The group that regulates Ohio's utilities sent over 30 of its staff to a conference in Orlando before the holidays, costing utility customers $34,660. Dayton Daily News reporter Laura Bischoff examined the expenses surrounding the trip. In an interview for PoliticsOhio, she tells Emily McCord that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is a powerful board and that the public often doesn't know how their money is spent and where it goes.
Bischoff reports that the conference was held by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a group that supports state regulators. The conference agenda was substantial, but Bischoff says, "[the cost] seemed a little high to me but I guess the thing that was questionable was that they sent 20 people."
Other PUCO meetings have prompted questions by Bischoff. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a conservative non-profit backed by corporations like Phillip Morris and Exxon Mobile. Critics say ALEC has undue influence on lawmakers. The group hosted PUCO Commissioner Todd Snitchler in two conferences in 2011.
Before he was with PUCO, Snitchler was an Ohio lawmaker.
"It is a little surprising that he would continue to go to ALEC meetings as a regulator," says Bischoff. "One of the things that ALEC advocates for is free markets, limited government and reduced regulation and here is the chief utility regulator for Ohio going to not one but two conferences sponsored by an entity that seeks to reduce regulation."
Snitchler recently announced he will not be seeking reappointment when his terms ends in April. A nominating commission is meeting this month who will make recommendation to Governor Kasich, who makes the final decision.