Exposing Corporate Pawns: PACE

Stephen Smith | April 16, 2015 | Energy Policy, Solar

One important service we try to provide to our members, supporters, and the news media that follow clean energy issues in our region is information on who is trying to move our country forward on energy policy and who is being paid to hold us back. Many monopoly utilities and fossil fuel companies have large financial interests in blocking the progress of cleaner energy sources and will go to great lengths to mislead citizens, much the same way tobacco interests mislead people about the dangers of cigarettes. In the coming months we will attempt to document some of these corporate pawns who are masquerading as protectors of consumer interest.

The Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) is the public face of a complex network of public relations firms employed by fossil fuel and utility interests, and front groups with a history of pretending to support the interests of consumers. In particular, they have purported to represent African Americans, yet they do not support policies that serve those communities. PACE has been active in Alabama for several years, and recently branched out into Florida, where its newest employee Abigail McIver (formerly of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity) has been passing out anti-solar literature to legislators.

PACE, specifically its director Lance Brown, and consultant Charles Steele, participated vociferously in the informal hearings in 2013 to review Alabama Power’s rate-setting mechanism, where they advocated for continuing the current mechanism that allows Alabama Power to earn a profit about 40% higher than the industry standard with almost no transparency. This position alone should call into question the accuracy of the group’s claims to represent consumers on energy issues.

PACE's Lance Brown at event co-sponsored with Consumer Energy Alliance

PACE is a partner with the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a national-level lobbying organization that is funded by and advocates for utility and fossil fuel interests. Grist’s Brentin Mock dressed down the CEA for its disingenuous efforts attacking net metering for solar power producers in Wisconsin and exposed the fossil, utility, and tobacco connections of its leaders. CEA’s Florida President, Kevin Doyle, is also no friend to clean energy, editorializing against the Clean Power Plan in June 2014. Doyle was also the Florida registered agent and is currently a strategic partner with HBW Resources, the Washington, DC-based PR firm that appears to guide CEA. DeSmogBlog published an article connecting CEA, HBW Resources, and the push to keep the US hooked on Alberta tar sands oil via the Keystone XL Pipeline.

PACE is funded primarily by shadowy pass-through groups Partnership for Alabama Leadership (PAL) and Vote Alabama. The head of PAL, Mike Fields, is on retainer as a consultant with Alabama Power and has been paid between $10-50,000 annually for the past several years. Comparisons of funds received by PACE compared to the amounts donated to them by PAL and Vote Alabama were first traced by investigative reporter Eddie Curran:

  • 2010: Of $271,000 PACE raised, $95,000 was from PAL, and $150,000 from Vote Alabama. Amount of PACE funding for which sources are not known: $26,000
  • 2011: Of $419,768 PACE raised, $135,000 was from PAL; and $165,000 from Vote Alabama. Amount of PACE funding for which sources are not known: $119,768
  • 2012: Of $333,378 PACE raised, $95,000 was from PAL and $135,000 from Vote Alabama. Amount of PACE funding for which sources are not known: $102,878
  • 2013: Of $654,500 PACE raised, $315,000 was from PAL, and $229,000 from Vote Alabama. Amount of PACE funding for which sources not known: $100,500

These pass-through groups do not have to publicize where they get their money, but if another non-profit group had donated to them, it would have to disclose such a donation on its IRS Form 990. Our search of 990 forms found no such disclosure.

PACE is also linked very directly to Matrix, a PR firm with well-established ties to Alabama Power and a reputation around the Alabama state capitol as the go-to “opposition research” firm for digging up dirt to attack anyone who’s not on their side. Alabama Power openly acknowledges it is a longtime Matrix client. AL.com reported in 2011 that “Power company spokesman Michael Sznajderman said Friday his company seeks strategy and policy advice from Matrix, and has paid them for a long time. He would not say how much Matrix is paid.” Alabama Power Vice President for Regulatory and Corporate Affairs Nick Sellers is a former Matrix employee.

PACE director Lance Brown is intimately related to Matrix, which paid his salary in 2009, a time when he was already serving as director of PACE, according to his public divorce filing. According to IRS 990 records, PACE did not pay him at all in 2009 or 2010, suggesting his salary may have been paid by Matrix in 2010 as well. Matrix founder and CEO Joe Perkins is such a close friend that he officiated at Brown’s 2012 wedding.

Brown has also appeared in several Matrix videos as an actor, videos that have nothing to do with PACE. In fact, PACE employs the same video editing company, Gale Force Productions, as Matrix and many other groups affiliated with Alabama Power. Ronda Walker, now a Montgomery County Commissioner, worked for Matrix at the time she joined PACE’s founding board of directors (she remains on PACE’s board).

In order to give the appearance of African American support for its anti-clean energy positions, PACE paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader Charles Steele. Steele spoke out in favor of Alabama Power at 2013 informal rate hearings and has appeared in videos created by PACE. While Steele is a well-respected civil rights leader, we are concerned that his position on energy issues may be compromised by the large donations he accepts from this utility front group.

Charles Steele's compensation from PACE reported on PACE's 2009 IRS form 990

Additional evidence of the close connection between Alabama Power, PACE, and Steel lies in the fact that a lawyer from Balch & Bingham, Alabama Power’s legal partner, incorporated both PACE and another now-defunct group founded by Brown and Steele together.

PACE is branching out into other states, particularly where solar energy is a hot topic. Lance Brown appeared at a rally in Georgia supporting Americans for Prosperity’s (AFP) position against solar energy, which was ultimately defeated by other conservatives who pushed for a bill allowing third-party sales of solar energy. AFP’s claims about solar in Florida earned a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact.

As PACE and AFP seem to be joining forces in Florida, their anti-solar propaganda needs to be taken for what it is: misleading, deceptive and outright lies from groups funded by polluters to protect the entrenched fossil fuels industries.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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