Energy Crisis Is Forcing Davis Into a Balancing Act

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The San Francisco Chronicle

Gov. Gray Davis has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions from some of the very same energy companies he now says are gouging California consumers.

Records on file with the California secretary of state show that since first running for governor in 1998, Davis has picked up no less than $725,000 from private energy producers and utilities — some of which have reported record profits in the months leading up to the state’s current high-stakes energy crisis.

According to records, nearly half the contributions — $338,500 — came from Edison International, whose subsidiary, Southern California Edison, is now demanding as much as a 30 percent rate increase to stave off possible bankruptcy and the threat of rolling blackouts.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which likewise claims to be awash in red ink and wants a 20 percent rate increase, has given the governor $167,258 in contributions, records show.

And San Diego Gas and Electric (Sempra Energy) has contributed $89,763.

In the past two years, Davis has also received $82,500 in political wattage from a half-dozen mostly Texas energy companies (a.k.a. the Confederate Cartel) that have been cashing in big on the state’s energy crunch.

Among them: plant operator Reliant Energy, which gave the governor $16,500 — relative chump change considering that analysts predict the company could post more than $90 million in profits this year.

So is there a quid pro quo here?

“Absolutely not — there’s no connection, . . . and they should expect nothing in return,” said the governor’s press secretary, Steven Maviglio.

If anything, Maviglio says, the utilities are getting just the opposite from the governor.

“Look at his record and his actions against the power producers — he’s called them price gougers, pirates. . . . He’s been about as tough as you can get,” Maviglio said.

Doug Heller, a utility consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, said talk is cheap.

“It’s one thing to stomp your feet about bad behavior, but it’s another thing to actually take the companies to task for it,” Heller said.

But Heller acknowledged this is a big one for the governor — and unlike most issues, this one is aimed right at voters’ wallets.

So “he’s trying to balance this debt to his campaign contributors with the viability of his political future — because this issue may very well be the litmus test for voters,” Heller said.

And that, folks, is what politics is all about these days.


Big energy companies and their contributions to Gov. Gray Davis:

   Company                          Total


   From Jan. 1998-June 2000

   PG&E                           $167,258

   Edison International          $338,500

   Sempra Energy                  $89,763

   Enron                           $47,000


   From Jan. 1999-June 2000

   Dynergy                         $10,000

   El Paso Energy Corp.         $12,000

   Calpine Corp.                   $16,500

   Reliant                         $16,500


Source: California secretary of state

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