Power firms amp up lobbying

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Edison spends $5.5 million to gain support for bailout to prevent bankruptcy.

The Orange County Register

SACRAMENTO Edison International has spent more than $5.5 million this year to enlist residents and stockholders to lobby the Legislature to bail out its subsidiary Southern California Edison and save it from bankruptcy, reports released Monday show.

The latest financial disclosure statements show that energy companies continue to spend millions of dollars to influence the Legislature. Meals, campaign contributions and tickets to sporting events continue to flow to lawmakers and their staffs.

Overall, the amount spent on direct lobbying of the Legislature rose slightly over last quarter, but gifts and contributions to candidates continued to fall. The deadline for statements is today, but many companies and candidates filed early.

Edison‘s $5.5 million is so far the largest expenditure directed toward an orchestrated campaign to influence Capitol politicians. Spokesman Brian Bennett said Edison spent the money on television commercials to reach all Californians and on a telephone appeal directly to stockholders.

This was to educate the public about the dangers of bankruptcy to the state’s economy and to solicit their support in conveying a message to the Legislature that bankruptcy is not an option for the Edison company,” Bennett said.

The telephone work involved telling stockholders that the company’s value would drop if lawmakers did not support a bill to save Edison. Then they offered to directly connect the stockholders to lawmakers’ offices, asking that they tell the lawmakers directly to support the bailout.

Consumer advocate Doug Heller said Edison‘s spending — which totaled $5.7 million for the three-month reporting period and jumped from $318,802 from the prior quar ter — is out of line.

It’s amazing that a company teetering on the edge of bankruptcy has millions of dollars to throw around to politicians and to create phony grass-roots campaigns to influence legislators,” said Heller, of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Edison said no contributions were made directly to anyone running for office or re-election for this quarter.

In all, lawmakers sitting on energy committees and who had reported by Monday night accepted nearly $61,000 from energy-related companies.

As of late Monday, Assemblyman Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who sits on the Assembly Energy Committee, had received the largest contribution from energy companies this quarter, $21,000.

Seven of the largest power producers that sell electricity to the state spent a total of $546,488 on lobbying and other efforts to influence the Legislature.

Topping the list was Calpine Corp., which spent $141,204. Duke Energy came in second at $99,735.44 — a $20,000 leap over the prior quarter. Most of Duke‘s money was spent on consultants who worked overtime building a defense for the company against accusations of price gouging made by former employees.

Overall, our consultants spent more time setting the record straight against some blatantly false and misleading statements, regarding our rates and plant operations, which the state’s own documents proved were false,” said Duke spokesman Pat Mullen. Some lawmakers and energy experts say the state documents do not clear Duke of wrongdoing, and the accusations are still being investigated by a Senate committee.

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