PORTLAND – A legislator from Presque Isle who serves on the committee that deals with utility and energy matters says he has no idea why Enron Corp. gave him a $100 campaign contribution two years ago.
Rep. Richard Duncan, a Republican who was running unopposed at the time, was one of a handful of members of the Utilities and Energy Committee who received campaign money from the Houston-based energy giant during the 1998 and 2000 elections.
Those contributions to committee members ranged from $100 to $450, for a total of $850, according to the Portland Press Herald, which reviewed campaign finance records.
Enron’s involvement in Maine came after the state began restructuring its electric power industry in 1997.
Former Enron lobbyist Dan Allegretti, whose job it was to influence the committee, said he can’t remember why Duncan got the money. But Allegretti said he found lawmakers on the panel to be generally open to considering different points of view.
“We were willing to help when asked,” Allegretti said. “But we didn’t feel the need to give a lot of money to get attention. The members weren’t hard to get to, or difficult to talk to.”
A key part of Maine’s electric deregulation law created a competitive market for electricity supply. Today, roughly 44 percent of the power used in Maine comes from 14 competitive suppliers, including Enron. Most of this competitive power is bought by large industrial and commercial customers.
A subsidiary of Enron currently supplies roughly one-quarter of all the power used in Maine. The collapse of the energy trading company and its shady financial dealings have become the focus of congressional hearings.
During the deregulation hearings in Augusta, Enron was unsuccessful in its bid to have the state open customer billing and metering services to unregulated utilities.
Rep. Patrick Colwell, a Democrat and the current House majority leader, served on the utilities committee in the late 1990s. Lawmakers worried that taking billing and metering services away from Central Maine Power would cost jobs in Maine, he said, without saving customers money.
Records show that Colwell received two campaign donations from Enron, $250 in 1997, and $200 in 1998. They made up a small portion of the cash contributions Colwell got during the period, records show, and were on par with gifts from other energy interests.
“At the time,” Colwell said, “we just thought they were a new business.”
Aside from the $100 given to Duncan, Enron also gave money
to two other committee members in 2000, according to campaign finance records. Rep. Monica McGlocklin, D-Embden, received $100, as did Rep. Donald Berry, R-Belmont.
In 1998, Allegretti made a $100 personal contribution to former Sen. Carol Kontos, a Democrat from Windham.
Looking back, Allegretti said he can’t remember the specifics of why he singled out a handful of lawmakers on the utilities committee for campaign donations.
“Enron was a huge corporation,” he said. “There’s no question Enron lobbied. But I didn’t do anything in Maine that wasn’t fully disclosed, and there was nothing unseemly.”