WASHINGTON — Opponents of the $6.8 billion Pepco-Exelon merger deal say a “pay for play” culture is at work in D.C. and have called for an ethics investigation.
At a news conference on Half Street SW, the site of the District’s future soccer stadium, activists questioned D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s role in a multimillion dollar settlement with Pepco and Exelon. Also, they questioned Pepco’s agreement to pay $25 million in exchange for naming rights at one or more District locations, including at the new D.C. United stadium.
“Madam Mayor: What did you know about the true nature of the Pepco soccer land deal, and when did you know it?” said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, at the Wednesday morning event.
Tidwell says there are enough questions about the mechanics of the two deals, the naming rights agreement announced Sept. 18 and the merger settlement announced by Bowser’s administration on Oct. 6, that an ethics investigation is warranted.
Bowser’s office issued a statement saying the stadium deal and merger settlement are not connected.
“Pepco, as a majority land owner at Buzzard Point has been in contact with the District government regarding a soccer stadium for years. The sponsorship agreement stemmed from that negotiation, which was unrelated to the merger.”
Pepco called opponents’ statements misinformed and distracting.
“It’s clear the small vocal minority who continue to oppose the merger are becoming increasingly desperate in their last-ditch attempts to disrupt it. They are deliberately ignoring the facts and will say just about anything to distract from the substance of the merger and to serve their special interests,” Pepco said in a statement.
When she announced the settlement and her support for the merger, Bowser said the deal protects ratepayers from previously planned rate increases through March 2019 and makes $17 million in green energy investments. The agreement also increased Exelon’s total investment in the District from $14 million to $78 million.
But Bowser had originally opposed the merger, said Anya Schoolman, founder and executive director of Community Power Network.
“This is a complicated deal, millions and millions of dollars of real estate are at stake. And what we want to know is what was the connection between the $25 million naming rights deal and the mayor’s change in position on the Exelon merger,” Schoolman said.
Sherice Muhammad, chair for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7D, said that 27 of area neighborhood commissions had opposed the Pepco-Exelon merger and said it was “disheartening” to see that People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye had also “flip-flopped.”
Mattavous-Frye at first opposed the Pepco-Exelon merger, and then, once the Bowser administration announced the settlement, she voiced support for the deal.
In the District, the people’s counsel is appointed by the mayor’s office. After endorsing the mayor’s settlement, Mattavous-Frye was reappointed to another term.
Among the things the group of opponents want:
- Independent investigation by the District Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.
- Release of all internal correspondence related to the Pepco naming rights and any land swap agreement.
- Establishment of an independent Office of the People’s Counsel not appointed by the mayor.
The merger opponents’ concerns come amid similar criticisms of a political action committee created by the mayor’s supporters. The PAC created controversy because it was seen as offering contractors and developers an opportunity to influence the mayor.
Bowser’s supporters announced Wednesday that they would shut down the PAC.