On Wednesday, a new bill that would make campaign contributions from the utility company PG&E illegal was introduced in the Assembly in Sacramento.
Assembly Bill 2079, authored by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), would bar PG&E from donating to any state elected official, as well as any candidates running in California.
PG&E is currently trying to navigate out of bankruptcy and currently has until June to do so before the state of California would take over the company. A bill currently in the Senate would also authorize a state takeover of PG&E. Since November of 2018, the company has caused the massive Camp Wildfire resulting dozens of deaths and millions of dollars of damage in the town of Paradise, has gone bankrupt, and has faced criticism for endangering millions of customers during several planned blackouts across northern California. Many cities, such as San Francisco and San Jose, have also been threatening more localized takeovers to create their own utilities.
While all of these are factors in AB 2079, Assemblyman Kiley and supporters have said that the reason behind the bill introduced Wednesday is because political donations by PG&E helped influence lawmakers in California and possibly allowed the company to get away with their numerous issues for so long.
“As PG&E seeks to emerge from bankruptcy, the most important part of restructuring is to loosen its grip on the state Capitol,” said Assemblyman Kiley in a statement Wednesday. “Governor Newsom has sharply criticized PG&E’s negligence, and rightly so. But it was California’s political leadership that let them get away with it. This was ultimately a failure of politics.”
On his Facebook page Assemblyman Kiley also noted that the current possible legislation surrounding PG&E’s bankruptcy should be free of any influence from the company itself.
“Today I introduced Assembly Bill 2079, to prohibit PG&E and other monopoly utilities from making campaign contributions,” wroite Kiley in a Facebook post. “As PG&E seeks to emerge from bankruptcy, the most important part of restructuring is to loosen its grip on the State Capitol.”
PG&E has had a long history of donating to state Assemblymembers and Senators, with almost $1 million being donated in 2018 alone. However, many lawmakers bucked donations from PG&E in 2019, including Assemblyman Kiley, who donated the $4,200 he received from PG&E to Camp Fire relief efforts.
“Both Democrats and Republicans have been mad at what PG&E has done one way or another,” said William Guzman, a former utility company attorney. “Legally a takeover attempt like what California is trying is a grey area, but blocking donations can help decision-making be more clearer. These Assemblymen and Senators, as well as people like the Governor, have a lot of important decisions regarding PG&E coming up, and you can bet campaign money is on the mind for some of them. It’s an election year after all.”
“It will be interesting to see who comes out against the bill, because those who do are going to face consequences for it come closer to the election.”
AB 2079 currently has no known opposition and is expected to begin to go through committees in the following months.
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