Capitol Alert

Gov. Jerry Brown returns PG&E donations amid inquiry

Gov. Jerry Brown reported Monday that he returned campaign contributions from six Pacific Gas and Electric Co. officials, as the utility released more emails in the controversy surrounding its close ties with state regulators.

The California Public Utilities Commission and PG&E have been embroiled in controversy about private negotiations between the two since the 2010 gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno.

The company said Monday that it had been notified by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco that it has begun an investigation into the private communications.

Emails released by PG&E on Monday showed the Governor’s Office also was involved in the negotiations.

In a December email to a PG&E executive from Michael Florio, one of Brown’s appointees to the PUC, Florio said he understood a concern about pressure in a gas line but that “Dana Williamson from the Gov’s office may be calling” someone else involved with similar questions and that, “you should probably warn him.”

“Nothing like trying to ‘fix’ things the day before the meeting!!” Florio wrote. “Let sanity prevail. . . . . .”

Williamson was named Cabinet secretary in Brown’s administration last year. She worked for PG&E before becoming an adviser to the governor in 2011.

In another email, Florio said Brown’s office was involved in suggesting a compromise with San Carlos officials over gas line pressure – at a level PG&E was resisting.

“We want to go ahead but now the Governor’s office is asking if we can somehow ‘compromise’ with the City on 240 psi, which is the number they think they can live with,” Florio wrote.

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown, said in an email that the administration’s involvement was appropriate.

“The emails show that administration staff asked a PUC commissioner appropriate questions regarding safety concerns that had been raised by the city of San Carlos,” Evans said.

Brown received $9,000 in separate contributions from PG&E employees in July, including $2,000 each from senior vice presidents Kent Harvey and Karen Austin.

Dan Newman, a political spokesman for Brown, said in an email that the $9,000 in donations were returned “to be prudent in the midst of the inquiry.” Brown’s disclosure came in a routine pre-election campaign finance filing.

PG&E Corp. gave more than $50,000 to Brown’s campaign for governor in 2010 and contributed $25,000 to his initiative to raise taxes in 2012.

The emails were among the latest released by PG&E amid controversy over its relationship with officials at the PUC.

In an older email, from May 2010, a former vice president for the utility recounted a dinner at which he said Michael Peevey, the president of the PUC, explained that he expected PG&E to spend at least $1 million opposing a ballot measure that sought to roll back provisions of Assembly Bill 32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction law.

“Mike stated very clearly that he expects PG&E to step up big and early in opposition to the AB32 ballot initiative,” wrote the former PG&E executive, Brian Cherry. “He said it would undermine our reputation if we didn’t fund it, especially given the hits we have taken lately over SmartMeter, Marin and Prop 16 activities.”

Proposition 16, defeated in a statewide vote in June 2010, would have made it more difficult for local entities to form municipal utilities.

Cherry said in the email, “I asked for clarification and he said ‘at least’ doesn’t mean $1 million, it means a lot more. Mike said that we couldn’t spend $50 million on Prop 16 and then claim to be poor.”

Terrie Prosper, a spokeswoman for the PUC, said Peevey was trying to defend the state’s greenhouse gas law. “Regarding AB 32, as a staunch environmentalist, President Peevey encouraged individuals and entities to support efforts to stop any attempts from repealing the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32),” she said in an email.