CPUC Foundation To Raise Money From Utilities

The CPUC is running a bit short on cash, so it has blessed the creation of a foundation to solicit money from the very companies it is supposed to be keeping an eye on.

The idea is to have a pool of money to reward deserving staffers, host foreign guests and generally brush up the commission’s image—in other words, to pay for activities not covered by agency coffers.

The California Public Utilities Commission is running a bit short on cash, so it has blessed the creation of a foundation to solicit money from the very companies it is supposed to be keeping an eye on.

The idea behind the CPUC Foundation is to have a pool of money to reward deserving staffers, host foreign guests and generally brush up the commission’s image—in other words, to pay for activities not covered by agency coffers.

Organizers plan to kick off the fundraising with a big dinner Thursday night coinciding with the commission’s 100th anniversary.

Companies buying $20,000 tables for the dinner at San Francisco’s Julia Morgan Ballroom include Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric Co.

“Basically, every utility will be contributing—so if it’s a conspiracy, it’s a massive conspiracy,” said former PUC Commissioner Bill Bagley, one of a half-dozen agency alums named to a committee setting up the foundation.

Even Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to speak at the dinner. Guests also include commission staffers and reps from consumer, labor and environmental organizations.

The foundation was the brainchild of commission President Michael Peevey and is patterned after the 42-year-old California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for state parks.

“But I’m not seeking the money or promoting anything,” said Peevey, insisting that all the fundraising is being done by outside boosters.

The dinner is being organized by former commission Executive Director Steve Larson, now with the Sacramento powerhouse lobbying firm California Strategies—where he specializes in energy and utility policy.

According to the foundation’s filings, it’s being set up in part to “educate the public…and to ensure that the public is well-informed about the actions the commission and its staff take.”

“It doesn’t look right,” Mark Toney, executive director of the consumer watchdog group The Utility Reform Network, first told us a couple of weeks back.

 

Nonetheless, with news Tuesday that the governor had just appointed TURN’s longtime attorney Mike Florio and a second consumer advocate, Catherine Sandoval, to the commission, Toney said he had decided to attend after all.

 

“We believe the commission is going to be very different,” Toney said.

However, state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who chaired a legislative hearing last year on the San Bruno pipeline blast—and who plans to introduce legislation to tighten the commission’s oversight practices of PG&E—called the dinner “rather unseemly.”