• Look who’s lobbying: Utility companies, Big Oil among 2018’s biggest anti-consumer spenders at California’s Capitol Friday, February 8, 2019

    By J.G. Preston

    California interest groups spent a record amount on lobbying in Sacramento in 2018 – more than $360 million – and most of the biggest spenders did so to tweak consumers.

    PGE wildfires smallerTake the company that spent more than any other, Pacific Gas & Electric, which poured more than $9.9 million into lobbying the statehouse last year, much of it to promote legislation allowing the utility to avoid liability for causing some of the biggest wildfires in California history.

    They weren’t alone among utilities who don’t want the buck to stop with them: Edison International and affiliates, including Southern California Edison, ranked third, with more than $4.2 million spent, while Sempra Energy and affiliates, including San Diego Gas & Electric Company and Southern California Gas Company, spent more than $1.6 million. All told, utility companies accounted for nearly 10% of all lobbying dollars spent in the state in 2018, almost $36 million.

    As usual, Big Oil wrote some of the biggest checks to influence California legislation. Western States Petroleum Association, which represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production and refining in California and other western states, was second only to PG&E, spending nearly $7.9 million. Chevron Corporation and its affiliates ranked fifth, laying out just short of $4 million, filing under both that name and as Chevron USA and affiliates.

    Many of the other groups near the top of the lobbying list are known for their anti-consumer bent. The California Chamber of Commerce, which ranked sixth, spent more than $3.1 million, much of it to either reduce consumers’ access to the courts when they are wronged by corporations or limit regulations that protect consumers and workers. CalChamber devotes much of its resources to opposing what it dubs “job killer” bills, which usually have nothing to do with killing off jobs and everything to do with preventing consumers from holding corporations accountable for wrongdoing.

    A big corporation also played hard in the battle over lead paint. Sherwin-Williams, the paint giant, spent close to $1.2 million in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to evade responsibility for putting Californians’ health at risk by pushing their lead paints long after the company knew the hazards they represent to humans.

    Other behemoths that didn’t necessarily have your best interests in mind when they spent money to influence legislation include AT&T (almost $2.4 million), the California Manufacturers and Technology Association (nearly $2.1 million), Verizon (more than $1.2 million), the Personal Insurance Federation of California (almost $1.7 million) and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (more than $730,000).

    While pro-consumer groups were, as always, badly outspent in the effort to influence opinions at the Capitol, rest assured there were groups that stepped up to represent your interests, including the California State Council of Service Employees (ranking fourth by spending more than $4 million), the American Civil Liberties Union (seventh, almost $3 million) and Consumer Attorneys of California (nearly $1.6 million).

    You’ll find the complete list of 2018’s lobbying expenditures (and it’s a long one) here.

    J.G. Preston is press secretary for Consumer Attorneys of California.

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