A state senator is calling on the legislature to put limits on how much lobbyist-funded travel state officials are legally allowed to accept. Sen. Jerry Hill (D - San Mateo) on Friday introduced SB 831, which would amend the Political Reform Act and would create a cap of $5,000 for travel-related gifts to elected and appointed state leaders.
An End to Utility Funded Travel for CPUC President?
Following NBC Bay Area investigation, state senator introduces legislation calling for limits on utility-funded travel by state officials
By Tony Kovaleski, Liz Wagner and Jeremy Carroll
Following an NBC Bay Area investigation, which exposed that CPUC president Michael Peevey accepted thousands of dollars in free travel from special interest groups, Sen. Jerry Hill introduces a bill to prevent public officials from accepting lavish vacations from utility-funded nonprofits. Chief Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski reports in a story that aired on April 11, 2014. (Published Friday, April 11, 2014)
This announcement follows an NBC Bay Area investigation that exposed Michael Peevey, the governor-appointed president of the California Public Utilities Commission, accepting free travel from special interest groups to exotic destinations such as Hong Kong, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Israel. Public records show that since 2003, Peevey has accepted more than $230,000 worth of free trips and traveled out of his office more than 200 days.
“SB 831 aims to refocus public officials on their jobs, not their frequent flyer accounts by placing financial limits on travel that he or she can accept,” Hill said.
The bill also requires nonprofits to disclose who contributes to the travel funds. Pacific Gas & Electric and other energy utility companies fund the trips through nonprofit groups such as the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy.
The Investigative Unit found that CFEE bankrolled at least six of Peevey’s most expensive trips around the world in recent years and also sponsored a conference in Napa Valley last April where at least one representative from PG&E was present.
Hill said his legislation would address the problem of industry finding ways to “hide behind nonprofit fronts.”
The bill comes a week after federal prosecutors charged PG&E with criminal violations as a result of the deadly 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people. CPUC commissioners are scheduled to vote this summer on an appropriate penalty for PG&E.
“This is personal,” Hill said. “This is very personal. This is about the eight individuals, the eight constituents of mine who were killed in San Bruno in 2010. That’s what’s personal about this whole issue.”
Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, supports Hill’s bill, which seeks to squash the apparent cozy relationship Peevey has with the utility companies California taxpayers pay him to regulate.
“It’s one thing to throw a watchdog a bone and it’s another thing to throw fillet mignon,” Toney said. “And that is what is happening with these trips.”
Peevey’s term is up at the end of 2014. Hill, consumer advocates and leaders of the City of San Bruno have petitioned Gov. Jerry Brown to remove Peevey from his post early, and at the very least hope the governor will not reappoint Peevey to a third term.
Peevey was not available to comment on Hill’s proposed change in the ethics law. His spokesperson said the travel allows for the exchange of knowledge between California stakeholders and other countries, and that the trips are in full compliance with state rules.
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