Even as D.C. politicians rail against Pepco after Friday's storm left hundreds of thousands without power, lobbying reports and other records show the company has worked hard to keep close ties with local lawmakers.
D.C. Mayor Vince Gray held little back this week as he gauged Pepco's response to Friday's storm and its goal of restoring power by Friday evening to most customers.
"Pepco's pace of restoring power to me anyway is unacceptable and the speed of their response is disappointing," Gray said.
The mayor's tough talk stands out because of Pepco's powerful presence at city hall. Lobbying records for 2011 — which are the most recent ones available — show Pepco lobbyists met with D.C. lawmakers and staff on nearly 100 occasions that year. That's more than nearly every other company on the list. The utility has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying city lawmakers over the years.
Pepco hasn’t been shy about making contributions to candidates or constituent service funds, and the utility was on the list of the biggest donors to Gray's inauguration fund, dropping a $25,000 check.
When current Council member Vincent Orange left city government in 2006 after a failed bid for mayor, he ended up at Pepco, working as a lobbyist in its government affairs shop.
Engaging and educating lawmakers though lobbying is, of course, legal and a smart move for companies that do business with the city. But when asked if the relationship between Pepco and the lawmakers at city hall has gotten a little too "cozy," Council member Mary Cheh said that may be the case.
“You can say a cozy relationship," she said, citing Orange's case. "The revolving door aspect with a former council member working as a lobbyist."
The most recent example was the nomination earlier this year of a former consumer advocate to the city's Public Service Commission, "and the ability of the company to quash that nomination," Cheh said.
Gray picked Betty Noel to serve on the commission this year after her work as the People's Counsel in D.C. — a role that saw her argue on behalf of customers in rate disputes against utility companies. Pepco officials successfully fought the nomination, arguing that Noel, because of her work fighting Pepco, would have to recuse herself in many cases.
Without a strong public service commission, Cheh says, there is little the city can do to hold the utility accountable.
"I have been railing about that for a very long time, we need people on the public service commission that are not captured by the industry that they regulate," she says. "We have been very ... uh ... cooperative with the industry ... and not as aggressive and protective of customers."