Rejection of Schwarzenegger Appointee Urged

Consumer groups urged the California Senate Rules Committee not to confirm Rachelle Chong as a member of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), arguing that the Schwarzenegger appointee has ridden roughshod over consumer interests to promote a pro-telecom industry agenda.

For Immediate Release From The Utility Reform Network, CFC, UCAN, DRA

Consumer representatives today urged the California Senate Rules Committee not to confirm Rachelle Chong as a member of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Commissioner Chong, who was appointed to the CPUC one year ago by Governor Schwarzenegger, must be confirmed by January 12 to keep the post. Consumer groups say that Chong has ridden roughshod over consumer interests as well as CPUC procedural safeguards in order to promote an agenda that closely mirrors that of the telecommunications industry.

"If the Governor won’t acknowledge his mistake and withdraw Ms. Chong’s nomination, the Legislature must take this step to protect California consumers," said Bob Finkelstein, executive director of The Utility Reform Network (TURN). "In just one year, she has played a leading role in dismantling regulations protecting consumers from rate hikes, price-gouging, deceptive marketing, early termination fees, confusing contracts and unfair billing practices. These decisions leave consumers defenseless against the big phone companies. It would be unconscionable for the Senate to put its stamp of approval on her actions."

The Consumer Federation of California (CFC) also opposed confirmation. CFC executive director Richard Holober said Commissioner Chong’s fervent free market ideology was "fundamentally at odds" with consumer interests. Holober accused Chong of a "consistent disregard for consumer interests and an animus toward a CPUC regulatory role. The rules committee must fulfill its obligation to the public," he said, "and reject her appointment."

In a letter to the Committee, Melissa Kasnitz, managing attorney for Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), said that Commissioner Chong had been a roadblock in that organization’s "efforts to protect the rights of a particularly vulnerable and underserved community." Kasnitz wrote that Chong "has consistently advocated for the largest players in the telecommunication industry, and has not taken any steps to protect the interests of vulnerable consumers."

Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumer’s Action Network (UCAN) in San Diego also opposes confirmation. In a letter to the committee, UCAN said Commissioner Chong’s ownership of stock in a telecommunications service company, Lightbridge, Inc., that does business with companies regulated by the CPUC, creates a conflict of interest, and that her bias toward the phone industry is "extreme." UCAN does not believe Chong can serve California in a "thoughtful or constructive manner."

It is rare for a CPUC appointee to draw this much fire. UCAN and TURN have only once before, in over 20 years of advocacy, opposed an appointment. The groups say this appointee represents not the bipartisanship that the Governor and Legislature have vowed but rather an extreme ideological and pro-industry bent that is out of step with California and not in the state’s best interests.