Sure, if Duke Energy and Progress Energy are allowed to merge it would create the largest utility in the nation. It could also create the biggest political powerhouse in North Carolina.
Separately, the companies already sponsor political action committees that are consistently among the top 10 spenders in the state. Democracy North Carolina, the campaign finance watchdog group, figures that if they merge and continue to spend like they have been, the results would be awe-inspiring.
That's assuming the new corporation would spend as much as the companies did separately, which might be a big assumption. Still, here are the numbers: The utilities spent $52 million over the past eight years on North Carolina and federal lobbying and political donations - $19 million of it in the 2009-2010 election cycle alone, according to the group. Contributions went to 115 of the 170 state legislators who were elected in 2010. The top nine lawmakers in each party received between $13,000 and $22,000 each.
Democracy North Carolina's Bob Hall notes that Duke and Progress want rate increases, and they are lobbying the General Assembly for a law that would allow them to raise rates automatically to pay for nuclear or other power plants.
"In all these dealings with state and federal policymakers, it is useful to understand the scope of the two companies' political clout," Hall said in a news release.
The Chinese Duke
Further adventures in China: This weekend, Gov. Bev Perdue and Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco will visit Duke University's future campus in China.
The pair, who are on a trade mission with North Carolina business leaders, will stop at Duke Kunshan University. The campus is under construction in Kunshan, a city 37 miles from Shanghai. It is a partnership between Duke, the city of Kunshan and Wuhan University in China.
The building of a campus in China has been controversial at Duke, where some faculty have raised questions about the expense and the market demand of a high-priced Duke degree for Chinese students.
"We are honored to have Gov. Perdue and Secretary Crisco visit the site of Duke Kunshan University," Duke President Richard Brodhead said in a statement. "We hope DKU will play an important role in the continued development of strong ties between North Carolina and China, and I am confident that the visit by the governor and the secretary will enrich existing relationships and open the door to new areas of cooperation."
DKU is scheduled to open in the 2012-13 academic year, the university said.
Kudos for Coble
A taxpayers watchdog group, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, includes Rep. Howard Coble of North Carolina among its list of "taxpayer heroes." It's the 16th time Coble, a Republican, has made the list.
The group recognizes members of Congress who consistently vote the way the council likes.
Coble earned a 91 percent rating. That's short of the "super hero" rating of 100 percent.
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