Editorial: Don’t be duped: Weaselly ‘green energy’ group tries to con Columbus voters out of $87 million

A recent editorial by the Columbus Dispatch:

Cons often come dressed in the most alluring ways.

If Columbus voters are duped by the “green energy” buzz words they’ll find on the Nov. 2 ballot, those behind a nearly decade-old grift will wrap themselves in $87 million from blindsided taxpayers robbed of discretion in deciding how the money is spent.

With early voting starting Tuesday, we join a choir that includes environmental groups, city officials and civic and business leaders in warning Columbus residents not to fall in the booby trap that persistent backers of ProEnergy LLC’s Issue 7 hope to spring on this community.

They are seemingly hoping that environmentally conscience Columbus voters will be attracted to the shadowy group’s stated “purpose of reducing the cost of electricity for customers who live in Columbus with a subsidy to purchase electricity from only wind, solar, fuel cell, geothermal, or hydropower producers.”

Make no mistake, green energy is a good thing.

Also know that this is not about green energy.

It is a shameful attempt to confuse well-meaning voters and bilk Columbus out of money that should be used for critical services such as police and fire protection, trash collection, health services, and recreation and parks programs.

They want to distract you with phrases like “energy conservation,” “clean energy” and “energy efficiency” to lift money from the city coffers.

It is not clear who is behind ProEnergy, what makes them green energy experts or how they intend to use an amount of taxpayer money equivalent to about 11% of the total taxes the city will collect this year for its general fund operations.

The impact would be significant.

“It would force the administration and council to make cuts; we couldn’t just absorb that,” City Council President Shannon Hardin told a Dispatch reporter.

Tom Sussi, a former TV reporter and now a city council candidate endorsed by the GOP, said the plan is not in the best interest of Columbus.

“I think the whole thing stinks,” he said.

Put plainly, voters are being asked to turn over $87 million without knowing who is really asking for the money, how they will address green energy issues or how much the group will pay itself.

— The mysterious and partly cloaked group would be authorized to use “an undetermined portion of the balance” of money received from the city for “the cost of administering distribution of said subsidies.”

— The city of Columbus would be required to turn over $57 million from its general fund for the so-called Clean Energy Partnership Fund for the stated purpose of subsidizing Columbus electric customers’ bills.

ProEnergy’s would have the discretion to decide which customers received the subsidize and how much it would be.

— The proposed Energy Conservation and Energy Efficiency Fund, the Clean Energy Education and Training Fund and Minority Business Enterprise Clean Energy Development Fund would get a whopping $10 million each from the general fund.

That money would be controlled by a majority of the list of petitioners on the ballot and held in “an entity to be designated” by the group.

The initiative is represented on the ballot by an apparent Texas resident, a deceased woman and four others.

Dispatch reporters could not reach most of the petitioners in recent years.

ProEnergy Ohio front man John Clarke (sometimes John Clark Jr.), faces election fraud charges related to the ballot issue.

The Columbus resident and electrical engineer pleaded not guilty to two counts of tampering with government records, both third-degree felonies, and two counts of election falsification, both fifth-degree felonies in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

In December, former Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said investigators found that five people listed on the campaign finance report had given nothing at all.

This saga has been going on for far too long.

In 2012, the group now known as ProEnergy was panned for its attempts to push approval of a measure to transfer $13 billion in state bond money to a New York bank account controlled by an unknown group of investors.

At their discretion, the investors were to fund private infrastructure, research and development of “clean-energy initiatives.”

ProEnergy set its sights on the city of Columbus in 2017 and again in 2019.

After years of gymnastics, the group out-maneuvered city officials and weaseled its way onto the November ballot.

The group is operating in the shadows and is hoping you do not see its true intentions: taking this city’s money and using it as it sees fit.

Tell ProEnergy you can not be fooled by its misdirection play by voting no on Issue 7.

— Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 3