Capitol Alert

Chevron, PG&E and the ACLU are spending big to influence California politicians. Here’s why

California officials are considering major policy changes – from a new standard for when police officers can kill to updated liability rules for utilities.

So the American Civil Liberties Union, Chevron and PG&E are among those spending big to convince lawmakers to shape those policies in their favor.

Companies and interest groups spent $86 million to influence lawmakers and other state officials in the first quarter of 2019, with oil companies and utilities among the top spenders, according to forms filed with the state ahead of a Tuesday midnight deadline.

Chevron was the largest individual spender, reporting more than $2.3 million in lobbying in the first three months of the year.

The oil company lobbied on dozens of bills and policies, including AB 40, a bill that aimed to make all cars sold in California zero-emission by 2040. That measure wasn’t brought up in committee for a public debate or vote in time for a key deadline last week.

The trade group representing oil companies, the Western States Petroleum Association, was the second-highest spender. It devoted nearly $2 million sway lawmakers on many of the same issues as Chevron. In addition to payments to lobbyists, it also reported buying several hundred dollars worth of food and drinks for state lawmakers at the downtown Sacramento nightclub The Mix.

The state’s three most prominent utilities, including the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., spent more than $1.3 million. Southern California Edison’s parent company, Edison International, spent the most of the three: $670,000. The parent company for San Diego Gas & Electric reported nearly $400,000 and PG&E spent more than $270,000.

PG&E has been under intense scrutiny since it filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. The company has said it believes its equipment sparked that blaze. Gov. Gavin Newsom is urging the Legislature to consider changing the state’s liability standards, which hold utilities responsible for fires started by their equipment even if they didn’t act negligently.

The American Civil Liberties Union reported the third-largest total for an individual filer, reporting $1.1 million to lobby on bills including AB 392, a high-profile bill that would raise the standard for when police officers can kill suspects.

The disclosures reported this week also include gifts to lawmakers, such as a $140 steakhouse dinner for Sen. Bob Hertzberg from the California Chamber of Commerce. The parent company for San Diego Gas & Electric bought Sen. Brian Jones and Assemblyman Heath Flora $295 tickets to a golf tournament in La Jolla.

AT&T sent several lawmakers to events at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, including $469 for two tickets for Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to see Elton John, $446 for two tickets for Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez to see Justin Timberlake and nearly $1,000 to send Assembly members Blanca Rubio and Brian Dahle to Cirque du Soleil.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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