Leno bill would limit PG&E political spending


State Senator Mark Leno is introducing a bill that could stop Pacific Gas and Electric Company from spending ratepayer money on political campaigns.

The bill, which doesn't yet have a number, would put a serious crimp in the private utility's ability to launch another effort like Prop. 16 -- the $50 million campaign to block public power in California.

The bill wouldn't stop PG&E from spending money on politics -- that might fly in the face of the Supreme Court's rulings on corporations and campaign finance. It just says that no ratepayer money can be spent -- and since PG&E gets the vast majority of its money from ratepayers, the measure would at the very least significantly limit the company's political efforts.

And since PG&E is a regulated utility, the state of California has every right to control how much money PG&E collects from its customers -- and where that money goes.

Not only would the bill ban PG&E from running its own Prop. 16-style statewide campaign, it could block the company from spending tens of millions of dollars to oppose public-power efforts. The bill states that any gas and electric utility with more than three million customers in California (and there's only one such company)

"shall not spend funds received from ratepayers as authorized revenues on political and public affairs related to state or local governments. For purposes of this section, political and public affairs spending includes any activities involving, directly or indirectly, advocacy of the election or defeat of political candidates and of the adoption or defeat of ballot measures, through the actions of the corporation or through a third party."

A few years ago, a bill like this would have had little chance in the state Legislature, where PG&E spent lavishly and was relatively popular. But under CEO Peter Darbee, the company has done nothing but piss off legislators. Not one state lawmaker endorsed Prop. 16. It's safe to say that today, PG&E doesn't have many friends.

More details to come as I get them.

UPDATE: Here's Leno's comment, from a press release I just got:

“PG&E launched a dangerous and misleading political campaign – with ratepayer funds – that had only one goal, to preserve the corporation’s monopoly. The state’s largest electrical and gas company should not be able to use ratepayer-generated profits to write special rules into the state constitution protecting it from competition. This measure ensures that local communities across the state have the ability to launch their own municipal power agencies, which will in turn encourage competition and help keep our rates low.”

UPDATE TWO: I just spoke with Leno, and he noted that the bill has a decent chance, since PG&E at this point "would be hard pressed" to find any friends in Sacramento. "The bill is to protect ratepayers," Leno said. "It requires the California Public Utilities Commission, when it hears PG&E's rate cases, to disallow any spending on political campaigns."



PG&E had attracted a lot of controversy outside the LGBT community for making a substantial contribution to the No on 8 campaign in 2008. Would the Leno bill bar PG&E from making such contributions in the future?

Posted by Colin V. Gallagher on Jun. 14, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

Would Leno support a bill that keeps union dues from being spent on politics?

Posted by Guestmr matlock on Jun. 14, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

Right now, as far as I know, we MUST be hooked up to the grid using PG&E in San Francisco. There is NO alternative if we want/need electricity. We MUST pay PG&E or we would not receive power. Union dues, on the other hand must be paid if you choose a particular line of work. Theoretically, the membership chooses its union leadership...and hopefully can trust it to do the right thing with your dues. PG&E, however, will not listen to its ratepayers regarding which CEO to have run their company and PG&E certainly will not listen to the ratepayers regarding what rates to charge, or which candidates to support. So, I think before we try to stop union dues from being spent on politics we need to stop corporations from contributing to politics. There is NOTHING human or humane about large corporations and they (the CORPORATION) should therefore enjoy NO human rights. Reverse Citizens United now. Power to the people...NOT to the corporations.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 9:21 am

But sadly unions constantly call for agency shops and government unions all require agency shops. Also union leadership is hardly a responsive to membership, they are all of the same mind on everything. Both sides are awful in this equation.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 16, 2010 @ 10:14 am

Not to Sam it up with outside articles...

From today's Chronicle, if 16 would have passed the SF tax payer would have been footing the bill for progressive failure in a few years.

It's amazing that anyone thinks Mirkirimi has anything to say about anything. If 16 passed these clowns would have signed this contract, the company would have folded in a few years and the cities tax payers would be footing the bill for another progressive F-, and the carpet baggers would have been off to Fairfield or some such place proclaiming their brilliance.


Fading power: San Francisco is tapping the brakes on its plan to offer a green alternative to Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

The proposal outlined by Power Choice LLC, the consortium picked by the city's Public Utilities Commission to deliver green energy, came with some pretty thick strings attached.

For starters, to keep rates competitive with PG&E for at least the first three years, Power Choice has proposed borrowing an estimated $400 million - which customers would then have to repay over 15 years in the form of higher rates.

Power Choice also wants the city to use its credit to back the plan, meaning the city would be on the hook if the consortium went belly up.

PUC General Manager Ed Harrington tells us those terms "would not be satisfactory to the city."

Even San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a major proponent of the city's green power movement, said it may be worth scrubbing the Power Choice proposal altogether and putting the contract back out to bid.

Posted by mr matlock on Jun. 16, 2010 @ 10:19 am