Crony Capitalism Gone Wild: Duke Energy CEO Backs President Obama

Tom Borelli

10/2/2012 2:27:00 PM - Tom Borelli

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers sets a new standard for crony capitalism. While the vast majority of crony capitalists are pragmatic businessmen who pursue a partnership with President Obama for purely financial reasons, Rogers is a different breed.

Most CEOs are political agnostics and see cronyism as a shortcut to bypass the competitive free enterprise system to a pot of gold. These business executives walk a political tight rope, trying to balance the benefits of political favors against the risk of drawing media scrutiny and controversy of looting the public treasury.

For Jim Rogers, passion for progressive politics appears as great as being a CEO and making money.

In addition to reaping the financial benefits of collaborating with President Obama’s energy policy, Rogers exceeds the actions of crony capitalists by aggressively using Duke Energy’s assets to advance left-wing policies.

And Rogers does not stop there. Extraordinarily for a CEO, Rogers also aggressively seeks the media limelight to defend the president.

Duke Energy’s role in the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC exposed Rogers’ passion for the Democratic Party and President Obama.

Rogers went all in for the convention and for President Obama’s re-election. He was the co-chair of the host committee and according to news sources he personally donated $100,000 – the maximum allowed – to support the convention. Rogers and his wife gave $10,000 to the President’s campaign.

Clearly, what Rogers does with his personal time and money is his right.

However, Rogers crossed the conflict of interest line when he used Duke Energy’s assets to back the financing for the DNC by establishing a $10 million line of credit. The company also provided the Duke Energy building’s office space for DNC staffers as an in-kind contribution.

The line of credit was a creative way to circumvent the DNC ban of direct corporate support for the convention.

Using Duke Energy as a bank for the Democratic Party is inconsistent with expectations of shareholders that invested in a utility company.

Because the host committee fell short of its fundraising goal of about $37 million, according to Bloomberg News, it was forced to use the line of credit with the details of the Duke Energy loan to be revealed in a report to the Federal Elections Commission in October.

In addition using his company as a bank, Rogers also defended President Obama’s record. In an interview with Soledad O’Brien on CNN during the Democratic Convention, Rogers defended the President, saying, “Well, from an energy sector, we're better off today than we were four years ago. Think about it. President Obama pursued all-of-the-above strategy.”

By any objective measure, Obama’s energy policy is not for all sources of energy.

Jim Rogers’ answer totally ignored President Obama’s war on coal, and the dramatic rise in gasoline prices that are a result of the President’s energy policy. In fact, because of EPA regulations, Duke Energy is closing coal-fired power plants in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Rogers was a major backer of the President’s cap-and-trade energy policy. In an effort to pass the law, Rogers aggressively lobbied for the legislation including testifying in Congress and joining the United States Climate Action Partnership – a coalition of businesses and environmental activist groups that want nationwide limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

Unsurprisingly, Rogers’ support of President Obama and his policies has rewarded Duke Energy and its CEO generously. Duke Energy was a grant recipient of Obama’s stimulus plan, including a whopping $200 million award from the Department of Energy for development of smart grid technology.

Rogers was also rewarded for his DNC fundraising chore by obtaining a speaking slot at the Democratic Convention.

It’s possible that Jim Rogers’ unwavering support of President Obama is motivated by seeking a position in the next Obama Administration if the President is re-elected. In 2008, The Washington Post mentioned Rogers as a candidate to head the Energy Department, and his herculean efforts supporting Obama in 2012 might be enough to secure the post.

Rogers denied he was angling for the Energy Department post in response to a question posed by my wife Deneen Borelli at Duke Energy’s 2011 shareholder meeting. Despite his denial, his actions point to a different conclusion.

Undoubtedly, Rogers has gone above and beyond to trumpet the progressive agenda, and to support the re-election effort of President Obama.

While crony capitalism undermines free enterprise, Roger’s form of progressive cronyism offers a more dangerous version, where a CEO uses his company to support his personal political beliefs and possibly secure his next job.