City Council to Subpoena Records From Dissolved Nonprofit Funded by First Energy to Discredit Cleveland Public Power

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A MAILER FROM CONSUMERS AGAINST DECEPTIVE FEES
  • A mailer from Consumers Against Deceptive Fees

The first of what may be several subpoenas regarding FirstEnergy's influence in Cleveland was signed by City Council President Kevin Kelley Wednesday.

The subpoena, which a council statement said was being delivered today by Cleveland police, requests all financial records of the nonprofit organization Consumers Against Deceptive Fees. That group, which was active from 2018 through 2020 and portrayed itself as a citizen-led advocacy effort, was funded in part by $200,000 of FirstEnergy contributions made through a pass-through nonprofit. Its sole purposed, records now show, was to discredit Cleveland Public Power and advocate for legislation that would ultimately destroy the municipal utility. 



The subpoena requests bank records, tax filings, and all communications between members of the group and those named in the HB6 indictment, including former House Speaker Larry Householder.

“While we have determined where $200,000 came from, we intend to find all the sources of dark money that went to this organization and how it was spent to undermine Cleveland Public Power,” said Council President Kelley, in a statement provided to the media. “There’s at least another $351,000 this organization received to damage CPP, and we want to know who the sources are.”



Per the subpoena's requirements, an agent of Consumers Against Deceptive Fees will have 21 days to produce the requested documents. Council intends to serve subpoenas to the group's former directors if no agent can be served. 

Though CPP's future and rates remain very pertinent questions ahead of city council contests and the impending mayoral race, Consumers Against Deceptive Fees has since this past summer eliminated its web presence, including its website and Facebook page, and dissolved itself with the state of Ohio as of November 2020.

Board members listed on state paperwork, all of whom live outside the city of Cleveland, didn't respond to requests for comment from Scene nor from John Caniglia at Cleveland.com, who's been documenting the story since the start of 2021.

They seem as intent now as they did last year on keeping their roles and funding secret.

After engaging lawyer Subodh Chandra in an effort to secure a consultant's report on CPP this past year, redacted versions of which were circulated on council and in the media that showed CPP's aging infrastructure, mismanagement and suggested future rate hikes, Consumers Against Deceptive Fees bristled when council said last year it would investigate the group's funding, with Chandra labeling it an attack on First Amendment speech by a consumer advocate.

Reached for comment by Scene in December once part of the funding was disclosed, Chandra said, "Our firm was engaged by Consumers Against Deceptive Fees—which no longer exists and we thus no longer represent—to secure compliance with a public-records request for an Cleveland Public Power rate study that showed gross mismanagement at CPP and overcharging of residential-rate customers. We were unaware of any indirect sources of funding for the organization. Nor did it ever appear to us that the mission of the organization was to 'destabilize' CPP. Rather, actions appeared to be aimed at protecting, reforming, and preserving CPP for the benefit of its residential ratepayers—with total indifference by Kelley, who refused to conduct any hearings to obtain the rate study and act on its recommendations to protect customers."

Frank Jackson suggested in a recent interview with Cleveland.com that the city is considering a lawsuit against FirstEnergy on the issue

Caniglia reported last week that Kevin Kelley himself and the council leadership fund he oversees have both received substantial contributions from First Energy and its law firm Roetzel & Andress since he assumed the council presidency in 2014. Kelley maintained that those financial contributions, totaling more than $30,000 since 2015, have not affected his decision-making. He said he plans to donate $6,000 — $1,000 from his personal campaign account and $5,000 from the council fund — to environmental groups.

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