CLEAN GOVERNMENT

 

Summary

• Government projects worth billions of dollars are routinely negotiated in secret and awarded to well-connected insiders and campaign contributors.

• California’s news media report on corruption scandals but fail to connect the dots for voters.

• California’s political machine is controlled by family dynasties whose wealth has come from oil and real estate since the 1960s.

• We must break up the corrupt California Public Utilities Commission, which is currently under federal and state criminal investigation.

• We need a New Sunshine Act that requires transparency for government contracting, permitting, regulating and other activities.

• We need to allow digital signature gathering to reduce the cost to put a voter initiative on the ballot and make the democratic process more accessible.

 
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Problem

Californians spend billions more for gasoline due to price manipulation the government won’t investigate. The average Californian family is paying $600 more for gasoline per year than they should for gasoline, according to a government panel, but nobody in Sacramento will investigate why. Oil “refiners hid imports and exports from view of the market in order to command higher prices,” concluded an investigation by an independent consumer organization.

Electricity Price Rip-Off. We pay 60 percent more on average for electricity than other Americans. Our electricity prices rose five times faster between 2011 and 2017 than they did in the rest of the country.

Big Oil is the main source of wealth for Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Both Brown and Newsom owe their family wealth to oil and natural gas money. Brown family wealth is from a monopoly on imports of Indonesian oil into California. Newsom’s family wealth is almost entirely from the Getty Oil fortune. For example, Gordon Getty financed 96 percent of Newsom Jr.’s vineyard.

Lt. Gov. Newsom and Gov. Brown take actions that directly benefit their families and friends. In the 1970s, Brown’s lobbying for oil and gas interests while governor sparked an investigation by the FBI and The New York Times. Brown in 2014 had a government agency look for oil and gas deposits on his family’s ranch. The agency produced — at taxpayer’s expense — a 51-page report for Brown. Brown fired two state fracking regulators because his former chief of staff — now working for Occidental Petroleum — asked him to. And Brown’s actions have directly benefited his sister’s energy investments.

Brown awarded California’s proposed train project to a firm with the lowest safety and technical rating. The Brown administration awarded a massive train contract to Tutor Perini Corp. — a company whose bid had the lowest technical and safety rating of all competing firms. Why? Perhaps because Tutor donated the maximum allowable to Brown’s campaign. Brown even intervened with the California Supreme Court on Tutor’s behalf.

California Water Commission is creating water scarcity by refusing to build desperately-needed infrastructure. The California Water Commission is refusing to spend most of the $7.5 billion in bond funding for water management that voters approved. “It's causing lots of people to scratch their heads," Tim Quinn, head of the Association of California Water Agencies, told the L.A. Times.

Sweetheart deal for prison guards union makes incarceration as expensive as as Stanford. While the number of prisoners incarcerated in California declined 12 percent between 2011 and 2015, the total amount California spends on prisons rose by $560 million. California spends more per prisoner than any other state — $65,000 annually — the same amount it costs to attend Stanford. The reason is because Gov. Jerry Brown raised prison guards salaries in exchange for campaign donations.

Newsom and Brown seek to build ecologically damaging water tunnel for mega-donors. While California government creates water scarcity by not investing bond money into intrastructure, Gov. Brown and Lt. Gov. Newsom want to build a water tunnel that independent experts say we don’t need. The tunnel would benefit Stewart and Lynda Resnick, a couple whose farms use more water than every home in Los Angeles, and at $116,800 in contributions are one of Newsom’s largest donors. “The couple could score big if a $15 billion water project championed by Governor Jerry Brown is officially approved in the next few years,” reported Fortune Magazine.

CPUC awarded a major battery deal to a company of a former CPUC Commissioner who makes neither batteries nor the software to run them. The CPUC awarded Brown and Gavin Newsom ally Susan Kennedy a battery contract reportedly worth $100 million — despite the fact that her company didn’t make either batteries or the software to run them.

CPUC fired a judge who was cooperating with federal criminal investigators. A former CPUC judge has filed a lawsuit saying she was fired after because she did her job and helped federal investigators look into a natural gas explosion and the San Onofre closure. 

John Doerr’s polluting fuel cells. Brown’s corrupt California Public Utilities Commission awarded most available subsidies for energy storage ($219 million out of $328 million in total)
to a single fuel cell company partially-owned by billionaire donor John Doerr even though they produced energy that was dirtier than the electricity from California’s grid.

Elon Musk’s regressive wealth transfer. Since 2017, the CPUC has given $20 million in contracts to Solar City, and $4 million to Tesla. Elon Musk, a major political contributor to Brown and Brown-affiliated initiatives, owns a large share of and controls both companies. Between 2007 and 2014, the wealthiest 40 percent of California households received three times more in solar subsidies than the poorest 40 percent.

The criminal investigation of California Public Utilities (CPUC) is stalled. There is an open criminal investigation of CPUC for its role in forcing the closure of San Onofre nuclear plant, but the investigation appears to be stalled for unknown reasons.

Brown has vetoed critical reforms. Brown vetoed bills to reform the CPUC and to require greater disclosure of campaign finance information.

Qualifying an initiative for the ballot costs $3 million, and winning often costs millions more. The current situation thus puts the process out of the hands of the people for whom the process was intended. Many political donations exchanged for state contracts — such as those for Doerr and Musk companies — were donations to ballot initiatives sought by Gov. Brown.

 
 
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Solution

In 1910, Californians elected the progressive Republican, Hiram Johnson, as governor. Gov. Johnson ended the price gouging by Southern Pacific Railroad and its political grip on Sacramento. To clean up its corrupt government, Californians must once again elect a real reformer. As governor I would:

Impose radical levels of transparency on all government agency regulation, contracting, and other activities through a New Sunshine Act.

Cancel the proposed San Francisco to Los Angeles train and the proposed water tunnels and redirect the money to more sensible mass transit projects and to the schools.

Renegotiate the contracts for prison guards and the retirement pensions for other public employees.

Request that the federal Justice Department take over the investigation of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and investigate possible price fixing in California’s energy markets.

Lower the cost of ballot initiatives by legalizing digital signature gathering. The rest of society allows digital signatures, including for taxes and home buying. This simple reform will radically lower the cost of signature gathering and thus reduce the influence of special interests groups.