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Lawmakers seek limits on utilities' political spending

June 14, 2010 |  4:18 pm

The backlash continued Monday to last week’s election, in which Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spent $46 million on a failed attempt to pass a ballot measure that would have benefited the utility.

Two state lawmakers separately proposed to restrict such activity, including one measure that would bar utilities from using ratepayer funds for such campaigns.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said his proposed legislation would allow corporations to continue participating in political campaigns but prohibit using money from ratepayers to finance the ventures.

“PG&E launched a dangerous and misleading political campaign – with ratepayer funds – that had only one goal, to preserve the corporation’s monopoly,” Leno said. “The state’s largest electrical and gas company should not be able to use ratepayer-generated profits to write special rules into the state Constitution protecting it from competition."

PG&E spent $46 million on Proposition 16, which was rejected by 52.5% of voters. The measure would have required voter approval before cities could get into the electricity business.

Separately, Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) said Monday he had introduced a broader bill that would require corporations to issue an annual report to shareholders detailing money spent on a company’s political activities. Corporations would also be required to give their shareholders the ability to opt out of political expenditures for their proportionate corporate ownership amount, Nava said.

“Even when corporations recklessly spend money in pursuit of private gain over public interest, current law grants shareholders little to no recourse," Nava said.

-- Patrick McGreevy