Questioning Cronies

Chicago-based utilities company faces questions from shareholder about crony relationship to Obama administration

Exelon Corp.'s nuclear plant in Byron, Ill. / AP
April 24, 2013

A Chicago-based power company with ties to the Obama administration faced questions about its ties to Obama officials Tuesday morning at a shareholders meeting.

A representative for the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), a Washington-based think tank that holds stock in utilities company Exelon Corp., attended Exelon’s shareholder meeting and asked CEO Chris Crane about the company’s relationship to the Obama administration and the wisdom in taking government money.

Exelon officials used their connections to the White House to shape environmental policies in order to hurt their competitors, according to a New York Times article cited by NCPPR representative Cherylyn Harley LeBon at the meeting. Exelon also secured favorable loans from the government for an already-financed project.

Exelon projected that it would earn an additional $400 million per year due to the pressure that the tighter environmental regulations would place on coal plants, the Times noted.

LeBon highlighted these facts before asking Crane her question.

"So my question is: how much money has the company actually made by surreptitiously eliminating much of its coal-based competition; and do you think that sum was worth the livelihoods of the up to 17,000 coal employees that will be put out of work in the coming years," LeBon asked. "And during this time of massive federal deficits, and record government spending, is it prudent for our company to use its political connections to take such massive sums from the American taxpayers?"

"The company has taken a position that we are going to develop our generation base around clean, affordable technology," Crane said, according to an Exelon spokesman. "Environmental rules have been legislated and regulated. Exelon’s desire to have a seat at the table, like many other businesses in the industry, is to make sure that the market rules allow competitiveness and allow us to deliver our product fairly and at a fair price."

LeBon complained after the meeting that Crane did not answer her question.

"It was like he didn’t even pay attention to what I was saying. It was like he ignored me and went off his talking points," LeBon said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon.

"He didn’t even address the whole Obama administration question," she said.

John Rogers, a friend of the Obama family and a strong fundraiser for the president, sits on Exelon’s board and was present at the shareholder meeting in that capacity. He sat up and attentively listened to LeBon’s question about links to the Obama administration, she said.

The shareholder meeting lasted 27 minutes, LeBon said. There were eight shareholders in the audience, most of them elderly retirees; none of the others asked a question.

The Times exposé of Exelon’s relationship to the Obama administration notes both personnel links and financial support.

David Axlerod, formerly Obama’s senior adviser, worked for Exelon. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first chief of staff and current mayor of Chicago, was intimately involved in the company’s creation.

Exelon employees have also been among the strongest supporters of Obama throughout his political career, the Free Beacon reported last year.