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John Boehner’s Ranking Campaign Contributor has a Sordid History of Corporate Crime

Alex Constantine - February 3, 2014

As House Speaker, John Boehner stands second in the line of succession to the Executive Office after VP Joe Biden -- an affront, given his past association with ethics-warping lobbyists.

In 1995, for instance, Boehner handed out campaign donations from the tobacco industry to colleagues in the House when tobacco subsidies were under consideration, a violation of Congressional rules.

“They asked me to give out a half dozen checks quickly before we got to the end of the month,” Boehner explained to a PBS reporter, “and I complied,” a decision he subsequently regretted. “It’s a practice that’s gone on here for a long time that we’re trying to stop, and I know I’ll never do it again.”

On September 11, 2010, the New York Times reported that Boehner has been "tightly bound to lobbyists,” noting that he maintains “especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R.J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS."  These corporations "contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed." Some of the same lobbyists have admitted to "routinely seeking his office’s help — calling the congressman and his aides as often as several times a week — to advance their agenda in Washington. And in many cases, Mr. Boehner has helped them out."

What's it All About, FE?

The most generous Boehner campaign contributor in his last bid for Congress was FirstEnergy Solutions Corp., an electrical power provider based in Akron, Ohio. FE  owns the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station on the shore of Lake Erie.  Its seven electrical utility operating companies comprise the nation’s fifth largest investor-owned power system, serving 4.5 million customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The company stuffed $57,000 into Boehner's campaign coffer, according to his most recent financial disclosure filing.

Boehner's leading corporate benefactor is most widely known for setting off the worst blackout in American history, the August 14, 2003 transmission line failure of the Northeast power grid that left some 50 million consumers in the dark, contributing to 11 deaths and $6 billion in costs.

Two days after a government panel announced publicly that FirstEnergy was responsible for the blackout, the company acknowledged in a report to the SEC that it was under investigation by a federal grand jury for criminal actions related to the near-rupture of a Davis-Bessey reactor head. "FirstEnergy let the plant's original reactor head surpass anything ever seen in U.S. nuclear history by allowing uncontrolled acid from the reactor to burn one spot of the steel head down to the thinness of a pencil eraser," the Toledo Blade reported in November 2003. "Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials have said that put northern Ohio on the brink of the nation s worst nuclear accident since Three Mile Island in 1979."

FirstEnergy holds the distinction of inclusion in the Multinational Monitor's "10 Worst Corporations in 2006" list. This was the year that FE's nuke division "agreed to pay $28 million to settle criminal charges that it  made false statements to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission." FE did not lose its license to operate, however. Nor were executives of the company charged with criminal liability. They entered into a deferred prosecution agreement instead. Under the agreement, FirstEnergy acknowledged that the government had proven that employees and a former contractor had knowingly made false statements to the NRC in an attempt to persuade the commission that the Davis-Besse muke plant was safe.

The crux of it:

In the  1990s, some reactors in power plants, like Davis-Besse, started to develop  cracks where the nozzles were welded to the reactor vessel head. This cracking  could lead to breaks where control rod nozzles penetrated the steel-walled  vessel that contained the nuclear fuel and the pressurized reactor coolant  water, resulting in a potentially serious accident that would stress the  plants’ safety systems. 

Engineers  predict that a broken nozzle, propelled by reactor coolant at 2000 pounds per  square inch, would violently launch itself out of the reactor vessel head,  leaving a hole through which reactor coolant would escape into the containment  building. 

In August  2001, following reports of nozzle cracks, the NRC issued Bulletin 2001-01,  requiring reactor operators to report on their plant’s susceptibility to  cracking, the steps they had taken to detect it, and their plans for addressing  the problem in the future.

Any  licensee that did not plan to inspect the reactor vessel head for signs of  cracking by December 31, 2001 was required to justify operation beyond that  date. 

Federal  officials said that in the months following the issuance of Bulletin 2001-01,  the company submitted five letters to the NRC, arguing that its past  inspections were adequate to assure safe operation until February or March  2002, at which time the plant had a prescheduled shut-down. 

Federal  officials charged that in order to persuade the NRC that their plant was safe  to operate until the prescheduled shutdown, company engineers and contractors —  including Geisen, Siemaszko and Cook — presented false information in its  submissions to the NRC.

In its own defense, FirstEnergy claimed that its nuclear plants are generally safe. But July 22, 2006, an FE reactor let loose a stack rain-out of black, arsenic-bearing soot that fell on hundreds of homes in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and was fined $25,000 by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Flash forward to 2013. On August 28, Bloomberg Businessweeek reported that three Hatfield, Pennsylvania residents living near a coal-fired FirstEnergy Corp. power plant had filed suit, "claiming their properties, and those of more than 1,000 other nearby residents, are being harmed by soot and other pollutants, some of which can cause cancer." The court filing states that FirstEnergy was "aware that surrounding residents' properties are affected by fly ash and other particulate pollution from the plant, as well as sulfur dioxide and other chemicals."

Also in 2013, Ohio's Public Utilities Commission ordered FirstEnergy to recompense consumers $43-million in overcharges, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

With a past as checkered as FirstEnergy's, friends in high places are indispensable. All told, the company shelled out $11,483,967 in campaign financing in the last election cycle, 65% to Republicans, 27% to Democrats. By the end of 2012, the company spent $27,748,344 on lobbying. Consumers of the Northeast power grid are largely unaware of the political influence that they collectively underwrite, including the agenda-laden maneuvering of John Boehner, who has gone to bat for Big Tobacco and Big Energy, but would leave the Small Constituent without health insurance to die on the street, if he had his druthers.


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