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Watchdog Reveals Millions Paid By Utilities To Usurp Wildfire Victims' Rights

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 10:31
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Calls For Political Parties, Gov and Officials To Return  Utilities' Money

picture of wildfire

SACRAMENTO, CA—Consumer Watchdog’s President Jamie Court spoke today at a rally of wildfire survivors and urged legislators not to give in to PG&E and the other utilities’ demands to take victims’ rights to hold the companies legally accountable for damage caused by their equipment.

He pointed to two contributions totaling $110,000 by PG&E to the Democratic party a few days ago (8/3) in order to grease the utility bailout and asked for the money to be returned along with all other utility contributions in 2018.  PG&E has given $185,000 to the party this year. Edison has contributed $177,000 and SEMPRA has donated $250,000 in 2018 for a total of $612,000 from the three utilities lobbying for a bailout.  

“It’s unseemly for PG&E to be delivering six figure checks to Democrats as it asks them to take the constitutional rights of wildfire survivors to hold utilities accountable for the fires,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “People who lost their homes deserve a debate that is free from the type of cash register politics PG&E is engaging in. All utility money this year should be returned and that includes contributions from the utilities’ lobbying firms.”

Consumer Watchdog noted as well that state records show Governor Brown has received more than $627,000 from the state’s three investor-owned utilities since 2009, when he started running for Governor. The total includes more than one quarter of a million dollars that Brown requested and received from PG&E for favorite charitable causes, two Oakland schools.

New disclosure reports also show that PG&E paid Brown’s top consultants nearly $400,000 this year as it lobbied for removing its legal accountability to fire victims. The firm of SCN, headed by Ace Smith received $395,750 from PG&E in the second quarter of 2018.

The three utilities gave $3.9 million to sitting lawmakers since 2011 when Brown took office, according to Consumer Watchdog’s analysis of state disclosure reports. Among top recipients are legislative leaders and chairs of powerful committees that shape laws relating to utilities, confirm utility regulators, or control government purse strings.

The three utilities donated $8.7 million to the two state parties since 2011 with the lion’s share of $5.7 million going to the California Democratic Party. PG&E was the largest of the three donors to the state parties.

“If the debate is about policy not utility campaign cash, then all utility money during 2018 since they lobbied for a bailout should be returned,” said Court. “Governor Brown, who is retiring with an eleven-figure war chest and is the ring leader for PG&E, should give back every dime he took.”

Major Investor-Owned Utility Contributions To Brown From 2009-2018

UTILITY CONTRIBUTIONS         PG&E                SEMPRA           EDISON         TOTAL

Brown 2010 Campaign             $112,145           $25,900             $40,500          $178,545

Brown 2014 Campaign             $54,200             $53,200             $54,400          $161,800

Brown Behested Donations      $262,500                                                             $262,500

Brown Prop 30 Campaign        $25,000                                                                 $25,000

GRAND TOTAL                                                                                                 $627,845

SOURCE: CA Secretary of State Office filings, Consumer Watchdog report Brown’s Dirty Hands 25-32, Fair Political Practices Commission behested payment reports

A report by Consumer Watchdog in August 2016, Brown’s Dirty Hands, identified a pattern of Brown Administration intervention in regulatory and legislative decisions favorable to utilities and other companies in close proximity to large donations to the Democratic party as well as likely use of the party to funnel more than the permitted amounts to Brown’s candidate committee.

Read the report at http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/BrownsDirtyHands.pdf

A few months later, the Democratic Party swore off political contributions from Big Oil. But lawmakers continue to accept their campaign donations and 125 fundraisers are scheduled in the next four weeks.

Consumer Watchdog said the Democratic Party swore off oil money in the wake of the exposure of possible money laundering to Governor Brown’s 2014 re-election campaign by the energy industry two years ago. The group said the same should be done with all utility donations going forward.