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I am outraged. I cannot count the number of times today that I have had to listen to radio and television commercials or navigate around a “clickable” ad on a Web page that I have visited — paid for by the proponents of Proposition 16 — artfully, but oh-so-deceptively crafted to promote this measure, the grossly misleadingly titled “Taxpayers Right to Vote Act,” which will be on the California ballot this June. And I just received yet another expensive, glossy, four-color and just as disturbingly misleading mailing piece designed with the same end in mind. Frankly, I think the level of media saturation that I have witnessed in the last several weeks in connection with the effort to garner voter support for this initiative is unprecedented in my lifetime.

A closer look at the funding source (and yes, I meant to use source in the singular form here) for the Yes on 16 campaign committee reveals that, in the four-and-a-half months leading up to April 2, 2010, this so-called coalition of one has received eight separate contributions, totaling $25,820,000, from but a single donor: Pacific Gas & Electric Company. It has already spent nearly $26 million in an attempt to persuade California voters to support this initiative and the election is still more than a month away. And millions more will likely flow into the “Yes on 16” campaign war chest before the last ballots have been cast and the polls close on June 8.

The dollar amount that PG&E has put toward this effort clearly explains the “how” part of the media saturation equation. Now let’s explore the “why” part.

Follow the money, folks. If PG&E is the only campaign contributor funding this deceptive ballot initiative, whose interests do you think it is serving? Is it really “the taxpayers,” as its name suggests? Fat chance!

The Secretary of State’s Official Voter Information Guide gives a pretty clear indication of just why PG&E wants this measure to pass:

• “Proposition 16 does two things: First, it drastically limits your choices on who provides you with electricity. Second, it makes it easier for the for-profit utilities in California to raise your electricity rates. It’s cleverly written, because the backers of Proposition 16 want to fool the voters. They say this measure is about protecting taxpayers. But what it really protects is the monopoly enjoyed by a giant, for-profit electric utility.”

• “A no vote protects you against the potential for crippling rate hikes. In fact, PG&E and other for-profit utilities already charge higher rates than municipal, nonprofit utilities. And now they want to increase rates another $5 billion.”

• “Proposition 16 doesn’t touch your taxes one way or the other. It’s all about PG&E maintaining its monopoly and eliminating its competition.”

• “PG&E is making up a threat that doesn’t exist to distract you. What’s really bothering PG&E is many communities are now choosing to purchase renewable energy at wholesale prices … We believe that residents should be allowed to have the choice of buying electricity at lower cost … But that choice is what PG&E designed Proposition 16 to stop.”

The legislative analyst provides further support for the risks associated with Proposition 16: “If this measure lessened the competitive pressures on private electricity providers by reducing the opportunities for expansion of publicly provided electrical service, the rates charged to electricity customers might eventually be higher than otherwise. These impacts could affect state and local government costs, since many public agencies are themselves large consumers of electricity. To the extent that changes in electricity rates affect business profits, sales and taxable income, these factors could also affect state and local tax revenues.”

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Gee, ya think?

As if that’s not enough, what I find to be one of the most disturbing elements of this campaign is further described by the opponents of Proposition 16 with the following:

“So when you see TV ads for Proposition 16, remember that most of the money for each one came from people’s utility bills.”

In other words, you — if, like most Californians, you are a PG&E customer — and I are financing this disgusting corporate power grab every time we pay our PG&E bills. That alone is a disgrace. At the very least, those of us who are compelled to do business with PG&E should at least have the right to opt out of what is currently compulsory customer-funded campaign financing to promote an initiative that benefits PG&E alone.

I urge you: Tell everyone you know to vote ‘no’ on Proposition 16. Tell them the name of the initiative is a total fraud and that the only thing that it will do to taxpayers’ voting rights is to undermine those rights. Then write to your state legislators, the governor and the California Public Utilities Commission and tell them that for-profit utility companies should not be allowed to compel their customers to fund self-serving ballot initiatives.

(Austin lives in Napa.)


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