There is no doubt Gov. Jerry Brown has tolerated corruption in his administration. But now there are hints that he might be personally involved in some of it.
For corruption Brown has known about, but not curbed, start with the Public Utilities Commission, proven to have decided multibillion-dollar rate cases after lengthy private contacts and email exchanges between commissioners, their staff and utility executives.
Then there’s the state Energy Commission, which handed tens of millions of dollars in “hydrogen highway” grants to a consultant who two years ago drew the map of where that money was to be spent, then resigned and formed a company that three months later applied for and got most of the available money.
No member of either commission has been disciplined. Nor have any commission practices changed discernibly. Brown promoted his former aide Michael Picker to president of the PUC despite the fact that during the year Picker and disgraced former PUC President Michael Peevey served together, Picker voted for every deal Peevey pushed.
At the Energy Commission, despite proven cronyism and his vote to back the hydrogen highway conflict of interest, Chairman Robert Weisenmiller was soon reappointed.
Now come hints that the consistently hands-on Brown might not merely condone corruption in his administration; he may be part of it.
These come from two directions: In San Francisco Superior Court, San Diego lawyers Michael Aguirre and Mia Severson are pushing for access to more than 60 records purportedly showing Brown or his office was in direct and frequent contact with PUC commissioners at the time of the infamous San Onofre settlement. That was the agreement worked out – apparently illegally – on stationery and paper napkins of a luxury Warsaw hotel between a junketing Peevey and executives of the Southern California Edison Co.
The deal would have customers of Edison and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. pay $3.3 billion, or about three-fourths of the cost of retiring the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which failed because Edison officials bought a flawed $660 million part knowing all along it could destroy SONGS, as it eventually did.
The PUC so far refuses to reopen that case, but has not shown why consumers should pay anything for Edison’s blunder at San Onofre.
One reason the nominally independent commission, made up of five Brown appointees, is obdurate may be that it knows Brown liked the deal from the start.
While no one will know until after a scheduled Dec. 9 court hearing what’s in those documents, another email proves Brown knew about and favored the illegally crafted San Onofre settlement early on. A June 6, 2013, note sent by Edison CEO Ted Craver to company board members starts with Craver saying he “wanted to give you a quick report on my phone calls with Gov. Brown.”
This came while Brown was in Rancho Mirage meeting with President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Reported Craver, “He said what we were doing seemed right under the circumstances.” Craver also said Brown “indicated a willingness to” say publicly that Edison was acting responsibly. What else might have been said in that call?
For sure, Brown spoke to Craver while meeting with two of the three most powerful world leaders. That’s how hands-on the governor can be, even when he has no formal voice in a decision. There was also a possible conflict of interest here: His sister, Kathleen, is a board member of SDG&E’s parent company, which has hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in this case.
Maybe Brown was more directly involved than we know. That’s only a guess, but Brown invites speculation when he and his PUC appointees use tax dollars trying to hide their contacts.
Brown press secretary Evan Westrup, asked for the governor’s response to or explanation for all this, would say only “I do not expect we’ll be commenting.”
This non-response came while Brown was fending off public outrage over his demand that California’s oil regulating agency provide him maps and records showing any potential for oil and natural gas drilling on his family’s 2,700-acre ranch in Colusa County.
Add it up and possible corruption involving Brown could far exceed the questionable moves that spurred the 2003 recall of ex-Gov. Gray Davis.
Thomas D. Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column.