JACKSON, Miss. – There is strong evidence that Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley has continually violated Mississippi’s anti-corruption statutes for the past eight years. Specifically, by seeking and accepting prohibited money from companies he regulates, and from lawyers whose contracts he approved. The concerns were evidenced by Mandy Gunasekara, former candidate for Presley’s Northern District post, and the chief of staff at US EPA during the Trump Administration. Gunasekara called on Presley to resign as Commissioner immediately and turned over her findings to state officials for further investigation.
“Throughout the campaign trail, many individuals approached me with accounts of corruption at the northern district PSC,” said Mandy Gunasekara. “I not only ran to reform the PSC but to also root out pay-for-play politics that has held Mississippi back. Over the past month, I’ve spent considerable time looking into these allegations and found significant evidence that Brandon Presley regularly skirted strict campaign finance laws designed to protect Mississippi ratepayers from rank corruption. While I will leave the final designation of these actions to our state investigators, they are arguably criminal and unquestionably unethical. Brandon Presley should resign immediately.”
In 1990, after two Commissioners were convicted of corruption, the Legislature passed tough restrictions on fundraising for the public service commission. The law in question is Title 77, Chapter 1, sec. 11of the Mississippi Code, which reads as follows:
(1) It shall be unlawful for any public service commissioner, any candidate for public service commissioner, or any employee of the Public Service Commission or Public Utilities Staff to knowingly accept any gift, pass, money, campaign contribution or any emolument or other pecuniary benefit whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, from any person interested as owner, agent or representative, or from any person acting in any respect for such owner, agent or representative of any telephone company, gas or electric utility company, or any other public utility that shall come under the jurisdiction or supervision of the Public Service Commission.
The Public Utilities Rules of Practice and Procedure, which is approved by the Commissioners, further clarifies that “utility” means: “any person subject to the regulatory jurisdiction of the Commission” (see p. 12).
SUMMARY OF LEGAL CONCERNS AND ETHICS VIOLATIONS:
- Pay to Play: Solar companies fall under the jurisdiction of the PSC and must receive a “certificate to operate” in Mississippi, which is approved by the PSC. Brandon Presley has received more than $100,000 from these companies and their associations in recent years. The approvals to operate alongside the net metering rule have allowed solar farms to proliferate across the state. By the statute and the PSC’s own definition of “utility,” companies like Silicon Ranch, Pinegate Renewables, Posigen and Entegrity are generating power, and come under the supervision and jurisdiction of the PSC. Accordingly, accepting contributions from them, which Presley has, flies in the face of the law and basic standards of efficacy.
- Consultant Kick-Backs: Out-of-state law firms whose million-dollar contracts are approved by the PSC – primarily, consultants at the Michael Best & Friedrich firm of Milwaukee, and the firm itself — have been contributing to Brandon Presley’s campaign. He’s collected over $70,000 from consultants after personally approving their contracts that have generated $5 million in fees for the firm. The $5 million in fees are paid by Mississippi ratepayers, which raises a separate question of indirect contributions that are prohibited. These issues has been previously reported by the Magnolia Tribune.
- Buying Judicial Influence: Radical third-party groups like the Sierra Club, which supports on-demand abortions, open borders, and gun confiscation, have given Brandon Presley $75,000 through the end of 2022. They have regularly asked for, and Presley approved of, the right to intervene in numerous cases pending before the PSC.
Gunasekara zeroed in on a dozen firms and entities who gave to Presley – contributions totaling almost $90,000 — and PSC documents showing they were granted certification and desired outcomes by the Commission.
Those are huge sums representing dozens of contributions. By comparison, Sidney Barnett, the last commissioner to violate the campaign finance rules, was charged by Attorney General Mike Moore on just 15 counts totaling $29,000 in campaign cash in 1992. Barnett pled guilty four months after his arrest.
“It appears that the political contributions to Presley bought access, bought certification and bought results. It’s a return to the same type of corruption the 1990 reform laws were enacted to stop. His actions have created a cloud of corruption at the PSC, and he should resign immediately,” said Gunasekara.