Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Ban investor-owned utilities from funding political campaigns

Quickly glancing at this summer’s headlines should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the climate crisis is upon us. 

A deadly heat wave scorches the Midwest. Unrelenting wildfires produce dense smog that blankets entire cities across the Great Lakes and shortens the breath of millions of people.

Residents of Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint and many other communities must contend with constant power outages, flooding, asthma and a host of other climate change-induced issues. And, like we see in so many cases, Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities bear the brunt of these harmful effects.

Juan Jhong Chung
Juan Jhong Chung is policy director of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition.

Michigan communities deserve a future where all of us, no matter what we look like or where we live, have access to clean air, fresh drinking water, and renewable energy. But wealthy corporations like DTE and Consumers Energy, whose political contributions have enforced a stranglehold on our legislative process, are seeking to make that future impossible.

The Michigan Legislature has failed to hold utilities accountable for their negligence and disinvestment in our grid, or to provide relief to communities impacted by outages, or to stop greedy corporations from hiking up our energy bills. Our communities have been loud and clear: We need sweeping legislative action now to tackle this crisis, not more flawed and unambitious “listening” tours.

It’s no surprise that DTE Energy has exercised such an outsized level of influence over our elected officials. DTE Energy’s political contributions span the entire political spectrum — more than 93 percent of Michigan legislators have accepted political donations from this investor-owned utility, accepting the same dollars their constituents are compelled to pay in order to keep the lights on. Over $8 million dollars have been funneled from DTE’s coffers into political action committees and election campaigns. The result, therefore, is sadly predictable. Michigan’s energy policies reflect corporate interests, not community input.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We must envision a better, more just future for Michigan. It’s a future where every community enjoys affordable, reliable and renewable energy; where major polluters are held accountable; where utilities are publicly and community owned; where our families thrive in clean, healthy neighborhoods, and where environmental justice is not just a conference slogan, but a practice and a creed. 

But in order to get there, we must break the undemocratic grip that wealthy corporations like DTE and Consumers Energy have on our legislative process. The first step must be to ban investor-owned utilities from using ratepayer dollars to fund political campaigns.

There is ample precedent for this restriction. States like Colorado, Connecticut and Maine have all passed legislation that limits or removes the ability of monopoly companies to use ratepayer dollars to fund political campaigns or influence legislation. It’s high time that Michigan follows.

Will we allow corporations to write the legislation that will shape our state for generations to come? Or will we stand up to their pernicious influence and fund 100 percent renewable, pollution-free, community-led solutions? The time to act is now, and the stakes could not be higher.

How impactful was this article for you?

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now