Will Peevey go to prison?

When agents from the California Attorney General’s office raided Mike Peevey’s home, the question arose about whether the former Public Utilities Commission chief could land in jail for impropriety. His transgressions against ratepayers include seeking utility contributions to his political causes while bartering secretly with utilities over their desired rulings in pending cases. 
 
The cost to ratepayers – when totaling San Bruno, San Onofre, and other scandals – and the PUC itself has been enormous.
 
If history is any judge though, Attorney General Kamala Harris is not likely to throw the book at Peevey. 
 
California Attorneys General have had a tradition of keeping state politicians at the center of pay to play scandals out of jail. 
 
Take former California Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, who resigned in disgrace after using his office to shakedown insurance industry contributions for one of his foundations.  Or former Senate pro Tem Don Perata, who spent an entire tenure in the leadership job clouded by FBI raids and federal investigations of impropriety. Or former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, who resigned after taxpayer grant funds ended up in his campaign account.
 
The unspoken rule with Sacramento Attorney Generals, particularly the Democrats from the Bay Area, has been loss of office itself is the price for any political impropriety, never prison.  
 
Then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer could have put Quackenbush away with the type of evidence readily on display in the Los Angeles Times, but he demurred to the age-old notion that political crimes don’t merit time.  Lockyer’s new gig as oil industry lobbyist, after being one of their biggest critics, says something of his laissez-faire values. But it’s not just Lockyer.  There’s little lineage to California AGs pursuing their brethren in Sacramento for political crimes.  
 
The prosecutions of political corruption have typically come from the Federal Government, courtesy of FBI stings. That’s why former state Senators Ron Calderon is being prosecuted, and Leland Yee was convicted. And even convicted Rod Wright, who was charged with illegally living outside his district, was prosecuted by Los Angeles County - not the state. 
 
Inside the state house, Democratic politicians have similarly spouted the Bay Area Democratic live-and-let-live philosophy that new political ethic reforms should never carry more than civil penalties or they won’t get very far.  The ethos came up repeatedly in wake of the Quackenbush scandal when we discussed reforms to ban insurance company contributions to the insurance commissioner and on a host of other proposed reforms over the years.
 
The case against Peevey is probably still in the hands of the career civil servants at the Attorney General’s office who are likely to push for whatever prosecution they can get. But in the California Attorney General’s office, the recommendation from the prosecutors about whether to go after Peevey or not will one day rise to Harris herself. It will become a political question.
 
While it’s a new day for rooting out corruption in Sacramento, that’s thanks again to US Attorneys, not California’s.  Harris’s office has been hesitant about many politically charged matters, and largely mute on the PUC problems. This is one decision she should make on the evidence, not the troubling tradition of Sacramento elite protecting their own. That’s what got the FBI involved in the statehouse in the first place. The California Justice Department has rarely been bothered enough by corruption in the Capitol to send a signal it won’t be tolerated.

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