Utilities spend to keep the lobbying heat on

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The Orange County Register

SACRAMENTO _ Although strapped for cash, California’s three largest utilities spent nearly $1.18 million during the first three months of the year to lobby lawmakers and regulators as the state’s electricity crisis deepened.

The producers of energy lobbied state government as well, with seven major generators spending more than $500,000 to influence a government grappling with outages, rising rates and billions of dollars in emergency power purchases.

The mandatory disclosures with the Secretary of State’s Office show that most of the money spent by Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Sempra Energy went for staff time and lawyers to analyze a blizzard of energy-related bills, and in connection with lengthy negotiations between the utilities and the state.

Relatively little money was spent on campaign donations _ a departure.

PG&E reported spending $644,201, more than double the amount it spent during the first quarter of 2000. Edison spent $340,038, slightly less than the same period a year ago. Sempra, the parent company of San Diego Gas and Electric Co., spent $192,000, compared with about $114,000 for the first quarter of 2000.

“You’ve got to understand that we’ve been quite busy in Sacramento,” said Tommy Ross, an Edison vice president. “There were approaching 200 bills introduced in one way or another to address energy-related issues, and there were hearings on many of those bills. There are hearings held and there are lobbying-related activities.”

Last year, the utility had similar first-quarter spending, but it was focused on campaign contributions.

PG&E spokesman Ron Low agreed.

“Of that $644,000, about $365,000 represents our negotiating team and the staff support for the negotiations. And almost all of the legislation introduced (in the special session) affected the company and our customers,” Low said.

The utilities’ lobbying drew a sharp response from Doug Heller of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

“They are spending this money hoping to be paid back more than a thousand-fold through a bailout _ $340,000 in (Edison) lobbying fees could turn into a $5 billion bailout.”

Consumer Watchdog
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