By Brad Edwards

(CBS) – A utility has been pushing for a controversial energy bill while donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Illinois lawmakers who are deciding the matter.

“This bill is the equivalent of taking 18 million cars off the road,” says ComEd’s Fidel Marquez, who touts the bill’s investment in green energy.

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Since 2015, when ComEd started pushing the proposal, the utility and its parent have donated $870,000 to the political committees of Illinois lawmakers — $230,000 in last the three months alone.

Senate President John Cullerton’s political committees received he most — nearly $129,000.

The bill, in the form of a ratepayer bailout, would keep open nuclear plants in the Quad Cities and one in downstate Dewitt County.

“If those two plants close, that energy has to be replaced from other resources,” Marquez says.

The legislation’s failure would mean customers would pay an extra $2 a month, he says. If the measure passes, that amount would be substantially less, the utility says.

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“The inaction is going to cost more,” Marquez says. “It’s not a threat. I think it’s fair for people to understand what happens if the bill doesn’t pass.”

Abe Scarr with Illinois Public Interest Research Group is against the bill nearly as a whole — including the nuke plant bailout.

“These power plants have been hugely profitable for Exelon over the years,” he says. “Now, because the market isn’t working out as well as they’d like it, they’re coming back to ratepayers and saying we have to make up the difference. That’s not fair to rate payers.”

None of the political campaign donations are illegal.

The deal-making over the bill continued.

Adversaries ask why a rate increase is necessary at all, when ComEd’s parent company made more than $2 billion last year.

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Brad Edwards