The decision by Pacific Gas & Electric to declare bankruptcy in January did not prevent the utility giant from continuing to spend big on political influence in California’s Statehouse.
The investor-owned utility’s transmission lines have been blamed for multiple wildfires, including the Tubbs fire in October 2017 and the Camp Fire wildfire in November 2018, the two most destructive and deadly wildfires in California history. The company infamously neglected necessary safety upgrades on infrastructure known to be a fire hazard, instead choosing to spend its ratepayers’ money on executive compensation, billions of dollars of investor dividends, and on buying political influence.
The company’s plunge into Chapter 11, widely viewed as maneuver to avoid legal liability for wildfire victims, has temporarily suspended dividend payments to investors, but it hasn’t stopped the company from showering the political system with money in an attempt to secure a preferential bond that could leave customers picking up the tab to cover the company’s negligent behavior.
The latest ethics filings disclosed with the California Secretary of State show that PG&E has spent at least $2.1 million on lobbying policymakers this year, well after declaring bankruptcy, with hefty fees spent to retain half a dozen prominent consulting firms and branding experts, along with a team of in-house lobbyists.
The company also paid for beverages for California State Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda. Both lawmakers sponsored legislation, introduced in February, to provide PG&E with as much as $20 billion in tax-exempt bonds, a measure widely criticized as a ratepayer bailout.
Mayes, the disclosure notes, was treated to drinks by PG&E in September at Brasserie Capitale, a French restaurant just two blocks from the California state Capitol. Bonta was served drinks by the utility giant at Pebble Beach, the famed golf course, in July.
Mayes and Bonta did not respond to a request for comment by press time. In a statement sent to The Intercept, James Noonan, a spokesperson for PG&E said, “Like many individuals and businesses, PG&E participates in the political process. PG&E holds itself to the highest standards of public disclosure and compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”
PG&E has long maintained a powerful grip on policymakers through its hefty investments in political spending. The company regularly pays for baseball tickets, meals, beverages, and other forms of entertainment for California lawmakers and legislative staff. In 2016, the company paid for San Francisco Giants tickets for a group of Democratic legislative staffers, including Dean Grafilo, who was then serving as Bonta’s chief of staff. Last year, PG&E donated $7,500 to the Bonta California Progress Foundation, a charitable fund launched by Bonta to provide scholarships to disadvantaged youth. The company has also given $8,800 to Mayes for his most recent reelection effort.
The company has maintained influence with a host of other prominent politicians. Last year, the company spent nearly $10 million on campaign donations and lobbying, more than any other single political entity in the state, largely to control the fallout from outrage over the company’s role in fueling wildfires across Northern California.
Following the San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010, PG&E retained the same set of consultants who managed the campaigns of former Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. The firm also donated at least $200,000 to current Gov. Gavin Newsom last year and has long kept former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown as a consultant to the company.
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