Frank Artiles, a former Republican Florida State Representative with strong financial ties the utility industry, was elected back in March. arrested on suspicion of orchestrating an election fraud scheme that helped oust one of Florida’s most prominent climate advocates, former state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, a Democrat.
According to investigators, Artiles reportedly paid an auto salesman with the same surname as Rodríguez to run as a third-party “ghost” candidate against Rodríguez and his then-Republican challenger, state Sen. Ileana Garcia. It worked, despite sounding absurd. The auto salesman, despite never campaigning, likely siphoned off 6,300 votes from Rodríguez’s re-campaign to ensure Garcia’s victory.
New revelations suggest that Artiles may not have been the mastermind.
The Orlando Sentinel will be featured this week reportedThere was probably an entire network of political and corporate entities that supported the sham candidates in the 2020 Florida state Senate race. The following records were reviewed by Sentinel indicate that Florida Power & Light (FPL), the country’s largest electricity company, helped coordinate three separate ghost candidates — one of whom was Rodríguez — in order to bolster its own business interests in the state legislature. From 2016 to 2020, FPL reportedly made a series of transactions totaling over $3 million to Denver-based dark-money nonprofit “Grow United,” whose name was changed from “Proclivity” last year. In October of 2020, Grow United gifted two Florida political committees — “The Truth” and “Our Florida” — with $550,000 to finance the mass delivery of political mailers supporting three unaffiliated candidates in three districts. Thousands of these mailers — all of which featured identical language blasting “party line” politicians as “puppets,” according to Politico — bombarded voters.
It was “a coordinated dark money effort to siphon votes from Democratic candidates,” Anders Croy, a Democratic caucus’ spokesman, told The Miami Herald.
According to the SentinelThe mailers were produced by, a printing firm with ties to Alex Alvarado, a Florida GOP strategist. Incidentally, Alvarado’s data intelligence firm was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by political groups with ties to Associated Industries of Florida, a business lobbying group that represents FPL.
Alissa Jean Schaer, research and communications manager at Energy and Policy Institute (EPI), is an energy and utilities watchdog. Salon that FPL’s presence in this opaque web of nonprofits, companies, and political committees is completely unsurprising.
“It’s a huge opportunity for FPL, given the political landscape, to flex their political power on spending, important relationship-building, and direct political contributions before you even get to the stuff where it’s a little bit more shady and buried in levels of political committees,” Schafer said in an interview. “If you look at the comments that the company makes, for example, in their quarterly reports, they talk about Florida as being a friendly regulatory environment. It is very deliberate. It’s a result of the work that they have done to control the political environment.”
Schafer, who has been following FPL’s apparent skullduggery for several years now, noted that the company has several levers of power when it comes to keeping Florida’s legislature on the side of businesses rather than consumers.
One way to influence the Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC), a five member panel that regulates the business practices of telecommunications and utility companies in the state, is to exert influence. A large part of FPSC’s job is to keep FPL in check because the company has a monopoly on the state’s utilities market. This is why the FPSC decides what rates the company is allowed to fairly charge its customers – a process that involves extensive accounting of the company’s yearly costs.
The FPSC approved several rate increases for FPL (Tampa Electric Co.) and Duke Energy in 2019 and 2020. The FPSC has also approved rate increases just this week. votedFPL will allow FPL to collect an additional $810,000,000 from customers in 2022, to help cover the rising cost for natural gas. According to The Daily HeraldFPL intends to raise the price of electricity for its customers by approximately 20% over the next 4 years.
While there have been some instances in which the commission sides with consumers, it’s hard to argue that the FPSC is insulated from corporate interests. The governor appoints the five commissioners and they are confirmed by the state Senate. This makes the composition of the FPSC a product political, Liz Veazey (Policy and Rural Energy Director at Solar United Neighbors) said. Salon.
“When you’re solely focused on profits over people, there’s no limit to what utility companies will do to preserve their energy monopoly,” Veazey told SalonEmail “The substantial influence that FPL and Duke Energy have over the state legislators and the governor … reduce[s] the ability of the government to fulfill its oversight role.”
FPL and other companies can lobby, as well as donating to candidates. Florida bans utilities companies from making direct donations to candidates. However, they can contribute to political actions committees that are aligned with business-friendly candidates.
According toThe SentinelFPL contributed $8 Million to political action committees in 2018. But donations like these, Veazey said, “are often only half of the story, and fail to include all of the monies creatively funneled through political committees, political parties and even charitable donations.”
FPL, on the other hand, has denied any suggestion that it supported financial ghost candidates.
“Neither FPL nor our employees provided funding, or asked any third party to provide funding on its behalf, to Grow United in support of Florida state-level political campaigns during the 2020 election cycle,” company spokesperson David P. Reuter told the Sentinel. “Any report or suggestion that we had involvement in, financially supported or directed others to support any ‘ghost’ candidates during the 2020 election cycle is patently false, and we have found absolutely no evidence of any legal wrongdoing by FPL or its employees.”
Veazey said Salon that she found Reuter’s statement “elitist” and “absurd.”
“Their claim of ignorance of how the money was being spent is not an acceptable excuse for their funds being used to wreak havoc on the democratic process,” she added.
It isn’t the first time that FPL has come under scrutiny for indirectly financing alleged sham candidates.
In 2018, Florida state senator Keith Perry, a Republican won re-election over Democratic challenger Kayser Enneking. This was largely due to Charles Goston’s candidacy. According to the SentinelFPL donated $14.15 Million to a political advertising nonprofit whose consultants were associated with a group that paid Goston-supporting ads.
As curious as FPL’s charitable decisions are, it’s not hard to see why an electricity retailer would get involved in political funding. FPL is under pressure to promote rooftop solar. State Democrats were urged to install rooftop solar earlier this year. introducedA bill that would have saved schools and businesses from the millions of dollars they would have had to spend on upfront solar installation costs. Solar United estimatedThis bill would have created 25,000 jobs and $4 billion of economic growth. In the end, however, the measure didn’t even receive a hearing in the Republican-controlled legislature.
FPL and solar advocates also disagree over net metering. This billing system allows solar users to receive credits for energy they produce but don’t use. Net metering in Florida is currently legal. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from waging disinformation campaignsThese overstate the solar costs. “Utilities are also actively working to spread disinformation about the benefits of solar, imposing outrageous interconnection fees, misrepresenting community solar, imposing unfair minimum-monthly bills on solar customers, and blocking policies that keep solar affordable and accessible,” Veazey explained.
Part of the problem with holding utility companies accountable, Schafer said, is that they’re playing the long game. Thus connecting something like FPL’s stance on net metering to their alleged support of ghost candidates involves untangling convoluted political projects spanning years.
“The process of putting [the] pieces together and understanding this web of dark money non-profits and entities shuffling money back and forth – that is very challenging to keep track of,” Schafer said. “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t get that stuff, that’s why I don’t like politics.’ But that sentiment right there is one of the things utilities companies are counting on. They know that it’s confusing. They know that it’s overwhelming. Most people just want to switch the light switch and have their lights on.”