Pataki Biggest Recipient of Power Company Campaign Contributions
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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – Gov. George Pataki has been the biggest recipient of campaign contributions from power companies that are now under scrutiny for recent blackouts in New York City, a study released Monday shows.
Government watchdog groups say the state Public Service Commission under Pataki has taken a “hands-off approach” to its job of regulating electric utilities and has failed to protect the average retail customer. Republican Pataki is in his 12th and final year as governor.
The New York chapter of Common Cause released a report showing Pataki, who has championed the deregulation of the state’s energy market, received $316,000 in campaign contributions from energy companies from 1999 to 2006.
From 2003 to 2006, the energy industry has spent more than $11 million lobbying lawmakers in Albany. Con Ed by itself spent $656,000 from 2003 to 2006 on lobbying and contributed $745,000 to various politicians.
The recent blackouts in Queens and Staten Island left up to 100,000 Consolidated Edison customers in the dark, some for up to 10 days.
“The one job Con Ed has after deregulation is providing secure and reliable transmission,” said Jason Babbie of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “The PSC is not doing the necessary follow up to make sure that happens.”
“The fact remains that the transmission and distribution part of Con Ed’s business is a fully regulated business and nothing has changed under deregulation,” PSC spokesman David Flanagan said. The blackout “had nothing to do with deregulation.”
Pataki’s office did not return a call for comment.
State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said last week that Con Edison “failed to heed” a report he wrote in 2000 examining the effects of a 1999 blackout in Manhattan and urged Con Edison to develop tests for detecting vulnerable equipment and to improve crisis communication with customers once power was restored. Spitzer said “the Public Service Commission’s oversight of the utility has been wholly inadequate.”
Democrat Spitzer, running for governor this year, has taken $103,000 in campaign contributions from electricity providers since 1999.
Gavin Donohue, president of the Independent Power Producers of New York, which represents electricity generators, said a recent PSC study found wholesale power prices have fallen in recent years under deregulation and that New York state has an abundant electricity supply.
“For people to say it’s the fault of deregulation, it’s too simplistic and just not right,” he said. “Not one person has blamed the blackout on a lack of electricity.”
On Friday, Con Ed spokesman Chris Olert said the company would deliver a report on the Queens blackout to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday. He said the cause of the outage was still being analyzed.