DTE Energy shareholders reject proposal for political spending transparency

DTE’s Board of Directors advised shareholders and executives to vote against annual political spending disclosures.

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DTE Headquarters

DTE Energy shareholders rejected a proposal that would have required the company to disclose its annual political spending last week, with 71% voting to reject and 29% voting to approve.

The proposal aimed to shed light on DTE’s dark money spending channeled through LLC and 501(c)(4) organizations. Specifically, the proposal called attention to DTE-associated 501(c)(4) nonprofits such as Michigan Energy First and the Clean and Sustainable Energy Fund.

DTE Spokesperson Pete Ternes said the proposal was not needed.

“The company’s lobbying activities are subject to state and federal government regulation, including requirements to disclose certain state and federal lobbying expense,” Ternes told Planet Detroit. “DTE not only complies with all applicable state and federal laws in this area, we believe our disclosures currently exceed the requirements. These disclosures are available and linked to the DTE Energy website. Therefore, the proposal was unnecessary, and a majority of the shareholders voted it down.”

The move at the utility’s annual shareholder meeting on May 4 came as DTE faces a growing backlash over its political spending, including dark money campaigns that use nonprofit organizations to conceal political spending to advance its interests. 

In February, Attorney General Dana Nessel called for utilities to voluntarily disclose more information about their lobbying expenses. Nessel’s request comes after a report that showed DTE Energy-linked dark money groups funneled more than half a million dollars to Unlock Michigan, a group opposed to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID lockdowns and restrictions. Nessel wants utilities to report spending to influence legislation, policy and public opinion as well as information on charitable donations and expenses related to rate cases. 

In April, Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) introduced a package of bills that would establish reporting requirements for utility providers on their lobbying efforts. But advocates say the bill includes a loophole that exempts corporations like DTE because it would apply only to its subsidiaries. They add that many of the other provisions under the bill apply to information that is already publicly available.

In a 2019 Consumers rate case settlement, the MPSC barred Consumers from contributing corporate funds to a 501(c)(4). The company had shunted $43.5 million to the group Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy, a 501(c)(4) group run by current and former company executives, according to the company’s financial disclosures with the MPSC. 

DTE and Consumers Energy have pushed back against criticism of their political spending, saying they do not pass those costs to customers in rates. The nonprofit Citizens Utility Board of Michigan and Nessel have requested additional oversight from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), saying that some spending DTE considers “non-political” goes to organizations that advocate for policy positions that benefit the company.

The transparency resolution was brought forth by the SEIU Master Trust, a shareholder, and supported by the Defend Black Voters Coalition. DTE’s leadership advised shareholders to vote against the proposal, which would have compelled the company to publish detailed information annually. 

This information would have included the company’s lobbying policies and procedures, payments for direct and indirect lobbying activities, membership and payments to tax-exempt organizations endorsing model legislation, and insights into the decision-making process regarding such payments. 

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, shareholders sided with the board’s recommendation and voted against the measure, with a margin of 101,536,233 to 42,863,661. 

This article was updated May 17 to include a statement DTE Energy.


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