Dinner for ex-PUC chief Peevey nets $55,000 in gifts for UC Berkeley

"I paid for my ticket and I went," PUC President Michael Picker said about dinner for Michael Peevey

More than $55,000 was donated to UC Berkeley in honor of former California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey, who stepped down in December amid scandal.

Representatives from eight labor unions, a rooftop solar power company and a law firm were among those who attended a retirement-celebration dinner in San Francisco on Feb. 12 for Peevey and gave donations.

A disclosure document filed by the PUC shows that the organizations gave gifts of $5,000 or $10,000 to to the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley as suggested by the organizers of the dinner.

Peevey, 77, was feted for his work on renewable energy and efficiency during his two six-year terms. But late last year, he drew increased criticism that he had engaged in improper and overly cozy relations with regulated utilities.

Those ties are being investigated by state and federal law enforcement agencies. A search warrant served at Peevey's home in January said that officials were looking for evidence of bribery, obstruction of justice and illegal communications with utilities.

Peevey has denied any wrongdoing and has not been available for comment since his Dec. 31 departure.

The Feb. 12 dinner in San Francisco drew more than 200 of Peevey's friends and energy industry colleagues.

The leader of one of the unions that contributed said he was proud to honor Peevey.

"Michael Peevey has been a friend of mine and a friend of the IBEW while at the commission," said Pat Lavin, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 47, in Diamond Bar.

Other contributors included the State Building Trades Council of California, the Southern California Pipe Trades Council and the San Francisco law firm of Goodin MacBride Squeri Day & Lamprey, among others.

The donors, though not directly regulated by the PUC, are greatly affected by commission decisions in rate-setting and power-purchase rulings, for example.

Many executives from the state's regulated electric utilities did not attend the dinner. Among those who did attend was Jessie Knight, the chairman of San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Gas Co.



Feb. 25, 12:48 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said executives from the state’s three regulated electric utilities did not attend the dinner. The chairman of San Diego Gas & Electric Co. was among the attendees.


Critics of Peevey's record were along outspoken about the dinner and gifts.

"Accepting money from an event honoring Michael Peevey sends the wrong message to your students and alumni," state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) wrote in a letter to Dean Henry Brady at the Goldman public policy school.

"It's inappropriate that a school of Goldman's caliber would host an event honoring the CPUC president whose indifference to utility operations contributed" to a fatal 2010 pipeline explosion in the Bay Area city of San Bruno, Hill added.

In an emailed reply to Hill, the dean said that Peevey's friends, not the Goldman School, sponsored the event.

The contributions spurred Peevey's successor, Michael Picker, to be the first PUC member to file a report with the state Fair Political Practices Commission that detailed the contributions made in Peevey's name.

Picker, who was listed on the event's invitation as one of many sponsors of the dinner, said he filed the report with the ethics commission out of "an abundance of caution."

He said that he had not been contacted by the contributors nor had he contacted them. "I paid for my ticket and I went" to the $250-a-plate dinner, Picker said.

However, a 2008 state law requires the five members of the PUC to disclose publicly any time they successfully solicit a contribution for a nonprofit organization.

At the suggestion of staff, Picker said he contacted former PUC member Susan Kennedy, one of the principal co-sponsors of the dinner. He said he asked her for a list of contributors to the Goldman School so he could file the necessary document with the ethics watchdog agency.

Two other high state government energy officials -- Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the Air Resources Board, and Robert Weissenmiller, chairman of the Energy Commission -- were also sponsors of the dinner. They did not report the so-called behested contributions. State law did not require them to do so, ethics officials said.

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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