Pacific Gas & Electric allegedly gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife, Jennifer, over a period of two decades, illustrating the governor’s close ties to the utility that is responsible for some of the biggest wildfires to ravage the state in the last two years, according to a new report from The Washington Post.
The utility spent at least $227,000 on Gov. Newsom’s political campaigns and committees throughout his two decades in politics. In addition, PG&E gave large sums to a non-profit organization run by Jennifer Siebel Newsom so that she could make documentary films.
In the last eight years, the utility donated $358,000 to The Representation Project, which was founded by Jennifer Newsom to produce and release documentaries promoting social change in the area of gender representation.
The utility also hosted screenings of the documentaries at its offices, according to the report.
While PG&E has routinely given money to political campaigns, The Post‘s revelations come at a sensitive time, as both the utility and Gov. Newsom are facing blame for their mismanagement of California’s wildfires.
PG&E’s power lines were the cause of the 2018 Camp Fire, which is believed to be California’s deadliest wildfire.
“Every dollar that PG&E spends on a campaign contribution right now is one they should be spending to hasten the transition to a safer, more distributed electrical grid,” David Pomerantz, executive director of the utilities watchdog group the Energy and Policy Institute, told the Post.
The conflagrations have caused scores of deaths and billions of dollars in property damage, prompting President Donald Trump to say that he will withhold federal aid to the state until its leaders can gain control over the crisis.
“Get your act together Governor,” President Trump tweeted.
PG&E was forced to declare bankruptcy earlier this year in the wake of lawsuits stemming from the fires.
The privately held utility has also faced criticism for its mishandling of blackouts. The company implemented the blackouts to minimize the risk of fire but failed to alert many businesses and property owners who would be affected.
Gov. Newsom, a Democrat, is now in a position to decide PG&E’s fate. He has threatened a state takeover of the floundering utility and has excoriated the company for the way it implemented the blackouts.
But the new report about his and his wife’s financial ties to the utility are sure to complicate an already fraught relationship while also creating the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Gov. Newsom received financial backing from PG&E during his tenure as mayor of San Francisco from 2003 to 2010. The Post reported that the utility circumvented political donation regulations by giving $25,000 to his mayoral inaugurals as wells thousands of dollars to support pet ballot initiatives.
PG&E’s ties to Gov. Newsom’s wife also run deep. Her career appeared to take off when her husband was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, according to the Post.
Jennifer Newsom is an actress and documentary filmmaker who married Newsom in 2008. Among the documentaries she has directed and produced are Miss Representation, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival; The Mask You Live In; and The Great American Lie.
The Mask You Live In received $25,000 in donations from PG&E, which was credited as an associate producer on some of the titles.
Overall, the Post reported that PG&E’s foundation gave $358,000 to Jennifer Newsom’s The Representation Project between 2011 and 2018, according to tax records and information provided by the utility.
At one point, PG&E executive Brandon Hernandez joined the board of The Representation Project. He later left the board and has since departed PG&E.
A spokesperson for Gov. Newsom said that he stopped taking contributions from PG&E after he was elected as governor last year. But the Post noted that a week after the election, The Representation Project listed PG&E as a main sponsor at its annual gala.
PG&E stopped donating money to The Representation Project when Gov. Newsom took office this year.
Two advisers for Gov. Newsom told the newspaper that he never gave PG&E special treatment.
Gov. Newsom’s spokesperson declined to comment to the Post on whether the governor would consider returning any money.