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News Release

Fair Political Practices Commission Opens Investigation Into CA Democratic Party In Response to Report On 'Brown's Dirty Hands'

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Jamie Court

Santa Monica—The Fair Political Practices Commission has launched an investigation into the California Democratic Party and alleged violations of the Political Reform Act in response to Consumer Watchdog’s investigative report, Brown’s Dirty Hands, the public interest group was told today.

“We are pleased that the FPPC has launched an investigation into the troubling pattern of contributions to the California Democratic Party by oil, utility and energy companies uncovered in ‘Brown’s Dirty Hands,’” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “The Party and members of the Administration who worked for it have a lot of questions to answer. Political parties shouldn’t be used as laundry machines for money from unpopular companies or for campaign contributions in excess of candidate-permitted limits.”

For the FPPC letter announcing the investigation, go here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/fppc_cdp.pdf

To read Brown’s Dirty Hands, go here: www.consumerwatchdog.org/dirtyhands

For a video on the report, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3t0ZgT-ahLg

Consumer Watchdog released Brown’s Dirty Hands on August 10. The report tabulated donations totaling $9.8 million dollars to Jerry Brown’s campaigns, causes, and initiatives, and to the California Democratic Party since he ran for Governor from 26 energy companies with business before the state. The companies included the state’s three major investor-owned utilities, as well as Occidental, Chevron, and NRG.

An exhaustive review of campaign records, publicly-released emails and other documents at PUCPapers.org, court filings, and media reports, showed that Brown personally intervened in regulatory decisions favoring the energy industry, and points to Brown and his operatives having used the Democratic Party as a political slush fund to receive contributions from unpopular energy companies in amounts greater than permitted to his candidate committee.

Between 2011 and 2014, the energy companies tracked by Brown’s Dirty Hands donated $4.4 million to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party gave $4.7 million to Brown’s re-election. Consumer Watchdog submitted its report to the Fair Political Practices Commission as a sworn complaint.

The timing of certain donations coincided with legislative or regulatory action on behalf of these companies. Among the examples detailed in the report:

•Southern California Edison donated $130,000 to the California Democratic Party, its largest contribution up until that time, on the same day PUC President Michael Peevey cut a secret deal with an SCE executive in Warsaw, Poland to make ratepayers cover 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost to close the fatally flawed San Onofre nuclear plant. Brown backed the dirty deal, telling Edison’s CEO personally, according to an email from the CEO uncovered by the Public Records Act, that he was willing to tell the media on the day of the plant’s shuttering that the company was acting responsibly and focused on the right things. Three days prior to SCE’s announcement that it would close San Onofre permanently, the company donated $25,000 to the California Democratic Party.

•Emails from PG&E’s top lobbyist Brian Cherry to his boss claim that Brown personally intervened with a PUC Commissioner to persuade him to approve a natural gas-fired power plant called Oakley for the utility. In a January 1, 2013 email, Cherry described a New Year’s Eve dinner with Peevey where Peevey reminded him “how he and Governor Brown used every ounce of persuasion to get [Commissioner Mark] Ferron to change his mind and vote for Oakley…Jerry’s direct plea was decisive.” PG&E donated $20,000 to the California Democratic Party the day after the PUC voted for the project. An appeals court would later strike down the decision because PG&E had not proved its necessity.

•While PG&E’s lobbyist and then-PUC President Michael Peevey fed names to Brown’s executive secretary, former PG&E vice president Nancy McFadden, to appoint the critical swing-vote PUC commissioner who would cast pro-utility votes, PG&E donated $75,000 to the California Democratic Party. The same day that Brown appointed ex-banker Mark Ferron to the commission, PG&E donated another $41,500. The appointment lifted the value of PG&E’s stock and the PG&E stock held by McFadden and valued as high as $1 million.  

•Chevron donated $135,000 to the California Democratic Party the same day lawmakers exempted a common method of well stimulation from legislation meant to regulate fracking. After the bill passed with an amendment dropping a moratorium on fracking permits, Occidental gave $100,000 to one of Brown’s favorite causes, the Oakland Military Institute. Brown signed the weakened bill. On December 23, 2013, Chevron donated $350,000 to the Democratic Party. On December 30, the Democratic Party donated $300,000 to Brown for Governor 2014, while Chevron donated the maximum to Brown’s campaign, $54,400, on the same day. Less than two months later, Brown came out publicly to oppose a proposed oil severance tax. The weakened fracking bill also helped Brown aide Nancy McFadden, who held up to $100,000 in Linn Energy that would acquire Berry Petroleum and its 3,000 California fracking wells.

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