- This Week
How PG&E and Mercury Insurance are spending millions to try to trick Californians into voting for corporate interests
GUARDIAN ILLUSTRATION BY DEVON DOSS
It's interesting, given this advice, that a Twitter feed posted recently by Californians to Protect Our Right to Vote, a PG&E-bankrolled front group set up to promote the Yes on 16 campaign, highlights two different op-eds in the Fresno Bee and Sacramento Bee published within two days of one another. Both editorials were written in support of Prop.16 — one from a former sheriff of Sacramento, and the other from a former city council member of Fresno. Both editorials mention budget cuts to police and fire departments in the second paragraph. Both express surprise at the publications' editorials against Prop. 16 in the fourth paragraph. Both cite the same statistic in the second-to-last paragraph. And both conclude with the words: "Taxpayers Right to Vote Act." Is it a strange coincidence?
The playbook contains specific instructions for media-relations techniques, too. "Identify several community and business leaders who are willing to serve as spokespersons for your company," the playbook recommends. "Try to keep the community leadership out in front of the reporters. Your community supporters can be much more effective with the media than perhaps your company's own spokesperson."
In other words: Try not to let anyone know that this is nothing more than a special-interest campaign.
Solem & Associates also suggests planting people at key local government meetings (in case of public comment, "provide them with talking points," Solem & Associates recommends).
ON THE GROUND
How these tactics get played out in real life can be seen this year in the fight between the PG&E and Mercury front groups, and the eclectic coalition of grassroots organizations and public officials who are opposing them.
Jeff Shields, general director of South San Joaquin Irrigation District, a body governed by five elected board members, described how PG&E operates in testimony to a legislative hearing in Sacramento last month.
"PG&E attends every board meeting of SSJID, often taking video and tape recordings of our meetings, and they fund political consulting firms to campaign against our efforts and pepper us with Public Records Act requests," he said. "Never once has a voter in our service area had the opportunity to cast a vote to allow PG&E to provide service and never have our citizens been afforded an option to vote for a PG&E Board member or attend — let alone record — a PG&E meeting."
Yet all of the rhetoric by PG&E's Californians to Protect the Right to Vote perversely casts the measure as about voting rights, even though this undemocratic measure protects an unelected power provider and is promoted with money that ratepayers didn't approve for the purpose. "I am a California veteran," Shields said. "I defended this country in uniform and I am appalled that PG&E has stated in no uncertain terms that its shareholders are paying to amend our constitution. If that is true, then it is important to examine who those shareholders are."
He pointed out that Barclays Global Investors U.K. Holdings, Ltd., a U.K. bank, owns roughly 4 percent of PG&E shares, while JP Morgan Chase & Co. owns around 2.5 percent. "If these foreign banks and Wall Street institutional investors are truly at will to manipulate the California Constitution and this legislature has no ability to prevent that, God help us all, for the greed that motivates PG&E's Proposition 16 is only the first thread to be pulled from the fabric that binds our society."