Capitol Alert

FBI asked about de León energy-efficiency bill

Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, pressed for a bill to let energy consumers pay off improvements on their utility bills.
Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, pressed for a bill to let energy consumers pay off improvements on their utility bills. Sacramento Bee file

The FBI has made an inquiry into legislation carried in recent years by California Senate leader Kevin de León, sources have told The Sacramento Bee.

Agents had questions about a bill de León wrote that would have expanded ways for consumers to repay money they borrow to make energy-efficiency upgrades through their monthly utility bills, the sources said.

Representatives for the FBI’s offices in Sacramento and Los Angeles said they could not confirm or deny whether the agency had made inquiries about de León, a Los Angeles Democrat. De León’s chief of staff said the senator has not been contacted by the FBI about the legislation.

“It was a bill brought to us by the Environmental Defense Fund. It wasn’t a bill brought to us by any business with a profit incentive,” said Dan Reeves, de León’s chief of staff.

James Wedick, a retired FBI agent who worked on a high-profile corruption probe in the Capitol in the 1990s, said agents routinely get complaints of impropriety and sniff around the statehouse.

“Most of the time the issues are resolved without corruption charges being filed,” he said.

De León carried Senate Bill 37 in 2013, before becoming the Senate’s president pro tem late last year. The measure was supported by numerous clean energy companies and environmental groups. Utility companies – including PG&E, San Diego Gas and Electric, Sempra Energy and Southern California Edison – opposed the bill.

Supporters said the bill would allow residential customers affordable access to upgrades that would save them money and improve the environment. Opponents said the bill would make customers vulnerable to having their power shut off if they fell behind on paying off their loans. Opponents prevailed when SB 37 failed to get out of the Senate’s energy and utilities committee, lacking support from Republicans and moderate Democrats.

Lauren Faber, the West Coast political director for the Environmental Defense Fund that sponsored the bill, said her organization had not been contacted by the FBI.

“This is the first I’ve heard of anything along those lines and I would have no idea why,” Faber said in response to a reporter’s call.

De León has made energy efficiency a key piece of his policy agenda. In 2012, he backed a ballot measure, funded largely by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, that changed the state’s corporate tax formula to fund energy-efficiency renovations in public schools. More recently, de León said a priority of his leadership of the state Senate would be combating climate change by promoting clean energy jobs. He made the unusual move of replacing two staff members to the Senate’s energy and utilities committee in December, saying he wanted to beef up expertise in climate-change policy.

De León took the helm of the Senate in October, following a turbulent year marked by two separate FBI investigations of his Democratic colleagues. Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco was arrested in March, and charged with bribery and conspiracy to traffic weapons. Federal prosecutors accuse him of taking bribes from an undercover FBI agent to carry out favors in the Capitol. The month before, Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello was indicted on 24 counts of bribery and money laundering. In that case, prosecutors allege he accepted $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive. Yee and Calderon have pleaded not guilty in their respective cases.

De León was not named in the formal charges against either of his colleagues. But the FBI’s affidavit in the Calderon case was leaked in late 2013 and included de León’s name 56 times. It said he took $5,000 in campaign contributions from the undercover agent who was working to befriend Calderon. De León returned the money as soon as he learned it came from an FBI agent.

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.