Attorney general says power contracts should be made public

By Gary Gentile Associated Press Writer
Monday May 28, 2001

NEWPORT BEACH – State Attorney General Bill Lockyer said Saturday he favors making public the details of power contracts the state has negotiated in secret with generators. 

“In my mind at least, and as a matter of philosophy, the expenditures are so extraordinary, the issues are so important, that the contracts, I think, need to be made public,” he said at the annual meeting of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. 

The remarks came amid criticisms from Republicans and journalists who disagree with Gov. Gray Davis’ refusal thus far to release the price the state is paying for long-term contracts with power generators and wholesalers. Davis has announced the signing of contracts with the California Department of Water Resources, which is spending billions each month buying power for the state’s cash-strapped utilities. 

The Associated Press and several newspapers sued Davis, saying his refusal to release details of the state’s electricity purchases violates the California Public Records Act. The lawsuit says Davis’ refusal to make public details of the power contracts means the public cannot determine if the state is doing a good job in spending billions in tax dollars. 

As the state’s attorney general, Lockyer is required to defend the state in that lawsuit. Lockyer said Saturday his duty is to represent his client, in this case the state, regardless of his own opinion. 

Davis has said he needs to keep the details secret to protect future negotiations. 

There have been some disagreements among the governor’s advisers, including himself, Lockyer said, as to how long Davis is entitled to keep the contracts secret. 

“The law allows for temporary nondisclosure when there would be public injury that is substantial,” Lockyer said. “The governor’s energy advisers claim that when contracts haven’t been signed or fully executed, that the company might withdraw or change their demands if they knew what their competitors were getting and that it would affect the costs of the power contracts in the future. 

“I think that’s a legitimate claim. The problem is balancing that against the public interest in knowing how the money is being spent, whether it is prudent. The law allows for that balancing. It doesn’t allow it for a long time.” 

“We’ve explained he may have some short-term ability to keep them secret, but he can’t for very much longer,” Lockyer said. 

Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio said he didn’t know what Lockyer was referring to when he said some of the governor’s advisors had disagreed with Davis’ decision. The governor had planned to release details of the contracts six months after they were signed, which means details on some will be released soon, Maviglio said.