Just in: More investment info on PG&E’s candidates for supervisor

Pub date October 24, 2006
SectionBruce Blog

Just as the Guardian went to press on Tuesday afternoon, our investigative interns returned from the Californa Public Utilities Commission with more information on the investments that PG&E has made in supervisorial candidates Doug Chan and Rob Black through two key law firms.

Documents on file with the CPUC show that Chan’s law firm, Chan, Doi, and Leal, has received a total of $460,913 in fees from PG&E between 200l and 2005. In 2002, the year of the second public power initiative, the Chan firm received $49,969.78. Chan lent his name to PG&E for use in PG&E’s campaign material and thereby earned a spot in the Guardian’s Hall of Shame.

As our editorial and my previous blogs pointed out, Chan, his campaign, and his law firm refuse to answer our telephone and email requests for an explanation of what he did for PG&E and whether PG&E’s investment will affect his position on public power. Chan is running in District 4 (the Sunset), backed by Mayor Newsom, PG&E, and downtown money.

Black, a PG&E and downtown-backed candidate against Sup. Chris Daly in District 6, worked as an attorney for Nielsen Merksamer, the political law firm that handled all of the dirty dealings for the nasty public anti-public power campaign that PG&E and its allies waged in 2002 with a huge warchest. Black worked with Jim Sutton, his former law professor and PG&E’s main legal operative, during that period but insists he did no work on anything related to PG&E or the campaign. We and many others find that hard to believe. In any event, he is eloquently vague about his current public power position. Nielsen Merksamer received $338,294 in 200l, the year of PG&E’s first victory over the first public power initiative, and $24,303.90 in 2002, the year PG&E beat back the second public power initiative. In 2003, with PG&E fighting numerous major campaign violations on ethical and campaign spending, Nielsen and Merksamer got $496,7l6.87.

In 2004 the firm got $443,50l.24 and in 2005 it got $8l6,97l. The interns who fought their way through the CPUC bureaucracy were Jeff Goodman and Sara Schieron, adding their names to a long list of Guardian staffers who have helped fight the good fight against PG&E for almost 40 years.

“All of this comes at a time when PG&E is going out of its way, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to buff up its image–and to fight the city’s modest but significant plans for public power,” our editorial points out. PG&E is also fighting the city in several expensive legal actions, from conflicts over the city’s right to power municipal buildings to PG&E’s working against the city building more solar sites.

At the end of Steven T. Jones’ story on “PG&E’s Extreme Makeover,” he quotes Peter Ragone, the mayor’s press secretary, as saying, “We’re going to do what’s in the best interests of the city of San Francisco. This is the first mayor to support public power, and that hasn’t changed at all.”

Okay. Maybe so. But then why did the mayor appoint Sean Elsbernd to the board, a staunch PG&E ally who worked for Nielsen Merksamer in the l990s? And then why is he now strongly backing PG&E’s supervisorial candiates in this election (Chan and Black)? That would give PG&E three callup votes on the board for PG&E. Fair play: If Chan and Black aren’t potential callup votes on the board, then they need to come clean, right now, and give us and the public an explanation of the PG&E investments in their firms and what their position on public power is now and will be as supervisors.

SOS: it’s time for the public power forces to regroup and start hammering back at the PG&E offensive. Things of great moment are once again in the making. B3