By: Donald V. Watkins
April 10, 2023
An Editorial Opinion
The Southern Company is a leading energy company serving nine million customers through its affiliates and subsidiaries. The company provides energy through electric operating companies in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and natural gas distribution companies in Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Alabama.
The black population in the states serviced by the Southern Company is as follows: Mississippi (37%), Georgia (33%), Alabama (27%), Virginia (20%), Tennessee (17%), and Illinois (14%). Based upon population data and customer usage factors, the black percentage of the nine million customers serviced by Southern Company’s three electric companies and four natural gas companies ranges from an estimated low of 25% to a high of 30%.
According to the Southern Company’s Form 10-K for 2022, the company and its regulated affiliates (i.e., Alabama Power Company, Georgia Power Company, Mississippi Power Company, Southern Power Company, and Southern Gas Company) generated $59 billion in operating revenues in 2022. The "cash cows"within the Southern Company system are: (a) the Southern Company, with $29.3 billion in revenues, (b) Georgia Power Company with $11.6 billion in revenues, and (c) Alabama Power Company with $7.8 billion.
Of the $59 billion in operating revenues for 2022, an estimated $15 billion, or 25% percent, came from black customers in the Southern Company's six-state service area.
In 2021, Southern Company customers in Georgia paid electric bills averaging $134.11 per month. Customers in Mississippi paid electric bills averaging $135.31 per month. Alabama Power’s customers made payments averaging $147.75 per month, according to the most recent available data.
Furthermore, Alabama taxpayers guarantee Alabama Power a five percent minimum annual return on the company’s equity. If there is a shortfall in this guaranteed minimum return on equity, taxpayers must make up the difference. Alabama is the only state in the nation that provides a taxpayer guaranteed minimum rate of return on its equity for Alabama Power.
When it comes to ripping off its nine million customers, the Southern Company is colorblind.
The Southern Company adheres to this cardinal rule: If an electric or gas customer does not pay his/her/its electric or gas bill, the company disconnects the customer from the power grid or gas line. This rule is particularly hard for poor blacks and whites living in the company's six-state service area. The black poverty rates in these states are: Alabama (42%), Mississippi (30.8%), Georgia (21.5%), Virginia (20%), Tennessee (18.8%), and Illinois (17.4%).
So, what did the Southern Company do with the $15 billion the company collected from its black customers in 2022? A troubling part of the answer is hiding in plain sight in the 10-K section that discusses the Southern Power Company.
Southern Power Funds Scores of White-Owned Private Businesses
Southern Power acquires, owns, develops, and manages power generation assets, including renewable energy projects, and it sells electricity in the wholesale market to various electric cooperatives. Southern Power also invests in a lot of companies that have nothing to do with power generation, with the goal of acquiring, growing, and selling its ownership stake in them at a future date for a big cash-out.
In other words, Southern Power functions in a venture capitalist role by providing direct cash investment money to startups and existing businesses that have the potential of economically benefitting the Southern Company and its affiliates. See.10-K, at pp. II-106 to 111.
Southern Power's business activities are not subject to traditional state regulation like the traditional electric operating companies.
This is where, how, and why the Southern Company's black customers get screwed – royally screwed!
In 2022, alone, Southern Power used part of the estimated $15 billion that black customers paid to the Southern Company and its affiliates in power and gas bills to fund and underwrite $194 million in Southern Power investments in third-party companies for that year. In 2021, Southern Power invested $803 million in third-party companies and partnerships. In 2020, Southern Power doled out $380 million in its role as a venture capitalist.
The Southern Company's 10-K for 2022 lists over 125 private companies/partnerships that received investment money from Southern Power. See, Exhibit 21(a). All of the recipients of this investment capital are white-owned companies.
Some of these companies received 100% funding by Southern Power in exchange for the sole Class B shareholding position. Class B shareholding is where venture capitalists nest within small or startup companies. Class A shareholding is usually held by the entrepreneurs who started the companies that get funded.
We have found no record where Southern Power made a direct cash capital investment in any black-owned business, anywhere. None.
Blacks Have Been Relegated to the Charity Line
For years, the Southern Company has relegated blacks to the back of the line -- the charity line -- as its primary means for reinvesting in the black community. Even then, the company and its affiliates only make token awards to black community service groups on an annual basis.
On June 28, 2019, I published an article title, “Alabama Power Foundation Awards: Winners and Losers.” The article pointed out this truism (based upon the IRS Form 990 for 2017): “Alabama Power enjoys a protected monopoly status in the state’s utilities industry. Blacks in Alabama make up 26.2% of the state’s population and nearly 25% of Alabama Power Company’s retail customers. Yet, [Alabama Power Foundation] awarded less than 5% (or mere crumbs) of its direct grants to non-profit organizations that serve the needs of the black community." There has been no material change in the percentage of token gifts to blacks in Alabama since my June 28, 2019, article was published.
Based upon the Form 990 for 2019 (which is the latest one publicly available), the charitable Foundations for Southern Company and its affiliates continue to hand out mere trinkets to black organizations. For example, the Southern Company Foundation, which distributed $10 million in charitable giving in 2019, blessed the Andrew J. Young Foundation with $25,000 and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights with $50,000.
During the same year, the Foundation doled out $120,055 to the Auburn University Foundation, $750,000 to the Grove Park Foundation, $6.5 million to the Georgia Tech Foundation, $500,000 to the Mississippi Aquarium Foundation, $100,000 to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (which is outside of the Southern Company’s service area), and $260,475 to the University of Georgia Foundation.
Georgia Power Foundation, which distributed nearly $12.5 million in charitable giving in 2019, gave the Urban League of Greater Atlanta $60,000, Clark Atlanta University, Inc., $100,000, Sexual Assault Support Center, Inc., $2,000, Spelman College $250,000, United Negro College Fund $75,000, and the Morehouse School of Medicine with $120,000.
During the same year, the Foundation gave the Chattahoochee Nature Center $50,000, the Georgia Historical Society $125,000, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens $50,000, University of Georgia Foundation $250,000 (to expand the football facility) and $286,380 (for other purposes), Auburn University Foundation $27,126, Savannah Tree Foundation $10,000, Conservation Fund (to save Georgia Gopher tortoises) $5,000, the Woodruff Arts Center $525,000, Georgia Southern University $50,000, and the Georgia Tech Foundation $55,475.
The donations from the Foundations affiliated with the Southern Company and its affiliates from 2013 to 2019 make one thing clear: These Foundations invest way more money in improving the living environment and ecosystems of zoo animals, various species of fish in aquariums, tortoises, trees, Georgia historians, fine arts patrons, and historically white colleges and universities than they do for improving the quality of life for the Southern Company’s black customers.
For a group of utility customers that funded an estimated $15 billion of the Southern Company's consolidated operating revenues in 2022, blacks were shown absolutely no respect in regards to the company's economic empowerment initiatives and community reinvestment activities.
Racism is Deeply Embedded in the Southern Company’s Corporate Culture
The numbers don’t lie. The Southern Company’s racism is real. What is more, the racism is quantified in financial documents the company provided to state and federal regulatory agencies and the Internal Revenue Services (IRS).
The 10-K and IRS Form 990s dating back to 2013 show a disturbing pattern of systemic racial discrimination within the Southern Company and its operations. If you follow the money, it leads to a protection of white heritage, a promotion of white economic power, and a perpetuation of white societal privilege. This is true whether the focus is on the Southern Company’s capital investments in white-owned companies or the inequitable distribution of charitable gifts on an annual basis.
Black executives at the Southern Company privately tell qualified and capable black entrepreneurs that they have no power or authority to change this embedded racism. Many black executives at the company and its affiliates function like highly paid mascots who must “buck-dance” on the public stage for PR purposes.
The individual who oversees all black executives in the Southern Company system is James Y. “Jim” Kerr, II. He runs the Southern Company’s plantation as the company’s “de facto” CEO. Jim Kerr is an elitist, racist tyrant who rules over Southern Company black executives and employees with a dictatorial grip. Black executives who are senior to Kerr, on paper, are treated as subordinates. They must do what Kerr tells them to do. Kerr obviously feels that he is their god and master.
Jim Kerr’s sidekick is Southern Company board member Donald M. James, who comes to the table with his own checkered past. James is aided and abetted by board members Kristine L. Svinicki, who is dripping and radiating with conflicts of interest, and David J. Grain, a professional grifter who has never said a word about the Southern Company’s mistreatment of its black customers and lack of direct capital investments in black-own companies other than his own.
What is worse, Kristine Svinicki is a friend and political ally of disgraced former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The former Alabama Senator threatened to shut down the U.S. Senate if President Barack Obama did not reappoint Svinicki to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012. Sessions’ hostility to blacks is well documented and cost him a federal judgeship in 1986.
Even with his March 31, 2023, assignment as CEO of Southern Gas Company, Jim Kerr continues to make all major decisions for these black executives, under the guise of giving them legal advice.
On March 24, 2023, Jim Kerr was exposed in a secretly recorded audiotape for the racist who he is. Everything you ever wanted to know, or didn't want to know, about Jim Kerr is revealed in, “Jim Kerr, Southern Company’s Top Lawyer & Chief of Staff Exposed.”
There is Hope for Blacks, and Her Name is Fani Willis
The only hope that the 2.5 million black customers of the Southern Company have for cleaning up the corruption and rooting out the racism that is embedded in the company lies with Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis. She has the prosecutorial skills and courage needed to properly investigate and clean up the massive $27 billion accounting fraud scheme and racketeering enterprise operating at the Southern Company.
Unlike many prosecutors and public officials on the scene today, Fani Willis cannot be "bought off" with campaign contributions. Ms. Willis has shunned the perks that the Southern Company and its affiliates routinely make available to public officials (e.g., tickets to sporting events and concerts in venues around the nation, wining and dining in restaurants and bars, free out of town luxury getaways, and other unreported snuggling with the company and its lobbyists).
What is more, Fani Willis' integrity is impeccable.
Ms. Willis has jurisdiction over the litany of state law crimes that were committed by Southern Company executives and a few board members during the company's long-running, massive accounting fraud scheme and racketeering enterprise.
We are preparing a criminal complaint for Ms. Willis’ office. Ms. Willis should start with a grand jury probe into the conduct of Jim Kerr, Donald James, and the accounting fraud shenanigans at the Southern Company. The grand jury might want to take a close look at the roles played in this criminal enterprise by board members Kristine L. Svinicki and David J. Grain, as well.
Federal law enforcement action is unavailable to the Southern Company’s 2.5 million black customers because the Joe Biden/Merrick Garland Department of Justice is simply too weak, compromised, and scared to tackle the company's long-running criminal activities and embedded racial problems.
Finally, when people show you who they are by their actions and spending patterns, believe them!