OPINION | DTE’s influence on Michigan’s elections is out of control. Here’s what you can do about it.

To meet the challenges of the global climate crisis, we need bold ideas and to speak truth to power. That’s the idea behind Climate/Justice, a Planet Detroit opinion column written by Detroit-based environmental justice activist Michelle Martinez. Martinez writes not only as an activist but as a mother and fourth-generation Detroiter. Martinez will be donating all proceeds from this column to Black to the Land Coalition, and she urges readers to donate to the organization via CashApp at $blacktotheland. Follow all of Martinez’ columns here.

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In case you missed it, Steve Neavling at Metro Times blasted DTE Energy last week with a report on the grotesque amounts of money the company’s executives and lobbyists spend to influence our politicians and our elections. 

I mean, I knew politicians were getting paid by DTE. BUT NEARLY ALL OF THEM?! 

Neavling reports that out of the 148 state Legislators, ONLY TEN do not accept money from donors associated with DTE Energy.

Two legislators NOT taking DTE money are State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor and state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck. Both represent customers in DTE’s service territory who are subject to the company’s constant rate hikes, shutoffs and mass outages every time the wind blows. While DTE raises rates and donates to our politicians, they rake in the profits, seek to block renewables development, and shut power off to poor people, then sell the debt to make more money.

Cheers to Rabhi and Aiyash. Not only do they deny fossil fuel influence on the campaign trail, but they are proposing bills that would increase the amount DTE Energy must pay its customers when the power goes out. Rabhi also has a bill to increase renewables to 100% by 2050. Goodness me, I’ve lost so much food and workdays from DTE power outages — oh, what solar could do!

DTE Energy’s influence on our elected officials is out of control. It erodes the ability of those forced to consume DTE’s electricity or gas through its monopoly investor-owned utility structure from having a say in how they want their energy delivered.

 We pay DTE Energy the highest rates in the Midwest. And still, they are asking for more; something advocates are now fighting before the Michigan Public Service Commission. 

Who was named as the top recipient of DTE’s money? Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton. Do you know where Lawton, Michigan, is? It’s just south of Paw Paw, Michigan, a town of 1900 people. According to the Utility Provider search engine provided by the State of Michigan, Lawton is serviced by Indiana-Michigan Power and Consumers Energy. 

So why does DTE pay Nesbitt the big bucks? As a member of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee since 2019, Nesbitt has greatly influenced state energy policy. He currently serves as president pro tempore in the Michigan Senate and is a favorite to be the next Senate GOP leader, Neavling writes.

And it’s not just the campaign donations. According to the Energy and Policy Institute, DTE has a history of operating front groups. In July, they reported that DTE executives are tied to dark money groups, including Michigan Energy First, Protect Our Values, Alliance for Michigan Power, and Michigan Energy Promise. According to EPI, the Protect Our Values dark money group is supporting and promoting Republican State senator Joe Bellino, chair of the House Energy Committee, who has “helped the utilities” with his refusal to allow the committee to vote on solar energy programs. 

Allowing monopoly investor-owned utilities to determine profit over people and influence election outcomes is unconscionable and erodes our democracy. Detroiters and Michigan need a real renewable energy economy, with solar we own and affordable energy for all.

So what can you do? Hold your elected officials accountable. You can see how much elected officials received from DTE here. Write to them and ask them why they take DTE’s money, what they do with it, and how it influences their decisions. Support those politicians that DON’T take their money by donating yours. 

Ask them to support Rabhi and Aiyash’s bill.  And vote for those few proud politicians, like Rabhi and Aiyash, who refuse DTE’s cash.


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