Charity or political corruption?

Pub date July 31, 2007
SectionPolitics Blog

By Steven T. Jones
PG&E just put out a press release patting themselves on the back for placing sixth on the San Francisco Business Times’ annual list of the top 70 corporate donors to charity, thanks to the $14.7 million in donations the company made last year, it’s biggest year ever. And this year, they pledge to increase that to $18.3 million, just as the city is getting ready to start competing for customers directly with them.
Wow, we certainly are blessed to have such a benevolent corporation in our midst, right? As the press release quoted a top company official as saying, “As a company passionate about meeting the needs of the diverse communities we serve, corporate philanthropy and community service are natural extensions of who we are.”
But there’s probably a better way of looking at these donations and what they say about who PG&E is. After all, this is your money that they’re giving away, coming from customers paying some of the higher rates in the country. And much of that “charitable” giving is meant to buy friends and allies to defend against both public power initiatives and the efforts of city officials to hold this malevolent company responsible for its many misdeeds.
So even though its your money, the company takes credit (on signs, press releases, newspapers ads, etc.) for giving it away and reaps the rewards (from goodwill and influence peddling to tax deductions) that keep you and elected officials under its thumb. And it hits record amounts for giving just as the pressure is increasing to create more public interest and environmentally sustainable ways of generating megawatts. That doesn’t sound like very charitable behavior to me.