Peevey Dinner Photo

Organizers aren’t saying what happened to funds rejected by Berkeley

By Jeff McDonald
June 12, 2015 – 7:17 p.m.

Tens of thousands of dollars in proceeds from a February tribute dinner for former utility regulator Michael Peevey was turned away by the University of California after Peevey fell under the shadow of criminal investigation.

Now the event organizers are unwilling to say where the proceeds went, and that may be a problem under state law.

According to the Fair Political Practices Commission, public officials who solicit donations are required to disclose them when contributions exceed $5,000, and must file amendments to the forms if the money ends up someplace different.

California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker filed such a disclosure of the original contributions, given at his behest. His form noted that “donations benefit the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley,” a situation that has now changed.

“That (amendment) would also be required,” FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said Friday. “It must be filed and reflect where the money went to.”

Peevey stepped down in December as utilities commission president. He is the subject of state and federal criminal investigations after emails were released showing utility executives had easy access to him, outside the supposedly public proceedings of the commission. His Los Angeles area home was searched in January and investigators seized computers, records and other evidence.

The same week as the raid, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the gala was in the works, a $250-per-plate gala at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco. Former Mayor Willie Brown served as emcee and hundreds of utility executives, labor leaders and public officials attended.

After the report was published, a spate of consumer advocates, UC Berkeley alum and others protested that the school should not be accepting the funds. The university defended accepting the dinner proceeds initially but finally rejected the donation in March. Peevey resigned from a school advisory board at the same time.

Once UC Berkeley passed on the donation, event co-organizer Don Solem said he was looking for a worthy charity to accept the money. This week, he said he gave the funds to several groups but declined to identify the recipients.

“I see no need to disclose the names of nonprofit and educational-related contributions to the public,” said Solem, who runs a public relations firm in San Francisco. “If the nonprofits disclose the contributions, that’s their business.”

Under state law, elected officials and members of the utilities commission can only ask for donations from people and groups if the money is to be used for legislative, governmental or charitable purposes.

Picker was listed on invitations as a co-sponsor of the soiree, which was titled “Mike Peevey: A Lifetime of Service to the People of California.”

Picker later said that he was wrongly named an event sponsor, but he filed the disclosure form saying he solicited the payments under advice of commission lawyers.

Filed on Feb. 3, his form listed $55,000 in contributions from labor unions, lawyers and a solar company. On March 2, he amended the report to reflect two additional $5,000 donors. Both forms listed Berkeley’s Goldman School for the proceeds.