Michigan is home to several large utilities but the most politically and socially active of these corporations is Detroit-based DTE Energy. In general DTE follows a very clear playbook in Michigan: work both sides of the political spectrum, position within major policy planning circles, and flood potential public opposition with philanthropic donations and greenwashing PR stunts.
DTE Energy is an investor-owned utility, identified by the ticker symbol DTE on the New York Stock Exchange. DTE’s stock has consistently gained value, growing from around $85 to $119 per share over the last five years.
Prominent Wall Street firms Capital World Investors, Vanguard Group, and BlackRock are DTE’s top three shareholders, together holding over 30% of the company. Clue Chip Partners, Sigma Planning Corp, and the State of Michigan Retirement System are the top Michigan-based investors. Notably, the State of Michigan Retirement System has been invested in DTE for the last 20 years.
In 2019 DTE Executive Chairman Gerard Anderson took in $12.2 Million in cash, stock, and other benefits while incoming CEO Gerardo “Jerry” Norcia received $8.2 Million. Norcia’s compensation is expected to see a large increase in 2020, as it reflects a full year in the CEO position. Four additional top executives each earned between $2.5 and $4.2 million
DTE board members are also handsomely compensated. In 2019 the average salary combination of cash and stock for DTE’s 12 board members was $253,453.
Even Norcia’s partial compensation package, which reflects six months in the CEO role, is 57 times what the average DTE employee earns and 143 times larger than the median household income in Michigan. That disparity will only continue to grow.
DTE’s power and influence is further evident in Michigan’s policy planning circles, where DTE executives sit on prominent boards alongside Michigan’s billionaires and business elites such as Dan Gilbert, Roger Penske, and Hank Meijer.
DTE has representatives on the boards of Business Leaders for Michigan, Detroit Economic Club, Detroit Regional Chamber, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and Invest Detroit, among others. These boards are where Michigan’s business elite come together to direct business investment and strategize on policy. While politicians move legislation, these circles are largely where favorable policies are formed and gain traction.
Beyond business-aligned groups, DTE also has representatives on the boards of various charitable organizations and even the city’s police foundation. DTE’s Director of Corporate and Government Affairs sits on the board of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation, which channels private money into funding for the police. DTE sponsors the foundation’s events such as the Above & Beyond Awards and donates directly through its foundation, giving $138,000 between 2014 and 2018.
DTE’s top executives sit on the boards or are trustees of a variety of environmental groups, cultural organizations, and academic institutions.
DTE also has its own philanthropic arm, the DTE Energy Foundation, which distributed nearly $88 million from 2013 to 2018. This foundation, which funds numerous small cultural, educational, environmental, and basic needs organizations that rely on donations to serve their missions, is another means through which DTE exercises its power.
The DTE Foundation donations to environmental organizations are particularly notable. DTE Foundation donated at least $591,000 to environmental organizations across the country in 2018, the latest available record. The organizations below are a snapshot of the environmental organizations that received $20,000+ donations from DTE in 2018:
The Foundation also sponsors major public events including the annual GrandJazzFest in Grand Rapids and the Detroit Jazz Festival.
Like their corporate executive counterparts, DTE Foundation board members have a wide range of connections to other organizations and nonprofits across Michigan. Three of the executives detailed above – Lauer, Meader, and Muschong – also serve on the foundation board.
The economic power exercised by DTE through its foundation can have a cooling effect on opposition to the corporation and its agenda. This tactic combined with highly connected executives and board members, means that DTE is nearly inescapable in Michigan social and political life.
DTE is an active player in Michigan state politics where it wields significant influence across both sides of the aisle, ensuring that it maintains prominence regardless of who holds political office.
DTE reports the total it spends on certain civic and political activities – mainly lobbying – at the state-level to the Michigan Public Service Commission annually. This line item on their report includes all expenditures made with the purpose of “influencing public opinion” and “influencing the decisions of public officials.” Since 2015 DTE has reported spending an average of $3,177,703 on these political activities to the MPSC. While this number may include contributions to super PACS, it does not include donations from the DTE PAC or individual donations from employees.
While it’s lobbying on the state-level holds steady, DTE’s lobbying expenditures have decreased steadily at the federal level. From 2015 to 2019 DTE spent an average of $948,000. This may indicate that DTE has found more success lobbying locally than at the federal level.
In addition to its lobbying efforts, DTE’s political action committees and employees are political donors. While DTE-affiliated PACs and DTE employees leaned more Republican in the 2016 cycle, according to contribution aggregation from OpenSecrets they made nearly equal donations to Democrats and Republicans in the 2020 cycle.
From 2019 to 2020 the DTE Energy Company PAC reported contributing $668,541 to federal candidates and committees, making roughly equal contributions to key partisan committees including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($30,000) and the National Republican Senate Committee ($30,000).
Notably DTE PAC gave $10,000 to Republican Rep. Peter Meijer’s successful congressional run. Peter Meijer is the son of Hank Meijer, the billionaire owner of the Meijer supermarket chain and member of Business Leaders for Michigan alongside Gerard Anderson and Jerry Norcia.
DTE’s contribution history in Michigan follows a similar pattern of giving across the aisle but is a bit more stilted. Corporate donations through the DTE Energy PAC have been very consistent, with the PAC doling out an average of $131,568 directly to state races and committees over the last four years according to records pulled from the Michigan Campaign Finance database. From 2017 through 2020 DTE Energy PAC gave $121,975 to the House Republican Campaign Committee and $160,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, the two committees responsible for distributing funds to Republican candidates in state races.
However, as reported by Michigan Capitol Confidential, DTE gave exceptionally large donations to two groups backing Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2018, which was only reported to the Michigan Public Service Commission.
In one example from 2018 DTE attempted to push through a proposal that included not only a rate hike but also new limitations and fees for individual customers that installed rooftop solar on their homes. During the public comment period a previously unknown group called Michigan Energy Promise publicly backed DTE’s proposal. It was later revealed that Michigan Energy Promise’s listed allies were largely nonprofits and chambers of commerce with financial ties to the DTE Energy Foundation. Moreover 5 of the 9 individuals who spoke in favor of DTE’s proposal during that meeting were affiliated with organizations that receive DTE Foundation funding.