Thursday, April 15, 2010

PG&E Fleeced for $175,000 by L.A. Pols -- What Was Darbee Trying To Do With All That Money?

By the jaundiced standards of California's initiative politics in 2010, it barely deserved mention.  But there it was, in a small blog post this week in the Los Angeles Times:
When the Los Angeles County Democratic Party deposited a $175,000 check from PG&E earlier this month, quite a few in the political world took notice -- especially considering the fact that the money arrived only weeks before the county party was set to stake out its position on a June ballot measure, Proposition 16, put on the ballot by the utility company.
But every once in a while, money doesn’t prevail in politics. On Saturday, the county party’s ballot measure committee voted unanimously to oppose the PG&E-backed measure, said Chairman Eric Bauman.
Rescuing this episode from the mundane movie-script narrative of just another illicit transaction gone bad on the mean streets of L.A., Bauman had a history lesson for Peter Darbee:  
"Have you ever heard of Jesse Unruh?" asked Bauman. He was referring to the former Assembly speaker who once famously said, as Bauman paraphrased it: "If you can’t take their money, drink their liquor and spend time with their women, you shouldn’t be in this business."
Actually, if Unruh had ever used the euphemism "spend time with their women" he probably would have been unseated by his caucus.

But if Darbee is ever put under oath -- either at a shareholders meeting, a ratepayer tribunal, or the pearly gates -- one of the first inquiries might be, "Just what were you trying to accomplish, miles outside your service territory, with a wad of money like that?"

Perhaps it was part of his "education" effort for Proposition 16.  As he explained at his now famous March 1, 2010 Wall Street investors conference:  
... in the preliminary voting, polling on this, before education ... it didn't quite get to 51% but I think it was high 40's.  After their education, the numbers became very strongly and positive in the favor of an initiative.  Voters liked it.
Not content to rely on his No Lie Left Behind radio and television advertising blitz, Darbee has brought in the heavyweight "education" specialists that assemble -- for a price -- political slate cardsThe Sacramento Bee reports that he's already shelled out hundreds of thousands on some 20 such efforts. Those must be intended for voters unable to digest the educational materials Darbee is stuffing into their mailboxes.

And they are pretty indigestible.  The headlines blare:  "It's hard to believe but right now voters have no say when local governments spend billions of dollars to get into the business of providing electricity."

Hard to believe because it's untrue.  Local government officials are elected by voters.  Municipal utilities are formed by votes of the people.  Annexations require votes. Which part of "no say" does Darbee no comprende? What causes PG&E conniptions is that despite the many procedural hurdles of existing law, an unsettling number of its customers keep trying to break away.

So rather than make the difficult case that captive customers deserve even heavier shackles (like a required two-thirds majority for escape), Darbee has opted for the appealing target of the spendthrift bureaucrats.  Jack Stewart, head of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association -- representing Darbee's largest customers -- is having none of it.  

Making note of PG&E's 11.35% guaranteed return, Stewart told the Bee, "This initiative takes that guaranteed profit to a guaranteed monopoly.  We don't think that creating a monopoly that is even more difficult to penetrate is good for ratepayers."

(Photo credit:  Darbee, Genesis Photo Agency)