Commonwealth Edison customers unknowingly gave millions to company's charities of choice

Markets Associated Press

Commonwealth Edison's customers have been unknowingly contributing millions of dollars to the utility's charities, including politically influential groups and projects that have close ties to company executives.

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ComEd's charitable contributions have totaled $60 million over the last eight years, the Chicago Tribune reported (http://trib.in/1Lr3XTi ). Among the beneficiaries was World Business Chicago, an economic development organization chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that received $736,000 from ComEd in 2011. The CEO of ComEd parent company Exelon is a member of the group's board.

Ratepayers also spent $10,000 the next year to help pay for a cocktail reception at which ComEd's CEO received an award.

State law requires a utility's charitable contributions to be directed to "public welfare or for charitable science, religious or educational purposes." But there's no cap on contributions in those areas.

ComEd defended its contributions, saying in a statement that it "supports organizations and programs, which align with the company's community and educational goals and meet our rigorous standards, and benefit our customers and the communities we serve."

Overall, the Tribune's investigation found the company had donated to about 600 different organizations. Others included the Lincoln Park Zoo, the United Way, and Chicago Urban League.

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ComEd delivers power to millions of customers in northern Illinois. The utility collects a small portion of every customer's bill for its charitable donations. The company estimates that each customer contributes about 15 cents per month toward its charitable donations.

The Citizens Utility Board, a watchdog group that represents the interests of Illinois' residential utility customers, has been pushing for more open reporting of ComEd's charitable gifts, which are buried in regulatory filings.

The group also wants ratepayers to receive credit for sponsorships on organizations' websites and advertising materials.

"If utilities are going to use ratepayer dollars to make charitable contributions, then consumers should help determine where those dollars are donated, as it is their money at the end of the day," CUB executive director David Kolata said.