PG&E's Audacious Attempt to Enshrine Its Energy Monopoly In the California Constitution
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Welcome to Gilded Age 2.0, a time when government has become an appendage to the super-rich, used by industrialists, financiers and corporate robber barons to monopolize the economy and strip regular citizens of power and money. One example of just how much corporate cash and oligarchical interests have corrupted America’ democratic institutions comes out of California, where a giant corporation is spending tens of millions of dollars to push through a law that would snuff out competition and enshrine its corporate monopoly in California's State Constitution.
It sounds outrageous, but it is perfectly legal here in the Golden State, where a form of “direct democracy”introduced 100 years ago allows voters to write laws straight into the state constitution. All that is required is a ballot initiative and a two-thirds majority vote by people. Ironically, direct democracy was introduced to the state by the Progressive Party as a direct response to the runaway corruption of the Gilded Age, a way to shift power away from corporate and moneyed interests that dominated the legislature and to give it back to the people. Hiram Johnson, California's progressive governor 1911 to 1917, said that it would "restore absolute sovereignty to the people" by allowing voters to trump elected politicians.
It's true, direct democracy gave California's citizens a way to bypass their representative government, but it also gave a way for the rich and corporate to write their wishes directly into the highest law of the land -- all they'd have to do is convince, cajole or dupe the people into voting their way.
And that is exactly what executives at Pacific Gas & Electric, a giant energy monopoly in California, decided to do. Over the past nine months, they've spent massive amounts of cash on political strategists, lobbyists, professional signature gatherers, astroturfers and political ad campaigns in the hopes of scaring and duping California residents into voting "yes" on Proposition 16 in the upcoming June 8 primary election.
Convincing voters to vote against their own interests hasn't been easy, or cheap -- especially when just about every newspaper in the state has come out with an editorial line attacking the amendment, which has been dubbed "PG&E Monopoly-Protecting Ballot Initiative" by some and a "tapeworm" by others.
The Sacramento Bee said that the amendment would "insulate PG&E from competition, permanently locking its business advantage into the state constitution." Mercury News called it "an outrageous measure…its sole purpose is to protect PG&E profits." The Los Angeles Times waxed poetic, describing Prop 16 as "dagger aimed directly at a movement to enable municipalities to offer renewable green power to their residents in competition with private utilities."
According to San Francisco-based utility watchdog, TURN , Proposition 16 would "sabotage existing law allowing communities to choose alternatives to PG&E" by mandating a two-thirds supermajority vote from residents in order for a municipality to form a public utility company or for an existing public utility to expand its services to new customers.
To push it through, PG&E's political team has been waging a dirty political campaign that would make Karl Rove proud. As this article goes to print, records filed with the California Secretary of State show that the company had spent a whopping $25 million on the amendment. PG&E execs indicated that they are willing to spend up to $35 million. The utility has been using that cash to set up fake grassroots organizations to engage the Golden State in an aggressive, no-holds-barred disinformation war, airing misleading TV ads, launching aggressive direct-marketing campaigns and pestering people with telemarketing blitzes that warn of apocalypse if Prop 16 is not passed -- doing all of it with their customers' money.