Serious allegations have surfaced that top executives at Florida Power & Light (FPL)—a subsidiary of NextEra, the world's largest utility company—worked closely with political consultants to devise a "ghost" candidate scheme to interfere in three critical state Senate elections last year, according to documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.
Records reveal that FPL was billed for more than $3 million by the dark money nonprofit Grow United, Inc. to allegedly fund a strategy to promote spoiler candidates during the 2020 election in an apparent attempt to help Republican candidates retain control of the 40-member Florida Senate. Reports reveal funds from Grow United were used to promote independent candidates in three races—South Florida's Districts 37 and 39 and District 9 in Central Florida.
At the same time, documents show FPL has donated over $10 million in recent years to other dark-money nonprofits operated by some of the same consultants. Notably, documents suggest FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy personally coordinated with the consultants on campaign contributions made through the nonprofits.
Discovered by former FPL contractor Matrix, LLC, the cache of unearthed records covered roughly the time frame of 2016 to 2020 and included bank statements, emails, texts, invoices, internal ledgers, and more. In early November, records pointing out "potential unlawful conduct" were sent to NextEra Chairman and CEO Jim Robo. A partially redacted copy of the investigative summary was also sent anonymously to The Sentinel.
Screenshot / Orlando Sentinel; A summary of an internal investigation by Alabama firm Matrix LLC was sent in early November to James "Jim" Robo, the chairman of Florida Power & Light's parent company, NextEra Energy Inc. It accused several senior FPL executives of potentially illegal activities.
Despite the recent revelations, FPL—the regulated monopoly who recently joined NextEra in the decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for the nearly 15,000 workers employed by the utility giant—swiftly denied any wrongdoing. FPL spokesperson Davis P. Reuter issued a statement denouncing any involvement by the utility giant in the ghost candidate scheme, declaring:
"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. 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."
Since the discovery of FPL's apparent involvement, The Sentinel reports that Alabama-based Matrix LLC has sued its former CEO and several ex-employees, "accusing them of conspiring with a Florida-based client to work on secret projects and cheat Matrix out of fees. The company's former CEO has countersued, accusing Matrix's owner of extortion."
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Miami, who have been investigating the dubious scheme for some time, have uncovered widespread ties between several influential business interests in Florida and the dark-money consultants behind the plot. Specifically, the latest trove of information exposes FPL's intimate involvement in the scheme.
However, with Grow United, apparently created with FPL in mind, the records obtained anonymously by The Sentinel reveal the company also spends millions "behind the scenes supporting seemingly disconnected groups that are used to influence public policy and elections." While none of the records sent to the paper show FPL donating straight to Grow United, they do reveal that consultants controlling Grow United billed FPL for millions in September 2020, right before they started moving money through the dark-money nonprofit.
Screenshot / The Orlando Sentinel; In a Sept. 12, 2020, text to a pair of Matrix LLC employees, Democratic consultant Dan Newman sent a picture of a $1.25 million check from Florida Power & Light to his consulting company, ENH Industries, along with the message, "The Eagle has landed."
Besides allegedly tampering with Florida's 2020 elections, records indicate FPL donated $14.5 million in 2018 to the dark-money group Mothers for Moderation. The ledger shows the donation represented almost all of the money raised by the group that year. Furthermore, the internal ledger for Mothers for Moderation—accompanied by copies of corresponding checks, monthly bank statements, and letters to Silagy soliciting millions from FPL—shows ten deposits in 2018, six of which are from FPL. The deposits total $15,335,000.
Screenshot / The Orlando Sentinel; A November 2018 letter from the dark-money nonprofit Mothers for Moderation, one of several soliciting millions from Florida Power & Light via its CEO, Eric Silagy. Records show FPL donated $14.15 million to Mothers for Moderation in 2018, nearly all of the money the dark-money group raised that year.
Explained in great detail by The Sentinel, prosecutors in Miami have been investigating the dubious scheme for some time. They have uncovered widespread ties between several influential business interests in Florida and the dark-money consultants behind the plot.
Specifically, this latest trove of information exposes FPL's intimate involvement in the scheme. For years, FPL has been a top spender on lobbying and public campaign contributions. The Florida Senate is essential to the utility's prosperity because the Senate must confirm the governor's appointments to the Public Service Commission—a body that recently voted to allow FPL to raise rates by nearly $5 billion over the next four years.