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Duke-Progress Merger To Create Political Powerhouse

If Duke and Progress Energy succeed in merging, they will surpass Bank of America as the most politically influential corporation in North Carolina. During the last election cycle, the political action committees of Duke and Progress made a combined $627,000 in donations to legislative candidates and committees, compared to $380,000 contributed by Bank of America's PAC. Bob Hall of the non-profit watchdog group Democracy North Carolina made the analysis. "(Duke and Progress) were already the 500 pound gorillas in the room," says Hall. "Now they're the 1,200 pound gorilla in the room and it's particularly important when they're going in front of policy makers asking for things. Ratepayers don't have access the way the power companies do to the ordinary legislature - or the legislative leaders particularly." Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis from Mecklenburg County received the most money from Duke and Progress - $22,000 in the last election. The utility companies also spent more than $800,000 to lobby state lawmakers. Duke Energy is in the process of requesting a 17 percent residential rate increase in North Carolina and is pushing lawmakers to change state laws so utility companies can more easily raise rates to the cover the cost of building new nuclear plants. Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams says employees voluntarily contribute to the company's political action committee and determine how the money is spent.