This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 6, 2011 - Kevin Gunn, chairman of Missouri's Public Service Commission that regulates utilities and their rates, says that the agency's dealings with Ameren won't be affected by the electric utility's hiring of the firm headed by his former boss: retired U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt.
Gunn worked for five years in various campaign and congressional posts for Gephardt, D-St. Louis County, who represented the region's 3rd District for 28 years. Gephardt, a St. Louis native, was the U.S. House's Democratic leader for years, and made two unsuccessful bids for the White House.
Gunn said in an interview that he hasn't talked to Gephardt or his firm, Gephardt Government Affairs, and first heard about Ameren's hiring when he read about it in Dave Drebes' online political report, MoScout.
As of Monday, Gephardt has registered as a lobbyist for Ameren with the Missouri Ethics Commission, which retains a list of all lobbyists and monitors their reported activities. The congressman is chief executive of Washington-based Gephardt Government Affairs, which employs a number of lobbyists -- including other former members of Congress.
Gephardt's filing states that he will only lobby Missouri's executive branch, which would include Gov. Jay Nixon and the various state agencies and departments, including the PSC.
Observed Gunn: "I don't know if the purpose (of Gephardt) is to lobby the governor or me."
Gunn emphasized that PSC rules already bar Ameren or any utility -- or its lobbyists -- from discussing rate-related matters with the agency for 13 months, beginning when the utility files its intention to seek a rate change. Ameren already has filed such an intention.
Any discussions with lobbyists on other, allowed, matters also would need to be on the calendar of Gunn or any other member of the five-person commission (one post is currently vacant).
Said Gunn of his one-time mentor: "He wouldn't ask me to, and I wouldn't agree to, have a secret meeting with Dick Gephardt under our ethics rules."
The PSC is currently reviewing those rules.
Ameren has been asked by the Beacon to comment about its hiring of Gephardt's firm, but has yet to do so.
Is CWIP Gephardt's Real Assignment?
In any case, some activists in Jefferson City privately contend that Ameren's hiring of Gephardt may have less to do with the PSC and more likely may be tied to the utility's quest to change the state's current ban against charging ratepayers for construction work in progress (CWIP). That ban is seen by some as a key reason why Ameren lately hasn't pursued its quest to build a second nuclear plant.
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, knows Gephardt well. Nixon has been supportive of the second nuclear plant, but less supportive of the idea of repealing the CWIP ban.
Gephardt also long has been close to labor unions. Most area unions are in favor of a new nuclear plant, because of the additional jobs. But they are split when it comes to the CWIP ban. Gephardt's hiring also could improve Ameren's overall relationship with St. Louis area labor leaders, because their generally good relationship with the former congressman.
In any case, Gephardt and Ameren appear to be on the same page when it comes to any likelihood that he would attempt to lobby the state's Republican-dominated General Assembly -- which also has been split when it comes to CWIP.
His lobbyist registration makes clear that Gephardt -- who spent his political years at St. Louis City Hall or in Washington -- won't be lobbying state legislators.