
What angered me was not Alabama Power’s ridiculously high “rate of return on equity.” That’s the profit they are allowed by the PSC, which regulates their rates because they are a monopoly and needn’t compete on the open market for your business. Heck, I’d written about that 15 years ago, as a reporter. It bothered me then, but I wasn’t going to give my time and money to fight that old battle.
Rather, I was offended by by what was being done to an honest man for merely trying to do his job.
Strip away the details, and what has occurred is this: A substantial number of people — many of whom are pillars of the Birmingham and Montgomery business, social and/or political community and who make more in one year than many people make in 20 years, even a lifetime. Men and women who profess to be ethical and moral — and attend the finest churches — devised or by other means authorized or abetted the scheme to ruin Terry Dunn politically and erase him as a threat to Alabama Power’s otherwise total control of the Alabama Public Service Commission.
Their cynical plan: To re-define Dunn as a tool of left-leaning, Obama-loving”radical environmentalists,” and by so doing, destroy him in the eyes of Alabama’s overwhelmingly conservative electorate.
There was nothing spontaneous about the scheme. Just the opposite. It involved considerable planning; a substantial sum of money; and a great deal of time. These cowards acted for one reason: Their own personal enrichment. This personal enrichment at Dunn’s expense comes to them in a variety of ways.
For some, its fees for service; for others, it’s the hope and promise of greater salaries and promotions and to prevent the possible devaluation of their immense stock shares should Alabama Power’s rate of return be diminished even slightly. They deserve your scorn. They deserve to be exposed.
What’s truly boils my blood is that Alabama Power — its executives and spokespersons — have not publicly criticized Dunn at all. As best as I can tell, no one in the actual employ of Alabama Power has linked him with environmentalists, criticized his performance as commissioner, or said the first ugly word about him.
Cowardly is not too strong a word for Alabama Power’s use of political consultants, shady non-profits, and others to do their dirty work.
If they get away with this, what are the chances that there will be another Terry Dunn, whether on the PSC or the governor’s office, or Legislature? The message from Alabama Power will be stronger than ever: Cross us, and you are toast.
My Working Theory
- That news stories examining the astonishingly high profits allowed to Alabama’s regulated monopoly utilities (Alabama Power, Mobile Gas, AlaGasco) and the efforts by Dunn to do lower those profits to national levels put pressure on the two other commissioners — Twinkle Cavanaugh and Jeremy Oden. Alabama Power — though not the two other utilities — reacted to the threat by orchestrating a multi-pronged attack on Dunn. A second purpose of the attack was to provide political cover for Cavanaugh and Oden, so that they could continue to serve Alabama Power’s interests.
- That executives and government relations officials at Alabama Power have participated in and approved of the plan to destroy Terry Dunn’s political career by falsely branding him as a liberal and an environmentalist.
- That the anti-Dunn campaign has been carried out by separate camps, one Republican, the other with Democratic affiliations. Both are connected to Alabama Power, and both have applied similar themes in their attacks. Both, for example, have accused Dunn chief of staff David Rountree of being a liberal influence on Dunn. And both have used footage of a questionable environmental protest to portray Dunn as a liberal environmentalist.
These two groups are:
Primary Republican Team Participants: Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard; the lobbying/political consulting firm Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross; Yellowhammer News and its head, Cliff Sims; and PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh.
Primary Democratic Team Participants: Matrix LLC, which is the political consulting firm headed by Joe Perkins, and long associated with its work for Alabama Power and Democratic clients and politicians; and two non-profits, JobKeeper Alliance and People for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE). A new story on the site adds another player — the non-profit “Peoples Alliance for Leadership.” It, too, is a non-profit of the type that needn’t reveal its contributors.
To Team Alabama Power, I make this pledge:
If I come across or am provided with any document, e-mail, or personal account that reflects that you knowingly and with comprehension of the scheme — including any effort to conceal what has occurred — I will identify you and that evidence on this website. Probably no one will see it, but it will be here. That’s not a threat. That’s a fact.
If that sounds melodramatic and arrogant, so be it. However: I have to believe that many of you regret what you have done. Please contact me if you have tips or information — I will travel.
If the the above-stated theory is correct, it means that Alabama’s largest utility monopoly has engaged in an effort to intimidate an elected regulator and has and continues to try to destroy his chance of re-election. If the above is correct — such as, should it be proved — has Alabama Power and the company officials involved, committed a crime? I don’t know the answer to that, but it seems a fair question.
“Nothing is financially right if it’s
morally wrong. You have to start by running
your business with honesty, integrity and
by telling the truth. Once you do that, you
can then start focusing on results.”
— Charles McCrary, Alabama Power president at start of the campaign against Dunn
Will new company president Mark Crosswhite order a cessation of the smear campaign against Dunn?
As importantly, will he come clean, and admit to Alabama Power’s role in the campaign?
Not betting on it. Kicking and screaming. That’s what it’s going to take.