More than $450,00 has gone to his campaign since 1998; governor denies bias.
Ventura County Star
SANTA ANA — California Gov. Gray Davis has taken more than $450,000 in campaign contributions since 1998 from the two utility giants he’s negotiating with to help save from possible bankruptcy.
Consumer advocates — and even some of Davis’ allies — say the contributions have the potential to taint any deal he cuts, and they are urging him to stop taking money from the utilities.
Still, Davis aides said, the governor has no plans to stop taking money from Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.
“It doesn’t affect him one way or another,” said Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio. “There is no connection between contributions and policy.”
Davis is a master fund-raiser, but campaign contributions could become a double-edged sword. Without special-interest money, he might not be where he is today. But, in this crisis, his voracious fund raising may become a political liability.
Pointing to the large contributions Davis has already accepted from the investor-owned utilities, three consumer groups accused the governor last week of siding with his campaign supporters over ratepayers.
Political analysts from both parties also say the contributions could affect the way any deal helping the utilities is perceived, adding that Davis would be wise to stop taking utility money — especially if blackouts, bankruptcy and rate hikes unfold.
Davis does not have to report current contributions until next month. But both utilities in the past have contributed heavily in December.
Campaign records show that since 1998, Southern California Edison has contributed nearly $300,000 and Pacific Gas and Electric more than $150,000 to Davis’ coffers.
Sempra Energy, which owns San Diego Gas & Electric, contributed $65,000.
Davis often talks to utility lobbyists at fund-raisers and during the legislative session, but the governor met with the top executives in both companies for the first time Tuesday to discuss the electricity crisis. Maviglio, Davis’ spokesman, said the governor had avoided previous contact with upper management because he didn’t want to be unfairly biased in their favor during negotiations.
On Friday, consumer groups said they talked with Davis by telephone and said they saw none of the distance that Maviglio was speaking of. They believe Davis is protecting his friends at the expense of millions of ratepayers.
“Every solution they were talking about involved rate hikes. I hung up the phone I was so disgusted,” said Harvey Rosenfield, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
In the private sessions, Davis said he might back a 10 percent increase.
Davis also has rushed to the defense of the utilities by harshly criticizing out-of-state generators — companies that own nearly all the power plants in California and are making huge profits from the surge in wholesale energy prices.
Davis campaign contributions from the entire energy sector — including all utilities and energy producers — totaled more than $770,000 between Jan. 1, 1998, and July 1 of this year. But the bulk of that came from utilities.
Even analysts from Davis’ own party said the money could come back to hurt him – especially if rate hikes kick in or blackouts stunt the state’s economy.
“Does the money from energy have the appearance as tobacco money? Not yet,” said Democratic political analyst Gale Kaufman. “But ask me again in six months I might have a different answer.”