Energy companies spent $6 million-plus to influence state

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The Associated Press

Although mired in the state’s power crisis, energy companies spent more than $6 million to influence state government in the first half of the year, with the bulk going to sway voters to help bail out Southern California Edison.

Campaign finance and lobbying reports from the major utilities and electricity-generating companies show their contributions to politicians down from previous years, as many legislators have declined energy-related money. Citing tough times, Edison has said it has stopped donating money to political candidates.

But that hasn’t carried over to other government-related spending.

Edison International alone spent more than $5.5 million on an advertising campaign aimed at stimulating voters to pressure lawmakers to bail out Southern California Edison and fend off bankruptcy, lobbying reports show.

The statewide ad campaign ran for three weeks and warned that Edison‘s bankruptcy would hurt California’s economy, spokesman Brian Bennett said.

Edison also paid for telephone calls to shareholders, who could be connected directly to a lawmaker’s office and lobby for a bailout. “When we called, they already knew (about the issues),” Bennett said. “The stock had gone into the tank. Their incomes were at stake.”

Company officials “struggled with whether or not we should be running a television campaign because of the cost and the financial difficulty the company was, and is, in,” Bennett said. But it was “necessary to raise public awareness and also to encourage legislators to act quickly.”

A bill to help Edison has passed the state Senate but is stalled in the Assembly as the Aug. 15 deadline to help the company approaches and the Legislature is on its summer break.

Edison‘s big spending on ads and lobbying should outrage ratepayers, said Doug Heller, a spokesman for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “Edison is paying for political commercials while at the same time they say they have no money and need rate increases. It doesn’t compute.”

San Jose-based power generator Calpine Corp., which has 28 power plants in California, spent $141,204, with $22,250 in political donations that included $1,000 donations to several key lawmakers.

Calpine, which has $13 billion worth of long-term energy contracts with the state, is also the subject of conflict of interest accusations involving Gov. Gray Davis‘ press secretary, Steve Maviglio, who bought $12,000 worth of the company stock in June.

Duke Energy spent $99,735.44 in what a company spokesman called a response to the “onerous” legislation relating to energy companies.

“We need to step up the activity,” said spokesman Tom Williams. “We have a lot at stake in this state. We’re a major player in terms of bringing new generators and as a result we’re investing more in our lobbying effort.”

In particular, the company has lobbied against proposals that would impose extra taxes on energy companies if they make “windfall profits” or exclude them from a law that keeps property taxes down, Williams said.

Duke Energy approached Davis in March with a secret deal that offered monetary concessions if the state dropped lawsuits and investigations into its alleged price-gouging. The offer, made in a 17-page letter to Davis, was Duke‘s “wish list,” Maviglio said.

Heller said the money energy companies have spent is a small slice of the “billions they’ve gained as a result of the energy crisis,” adding that the power companies want to continue energy policy that has failed everyone but them.

Pacific Gas and Electric, which filed for bankruptcy in April, spent $330,436.50, lobbying for energy-friendly plans. The company also bought meals and tickets to sporting events for legislative staff members.

Sempra Energy, the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric, spent $193,777.84.

Consumer Watchdog
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