EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. —
The leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties in California’s mountainous El Dorado County have a united message to anybody running for elected office there: don’t take campaign donations from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).
The county's Republican Party chair Todd White and his Democratic counterpart Josh Elder struck an agreement to deny the county’s major party endorsements to any candidate who accepts PG&E’s contributions.
“I would not recommend that a candidate ask for our endorsement and accept money from PG&E,” GOP leader White told ABC10 while sitting alongside Elder for a joint on-camera interview.
“Our position is very clearly: don't take the money,” added Democratic leader Elder. “If you want our support, you want our endorsement, don't take the money.”
The détente between the Democratic and Republican leaders in El Dorado County evolved over recent months as the two worked on fire and insurance issues. Their respective central committees are crafting written language to formalize a ban on endorsements for candidates who accept money from PG&E.
ABC10’s reporting revealed that PG&E money was widely accepted by California politicians, even after the company was found guilty of federal crimes.
The power monopoly donated millions to politicians at the local, state, and federal level-- even after after the company itself was convicted of federal crimes connected to the deaths of eight people in the San Bruno gas explosion.
PG&E is still serving time under its five-year sentence of probation. According to state fire investigators, 109 people died in wildfires caused by PG&E equipment between 2015 and 2018.
The company donated $208,400 to help elect Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2018. ABC10 also found that PG&E donated to eight out of every 10 sitting members of the state legislature and eight out of every 10 members of the US Congress from California.
“It just matters,” Elder said. “There's a lot of public focus on this, and it's something that every one of our legislators, our executives in our Congress, people, etc. are going to have to essentially answer for.”
“They just don't need to be taking that money,” said White. “This company cannot even provide the services that they're contracted to do.”
Both party leaders agreed that politicians who’ve recently accepted PG&E money should give it away, but only a handful have actually done so. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the most prominent California politician to part ways with PG&E’s donations.
Republican Rep. Doug Lamalfa, who represents the town of Paradise, did not. He accepted a $5,000 check from PG&E five months after the Camp Fire killed 85 people in his district. PG&E admits that its high-tension power line started the fire and decided to shut the line down after finding more safety hazards on it after the fire.
Gov. Newsom recently told ABC10 that the money he received from PG&E doesn’t influence him. He’s never responded with a yes or no answer when asked whether he’s willing to give up the money.
“To me it's a no-brainer,” Elder said. “[Divesting PG&E’s money] is the right political thing to do. It is the political currency to show that you have the political will to move forward on the crisis.”
- Most California Congress members took PG&E money. Did yours keep it?
- After 109 wildfire deaths, California Congress members still took money from PG&E
- Governor Newsom, most state lawmakers took money from convicted felon PG&E
- Judge orders PG&E to explain political spending following ABC10 documentary series
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In California, fires are burning more intensely than ever before. Megafires destroy entire neighborhoods. Some of the deadliest fires have been caused by our own electric grid, but all fires are burning worse because of climate change and an unhealthy forest landscape.