FPPC Launches Probe Into CA Democratic Party in Response To Consumer Watchdog Report

Governor Jerry Brown speaks at a climate
conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  
 | By Dan Bacher | September 25, 2016 |

The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) announced on September 23 that it has opened an investigation into the California Democratic Party in response to a report by a prominent consumer group claiming that the party acted as a “laundry machine” to funnel donations from oil, energy and utility companies to Brown’s 2014 election campaign.

In her letter to the Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog, Galena West, Chief of the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, said the division “will investigate the California Democratic Party for alleged violations of the Political Reform Act’s campaign reporting provisions resulting from information contained in your sworn complaint (Brown’s Dirty Hands Report.)”

She said the FPPC will not not be opening an investigation into “the other persons,” including Governor Brown, identified in the complaint at this time.

West said Consumer Watchdog will next receive notification upon final disposition of the case, but didn't provide any time frame for the case’s disposition.

“However, please be advised that at this time we have not made any determination about the validity of the allegations you have made or about the culpability, if any of the persons you identify in your complaint,” she said.

After receiving the FPPC letter, Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, said, “We are pleased that the FPPC has launched an investigation into the troubling pattern of contributions to the California Democratic Party by oil, utility and energy companies uncovered in ‘Brown’s Dirty Hands.’”

“The Party and members of the Administration who worked for it have a lot of questions to answer. Political parties shouldn’t be used as laundry machines for money from unpopular companies or for campaign contributions in excess of candidate-permitted limits,” he stated.

Consumer Watchdog released Brown’s Dirty Hands on August 10, 2016, at a time when Brown faces increasing criticism from environmental, consumer and public interest groups regarding administration policies they say favor oil companies, energy companies and utilities over fish, water, people and the environment.

The report tabulated donations totaling $9.8 million dollars to Jerry Brown’s campaigns, causes, and initiatives, and to the California Democratic Party since he ran for Governor from 26 energy companies with business before the state, according to Court. The companies included the state’s three major investor-owned utilities, as well as Occidental, Chevron, and NRG. “An exhaustive review of campaign records, publicly-released emails and other documents at PUCPapers.org, court filings, and media reports, showed that Brown personally intervened in regulatory decisions favoring the energy industry, and points to Brown and his operatives having used the Democratic Party as a political slush fund to receive contributions from unpopular energy companies in amounts greater than permitted to his candidate committee,” Court said.

The report alleges that energy companies donated $4.4 million to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party gave $4.7 million to Brown’s re-election between 2011 and 2014. Consumer Watchdog submitted its report to the FPPC as a sworn complaint.

“The timing of energy industry donations around important legislation and key pro-industry amendments, as well as key regulatory decisions in which Brown personally intervened, raises troubling questions about whether quid pro quos are routine for this administration,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker, author of the report. “While Brown paints himself as a foe of fossil fuels, his Administration promoted reckless oil drilling, burning dirty natural gas to make electricity, and used old hands from industry and government, placed in key regulatory positions, to protect the fossil fuel-reliant energy industry.”

In response to my request for a comment on the FPPC probe, Deborah Hoffman, Governor Brown’s Deputy Press Secretary replied, “Thanks for reaching out. Questions are best directed to the party being investigated. As noted in the response letter, the FPPC ‘will not be opening an investigation regarding the other persons identified’ in the complaint. I don't expect we’ll be commenting.’”

Brown spokesman Evan Westrup told the San Diego Union Tribune on August 10, in response to the report, “The governor’s leadership on climate is unmatched. These claims are downright cuckoo.”

“Westrup cited a host of Brown policies and decisions since he was elected in 2010 that were aimed at protecting the environment," the publication said. (www.sandiegouniontribune.com)

In the Sacramento Bee on September 24, Michael Soller, a spokeperson for the Democratic Party, said, “We received the letter, we’re aware of it and we’ve been fully cooperating with the FPPC.”

State law limits the amount that individuals, businesses and committees can contribute to political candidates. In the 2014 election cycle, a single donor was limited to $54,400 for a candidate for governor, according to Tucker.

However, donors can give unlimited amounts of money to political parties. During the 2014 cycle, parties were allowed to give up to $34,000 from each donor to a candidate per year.

In one of many examples of the alleged use of the party as a “laundry machine” for political contributions to Brown cited in the report, Chevron donated a total of $350,000 to the Democratic Party on December 23, 2013. Seven days later, the Democratic Party donated $300,000 to Brown for Governor 2014. On the same day Chevron donated the maximum to Brown’s campaign, $54,400.

“Less than two months later after Brown came out publicly to oppose a proposed oil severance tax,” according to Tucker. “The weakened fracking bill also helped Brown aide Nancy McFadden, who held up to $100,000 in Linn Energy that would acquire Berry Petroleum and its 3,000 California fracking wells.”

Following an ethics complaint filed by Consumer Watchdog against McFadden, the FPPC on March 24 opened an investigation into her failure to report the dates and times of stock sales in PG&E, her former employer.

The FPPC said there was “insufficient evidence” to pursue an investigation into whether McFadden violated other conflict of interest laws. However, the agency said it would look into the “apparent failure of Ms. McFadden to disclose the status of her stock ownership in Pacific Gas and Electric.”

Tucker said she was pleased that the FPPC was continuing their invesvtigation into McFadden. “It’s a very good sign that the investigation is still open,” she said.

In the report, Tucker said the timing of certain donations “coincided with legislative or regulatory action on behalf of these companies.” Among the examples detailed in the report are the following:

• “Southern California Edison donated $130,000 to the California Democratic Party, its largest contribution up until that time, on the same day PUC President Michael Peevey cut a secret deal with an SCE executive in Warsaw, Poland to make ratepayers cover 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost to close the fatally flawed San Onofre nuclear plant. Brown backed the dirty deal, telling Edison’s CEO personally, according to an email from the CEO uncovered by the Public Records Act, that he was willing to tell the media on the day of the plant’s shuttering that the company was acting responsibly and focused on the right things. Three days prior to SCE’s announcement that it would close San Onofre permanently, the company donated $25,000 to the California Democratic Party.

•Emails from PG&E’s top lobbyist Brian Cherry to his boss claim that Brown personally intervened with a PUC Commissioner to persuade him to approve a natural gas-fired power plant called Oakley for the utility. In a January 1, 2013 email, Cherry described a New Year’s Eve dinner with Peevey where Peevey reminded him “how he and Governor Brown used every ounce of persuasion to get [Commissioner Mark] Ferron to change his mind and vote for Oakley…Jerry’s direct plea was decisive.” PG&E donated $20,000 to the California Democratic Party the day after the PUC voted for the project. An appeals court would later strike down the decision because PG&E had not proved its necessity.

•While PG&E’s lobbyist and then-PUC President Michael Peevey fed names to Brown’s executive secretary, former PG&E vice president Nancy McFadden, to appoint the critical swing-vote PUC commissioner who would cast pro-utility votes, PG&E donated $75,000 to the California Democratic Party. The same day that Brown appointed ex-banker Mark Ferron to the commission, PG&E donated another $41,500. The appointment lifted the value of PG&E’s stock and the PG&E stock held by McFadden and valued as high as $1 million.

•Chevron donated $135,000 to the California Democratic Party the same day lawmakers exempted a common method of well stimulation from legislation meant to regulate fracking. After the bill passed with an amendment dropping a moratorium on fracking permits, Occidental gave $100,000 to one of Brown’s favorite causes, the Oakland Military Institute. Brown signed the weakened bill.”

For the FPPC letter announcing the investigation, go here: www.consumerwatchdog.org/...

To read Brown’s Dirty Hands, go here: www.consumerwatchdog.org/...

For a video on the report, go here: www.youtube.com/…

As this FPPC investigation proceeds, the big corporate money behind Governor Jerry Brown's controversial environmental policies is facing increasing scrutiny from public trust advocates. November 4 will be the second anniversary of the passage of Proposition 1, Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial water bond, a measure that fishing groups, California Indian Tribes, grassroots conservation groups and environmental justice advocates opposed because they considered it to be a water grab for corporate agribusiness and Big Money interests.

Proponents of Proposition 1 contributed a total of $21,820,691 and spent a total of $19,538,153 on the successful campaign. The contributors are a who’s who of Big Money interests in California, including corporate agribusiness groups, billionaires, timber barons, Big Oil. the tobacco industry and the California Chamber of Commerce. They provide a quick snapshot of the corporate interests behind the questionable environmental policies of Brown. For more information, go to: www.counterpunch.org/...)

Background: Brown’s real environmental legacy exposed

While Jerry Brown often receives fawning coverage from the mainstream media when he appears at climate conferences in California and across the globe, his policies on fish, wildlife, water and the environment are among the most destructive of any governor in recent California history.

The Governor’s “legacy project,” the Delta Tunnels/California Water Fix, poses a huge threat to the ecosystems of the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Klamath and Trinity river systems. The project is based on the untenable premise that taking more water out of a river before it reaches the estuary will somehow “restore” the San Francisco Bay Delta and its precious fish and wildlife species.

Unfortunately, the California WaterFix is not the only environmentally devastating policy promoted by Governor Jerry Brown. Brown is promoting the expansion of fracking and extreme oil extraction methods in California and is overseeing water policies that are driving winter run-Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and other species closer and closer to extinction.

As if those examples of Brown’s tainted environmental legacy weren’t bad enough, Brown has promoted carbon trading and REDD policies that pose an enormous threat to Indigenous Peoples around the globe; has done nothing to stop clearcutting of forests by Sierra-Pacific and other timber companies; presided over record water exports from the Delta in 2011; and oversaw massive fish kills of Sacramento splittail and other species in 2011.

Jerry Brown also oversaw the “completion” of so-called “marine protected areas” under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, overseen by a Big Oil lobbyist and other corporate interests, in December 2012. These faux “Yosemites of the Sea” fail to protect the ocean from oil drilling, fracking, pollution, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

Brown spouts “green” rhetoric when he flies off to climate conferences and issues proclamations about John Muir Day and Earth Day, but his actions and policies regarding fish, water and the environment should be challenged by all of those who care about the future of California and the West Coast.

For more information about the real environmental record of Governor Jerry Brown, go to: www.dailykos.com/...;

Above photo by Salvatore Sacco, Canadian Press Images. 

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