Who is (and isn’t) taking cash from PG&E

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Besides dumping millions of dollars on influencing the outcomes of elections, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. also doles out a lot of cash to charities – about $18 million a year, which is around one percent of their pre-tax income. It’s a gift from the shareholders back to you, the community that’s making them rich.

The list of non-profits that get grants from PG&E is long and spreads from coast to coast, but most of them are based in and around San Francisco. It’s an interesting thing to look over, for it says a lot about who might have a soft spot for PG&E, and it reminds us of the perennial shills, like the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), which sends members to speak at public meetings against anything PG&E also opposes.

But I was a little surprised to see Brightline Defense Project make the list of grantees in 2007.

Anyone who’s been following the “peakers” issue will be familiar with Brightline Defense, which sued on behalf of APRI, to stop the city from building new fossil fuel power plants. The suit was ultimately dropped, though the debate rages on and Josh Arce, the executive director of Brightline, has continued to argue against building the plants, often rallies people and organizations to turn out for any public meeting about the issue, and according to documents I received through a public records request, has played an active, behind-the-scenes role at City Hall on the plan to retrofit Mirant’s diesel peakers instead.

PG&E, of course, is totally opposed to any city-owned power plants. It’s a no-brainer to see why they might want to help Arce out with his cashflow. But Arce has said from the beginning that the case was pro-bono and he wasn’t getting any money from PG&E. He even defended his clean image in our blogs.

But PG&E’s General Order 77M [PDF], a state-required filing that discloses the recipients of grants from PG&E, shows Brightline got $45,000 in 2007.

Damn. I called Arce right away, and he stood by his PG&E-free bank account, even faxing a signed statement that he never took their money and putting his girlfriend on the phone to vouch for his cash-poor, values-rich existence.

PG&E actually got back to me on this one. “In late June, Accounts payable learned that the check was not cashed and indeed returned, at which point CPCI was informed,” Darlene Chiu, PG&E’s spokesperson, wrote in an email. [CPCI stands for Civic Partnership and Community Initiatives, their charitable organization.] Apparently, those two don’t talk very often.

Which, of course, calls into question everything else listed in the report. When I was down at the CPUC verifying my copy with the original, an employee there told me the accuracy of the report isn’t something the CPUC verifies – PG&E has to self-report any errors by filing amendments, which rarely happens.

I rang up the IRS to see if they audit these kinds of filings, and to, you know....hey, it’s my shareholder profit they’re lying about, isn’t it?