PG&E's blank check

Who is the utility buying off? Start with Newsom, Feinstein, and Willie Brown
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Illustration by Danny Hellman

amanda@sfbg.com

For a complete list (2.35 MB) of everyone who signed on to a PG&E-paid ballot argument and a full list of all of the individuals, companies, and nonprofits that get PG&E money every year, click here (Excel).

It's Saturday morning, Aug. 23, and at the plumber's union hall on Market Street, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. employees are leading a rally in opposition to San Francisco's Clean Energy Act. A table at the back of the room sags with urns of coffee and uneaten pastries. To the side are towers of glossy black "Stop the Blank Check" window signs. E-mails sent by event organizers said Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Mayor Gavin Newsom were expected to attend, but so far, there's no sign of either.

"On behalf of the men and women at PG&E, thanks for giving up your Saturday," PG&E vice president John Simon tells participants, who will be spending the afternoon walking San Francisco's streets passing out No on Proposition H propaganda.

But the audience isn't listening.

Most of the people packed into the room are Asian kids, giggling and chatting and ignoring the English-only presentation. One group of boys playfully pushes each other, accidentally bumping into some stage lighting and earning a reprimand from a rally organizer. The kids ignore him. I ask some of the young people if they're with a school or club, or if they're part of JROTC, which has an informational booth in the vestibule. They look at me blankly and turn away, muttering in Cantonese. I question a few others and get similar responses.

Outside, I find a young man who speaks English. He tells me the kids aren't really here for the rally. "It's just a job," he says. They're getting $15 an hour to hang flyers on doorknobs — flyers that read "hand-delivered by a Stop the Blank Check Supporter."

The Committee to Stop the Blank Check is the official campaign committee fighting the Clean Energy Act, which will appear as Prop. H on the November ballot. The group, however, is funded by a blank check from PG&E.

"They've pledged enough to educate every voter in San Francisco," the committee's campaign manager, Eric Jaye, told the Guardian at the Saturday rally.

It's no surprise that the campaign workers are paid for by PG&E — in fact, just about everyone who has come out against Prop. H seems to be getting money from the utility.

The Clean Energy Act sets ambitious goals for moving the city into renewable energy — goals that go far beyond current state mandates. It also calls for a study into San Francisco's energy options and authorizes the city to issue revenue bonds to buy or build energy facilities.

An investigation into the elected officials, committees, and groups that oppose Prop. H shows cash from PG&E in nearly every coffer.

The official ballot argument against the Clean Energy Act is signed by Feinstein, Newsom, and three supervisors initially appointed to the board by the mayor: Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu, and Sean Elsbernd.

Feinstein's loaded with PG&E money. Since 2004, Feinstein has received $15,000 in direct contributions from PG&E, according to OpenSecrets.org. More significant, perhaps, is that Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, serves as chairman of the board of CBRE, a real estate firm that did $4.8 million in business with PG&E in 2007, according to an annual report the utility files with the state of California.

Campaign finance disclosure statements from Feinstein state that her husband receives fees and income from CBRE, and has $250,000 and $500,000 in investment holdings.

Feinstein's spokesperson, Scott Gerber, said there was no conflict of interest.