Daniels' friend came calling on regulators, grid operator

2011-01-16T00:00:00Z Daniels' friend came calling on regulators, grid operatorBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

E-mails obtained by The Times show that when a generous campaign contributor and friend of Gov. Mitch Daniels came calling, state regulators knew just who they were dealing with and hoped their effort would be recognized.

In the e-mails, an Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission staffer points out the political connections of Indianapolis businessman Jerry Slusser as he scrambles to set up a meeting between Slusser, Commissioner Jim Atterholt and staff at the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO).

IURC staffer Robert Pauley e-mailed David Hadley, MISO vice president of state regulatory relations, on June 29: "This guy is a friend of the Governor's, Mark Lubbers, et al. He also has some times (sic) to Mr. Rosenberg's gasification's proposals."

Lubbers was a reference to Mark Lubbers, Gov. Mitch Daniels former political director. Rosenberg is William Rosenberg, president of Indiana Gasification LLC, which is developing a coal gasification plant in Spencer, Ind.

Slusser has been a prominent Daniels campaign contributor, donating $116,936 to the Mitch for Governor Campaign between 2004 and 2008, according to campaign contribution data at the Indiana Secretary of State's website. Slusser also donated $94,107 to Daniel's political action committee Aiming Higher, which played a key role in returning a Republican majority to the Indiana House in the fall elections.

Slusser did not return phone messages requesting an interview left at the jet charter company he owns, Vitesse Aviation Services, in Greenfield, Ind.

It is standard practice for the IURC to meet with other agencies and people interested in job creation and economic development, said IURC spokeswoman Danielle McGrath in response to a Times inquiry.

She said that Pauley's characterization of Slusser as a friend of the governor was Pauley's own and not the agency's. The July 14 meeting was initiated by the Indiana Economic Development Corp.,  McGrath said.

The grassroots consumer group Citizens Action Coalition said the e-mails, with their reminders of just who meeting participants will be dealing with, demonstrate how beholden the IURC is to the governor. The governor appoints all five commission members and names the chairperson.

"They don't even see themselves as a regulatory body. They see themselves as a policy body for carrying out the governor's wishes, and that's always been the problem," said Kerwin Olson, utility campaign organizer for the Citizens Action Coalition.

The e-mails were provided to the The Times Media Co. by the IURC after the company made a a public records request.

According to the e-mails, Slusser wanted to power small electric generators using natural gas from wastewater treatment facilities. To sell the power, he needed to find a means of tying his generating plants into the transmission grid.

In the end, Commissioner Atterholt did not attend the July 14 meeting with Slusser because of a scheduling conflict. He had already attended an earlier meeting with the developer, according to the e-mails.

Pauley attended the July 14 meeting at the MISO. He has since left the IURC to work for a federally funded study group seeking to improve the reliability and efficiency of grid transmissions.

When contacted by The Times last month, he said Slusser himself made a point of informing people at the meeting he was a friend of the governor.

Just after the meeting concluded, Pauley e-mailed MISO officials: "I know your efforts 'pay off' with our Commissioners. I hope your efforts are more widely recognized by the Governor's office."

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