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TECO asks who's funding enemy

The company wants the PSC to unmask sources of funding for a federation at odds with subsidiary Tampa Electric Co.

By Times Staff Writer
Published April 20, 2004

TECO Energy Inc. asked the Florida Public Service Commission on Monday to require a consumer attorney to disclose his source of funding in a case involving a TECO subsidiary.

At the core of TECO's concerns is a group that bills itself "Consumer Federation of the Southeast." The federation is a nonprofit Tallahassee corporation that pays for part of attorney Mike Twomey's legal costs and has criticized Tampa Electric Co. and its coal-shipping contract with fellow TECO subsidiary TECO Transport.

The PSC is scheduled to hold hearings on the deal at the end of May.

Other consumer advocates, including the state Office of Public Counsel, also have denounced the contract, arguing that it charges ratepayers too much for coal-transport costs.

But TECO is focusing its attention on the federation because it has refused to reveal the names of its financial backers.

The federation is saying only that it has solicited funds from a variety of individuals and companies, including transport companies.

TECO suspects the federation, whose officers include two executives from the Tallahassee public-relations firm Ron Sachs Communications, gets funding from companies with an interest in landing the Tampa Electric contract.

Richard Lehfeldt, TECO's senior vice president for external affairs, argued that the companies' interests might run counter to those of the Tampa Electric customers that Twomey represents in the case.

Twomey denied there was a conflict and countered that TECO's motion with the PSC was an effort to divert attention from problems with the TECO Transport contract.

"Who is paying me is not relevant to those issues," he said.

[Last modified April 20, 2004, 01:20:37]

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