FIRST ON FOX: Democrat Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who is running for Mississippi governor, received campaign donations from green energy entities he oversees.
One former Mississippi Public Service commissioner who spoke to Fox News Digital said it “blows my mind” that Presley accepted such contributions.
State law prohibits a public service commissioner from “knowingly accept[ing] any gift, pass, money, campaign contribution or any emolument or other pecuniary benefit whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, from any person interested as owner, agent or representative, or from any person acting in any respect for such owner, agent or representative of any common or contract carrier by motor vehicle, telephone company, gas or electric utility company, or any other public utility that shall come under the jurisdiction or supervision of the Public Service Commission.”
The Democrat governor candidate appears to have accepted campaign contributions from several green energy companies that he regulates as a public service commissioner.
The Mississippi Public Service Commission has a broad definition of “utility” in the commission’s rules, meaning “any person subject to the regulatory jurisdiction of the Commission.”
According to campaign finance records reviewed by Fox News Digital, several board members and key operators of Tennessee-based solar power company Silicon Ranch donated thousands of dollars to Presley in 2018 and 2021.
While Silicon Ranch is a Tennessee company, the Mississippi Public Service Commission found in 2017 that it had jurisdiction over the company when it was building a solar farm in Lauderdale County, Mississippi, though the commission noted that it wasn’t technically a public utility.
“Petitioner, Silicon Ranch, is not, and does not intend to become, a public utility under the laws of the State of Mississippi. Even though Petitioner, Silicon Ranch, is not a public utility, it is an ‘other person’ within the meaning of § 77-3-14,” the Commission order said.
Former Democrat Tennessee Gov. Philip Bredesen, who serves as founding chairman of Silicon Ranch, gave Presley $1,000 on Oct. 27, 2021.
Silicon Ranch board chairman Matthew Kisber gave Presley a total of $2,000: $1,000 on Dec. 30, 2018, and another $1,000 on Oct. 26, 2021. Reagan Farr, president and CEO of Silicon Ranch, gave $1,000 on Oct. 29, 2021.
Matt Beasley, board director and chief commercial officer of Silicon Ranch, gave Presley two donations of $1,000 each on Dec. 30, 2018, and Oct. 27, 2021.
Presley boasted online about the approval he gave Silicon Ranch in August 2017 to build a solar farm in Lauderdale County and also approved another Silicon Ranch solar farm in Lee County in January of the next year.
Additionally, Presley received a total $21,000 from North Carolina solar energy company Pine Gate Renewables between 2018 and 2022: $1,000 on Sept. 14, 2020, and two $10,000 payments from the green energy company on Dec. 29, 2021, and Jan. 20, 2022.
Pine Gate Renewables and Missouri renewable energy company Birch Creek Development, LLC, in 2020 petitioned the Mississippi Public Service Commission as partners regarding the development of a Mississippi green energy project called Moonshot Solar, LLC.
“I am providing testimony in support of the petition of Moonshot Solar to receive a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Mississippi Public Service Commission,” Piper Miller, director of development for Pine Gate Renewables, told the PSC on May 21, 2020.
Presley also received $500 donations from several Pine Gate Renewables employees and company leadership, including CEO Ben Catt on Oct. 12, 2021, as well as president and COO Ray Shem on Oct. 13, 2021.
Fox News Digital also obtained screenshots of an internal poll conducted by the Democrat polling firm Impact Research – of which Presley is a client – that tested the waters for negative messaging against Presley.
The polling question appears to admit that the public service commissioner took tens of thousands of dollars from the entities he regulates.
“While serving on the Public Service Commission, Brandon Presley has received more than $50,000 in campaign contributions from groups he regulates,” the question reads. “He’s also taken over $35,000 from trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs who spent six years in prison for trying to bribe multiple judges.”
“Please indicate whether this statement raises very serious concerns, serious concerns, minor concerns, or no real concerns for you about Brandon Presley,” it continues before listing the poll options.
Former Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz, a Republican, told Fox News Digital he would “lose sleep at night” because he handled his own campaign finance to ensure any mistakes that may have been made were done by him and no one else.
Bentz said he returned checks that went against state regulations while he was a commissioner and that he would return money even if it came from a lawyer whose firm did any work with an energy company before the commission, even if the lawyer had no business with the commission himself.
The former commissioner also said Mississippi state law is “explicit” and that if he had taken money from a regulated entity before the commission, he “probably would have been in trouble.”
“I mean, I can’t believe as stringent as Brandon Presley tried to make himself out to be, that anybody who came before the Public Service Commission for approval of a certificate would accept something like that,” Bentz said.
“That just blows my mind,” he added.
Presley’s communications director Michael Breyer told Fox News Digital, “This is a lie and a desperate attempt from Tate Reeves to distract from the fact that he is the most corrupt governor in Mississippi history.”
“On Tate Reeves’ watch, $77 million was stolen and diverted from working families to Tate Reeves’ celebrity athlete friends and personal trainer,” Breyer claimed.
“Brandon is the only candidate in this race with a plan to declare war on corruption on day one, while Tate Reeves’ campaign continues to be funded by central figures in the largest public corruption scandal in state history,” he continued.
The Mississippi Free Press found that there was no evidence Reeves had a role in the misspending of state welfare funds.
Presley’s campaign also noted that Republicans in the state have also had issues with taking campaign donations from the entities they represent.
The Democrat’s campaign also pointed to the 2017 jurisdiction minutes and claimed that, due to Silicon Ranch not wanting to be a public utility, the company was therefore not under the jurisdiction of the commission.
Silicon Ranch, Pine Gate Renewables, and Impact Research didn’t respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.
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