Jeff Smith 11:59 p.m., Feb. 8
Recipients of half of Sempra non-profit cash unidentified in disclosure
Tax-free “employee” foundation chaired by utility giant's SDG&E external affairs chief kicks in big for LGBT Center, Focus on the Family, Catholic bishop
In the wake of this week's FBI raid on the capitol offices of Democratic state Sen. Ron Calderon, San Diego-based Sempra Energy has been picking up some attention as a big Calderon campaign contributor and personal gift giver.
Of course, the utility behemoth, which owns SDG&E, Southern California Gas, and a big natural gas import-export combine, has long spread its influence to both Democrats and Republicans, regardless of ideology, in the form of political and nonprofit juice.
Among Sempra's most memorable influence peddling moments came in September 2009 when GOP then-Assemblyman Mike Duvall was caught on an open microphone bragging about his romantic exploits with an SDG&E lobbyist. Duvall later said he had engaged in "inappropriate storytelling," Law enforcement took no action, and the woman was kept on by Sempra after an in-house investigation.
Yet another example of Sempra’s wide ranging beneficence are the giving habits of a company-sponsored non-profit corporation calling itself the Sempra Employee Giving Network. According to the network's website:
Since 2002, almost $6.5 million have been donated by employees of the Sempra Energy family of companies to more than 850 charities all over the United States. In 2011 alone, employees contributed more than $1 million.
The website says the charity was "formed by and for employees of the Sempra Energy family of companies," but its board is top-heavy with company management, including the non-profit’s chairman, Frank Urtasun.
The former port commissioner shows up around town distributing big checks, as was the case in February when, according to an SDG&E news release, the executive appeared alongside a beaming mayor Bob Filner and city councilman Todd Gloria, both Democrats, touting a company-sponsored fix to some summer vandalism that had become a subject of dispute during last year’s mayoral race between Filner and the GOP’s Carl DeMaio.
Frank Urtasun, SDG&E’s regional vice president of external affairs, was on hand to express how honored SDG&E was to have joined and supported this effort through a contribution of $10,000, which went to making the final repairs to Balboa Park’s Lily Pond.
Now San Diegans along with visitors will be able to continue to enjoy the Lily Pond in all its wonderful glory.
Sempra regional vice president Mark Nelson, a long familiar donor to political campaigns and a board member of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association - the downtown business lobbying group that helped orchestrate a hard-charging political attack against Filner over his refusal to sign a tourism promotion funding agreement negotiated by his predecessor, Republican Jerry Sanders - is listed as a "director at large" of the employee giving network.
The non-profit's website explains how it raises the money:
Through this program, employees can make charitable contributions to the charities of their choice through one-time or ongoing payroll deductions.
One hundred percent of contributions are directed to the charities, because Sempra Energy pays all administrative fees. In 2011, more than $1 million was donated through payroll [deductions] to more than 800 charities by employees in communities where they work and live.
According to its most recently available IRS disclosure report, filed July 19 of last year, the non-profit raised $1,054,473 and gave away a total of $1,000,950.
About half of the donations made, $526,895, were awarded to recipients who were not identified by the non-profit. According to Sempra’s disclosure, each grant in that category was less than $5000, but no further information was provided.
Those recipients whose identities were revealed made up an eclectic group, including the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian group founded by James C. Dobson, which got $5215, and the San Diego LGBT Community Center, which picked up $8533.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego was listed as getting $11,265; San Diego State University's Campanile Foundation, which funds a variety of sports and other causes at the state-run school that owns and operates public broadcaster KPBS, took in $5760; and the Navy League of the United States received $24,264.
No environmental groups made the list.
We put a call into Sempra’s PR department this morning for more information and will update when we hear from them.
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