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AshBritt hires Darius Anderson's lobbying firm as recovery faces continued criticism

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CALIFORNIA CONNECTIONS

In January, AshBritt's name started surfacing in press coverage of the Butte County fire-recovery process. On Jan. 10, the Sacramento Bee reported that AshBritt's former CEO, Randall Perkins, had toured the area in search of work. Ten days later, when PG&E announced plans to file for bankruptcy, AshBritt halted its tree-removal work for the utility, according to a report in the Chico Enterprise-Record.

By early 2019, the embattled utility and the disaster recovery had both hired Platinum Advisors, whose founder, Darius Anderson, is also the founder of Rebuild North Bay, the principal in Kenwood Investments and the managing partner of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Press Democrat and numerous other publications in the North Bay.

In the new year, state officials have apparently distanced themselves from the cleanup challenges from 2018, if not from Ghilarducci's letter to the Army Corps. At a Jan. 10 community event in Butte County, Eric Lamoureux, deputy director at OES, downplayed the damage done via the federal debris removal contractors in Sonoma County last year.

Lamoureux sought to "counter rumors heard that crews left big holes in last year's Bay Area fire cleanups," according to the Chico Enterprise-Record. Lamoureux's account differed significantly from the letter sent by his boss Ghilarducci, to the Army Corps of Engineers just five months earlier.

For its part, AshBritt enhanced its political contributions and charitable donations at the local, state and federal levels after the criticisms against it surfaced late last year.

In October 2018, AshBritt hired Ballard Partners, a lobbying firm known for its close relationship to President Donald Trump. Earlier in the year, the company contributed $500,000 to America First Action, a Trump-supporting political action committee.

In California, AshBritt's former CEO Randall Perkins contributed $250,000 to the California Democratic Party; current CEO Brittney Perkins donated $29,200 to Gavin Newsom's campaign in the final months of the state elections, as first reported by KQED. And at the local level, the company has an ally in a local newspaper investor and lobbyist. In October, AshBritt hired Platinum Advisors for representation in Sacramento (according to a state disclosure form published in December) two weeks after telling the Bohemian that it had no connection to Anderson. AshBritt paid Platinum Advisors $60,000 for its services between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, according to a state disclosure form.

REBUILD NORTH BAY

On Nov. 28, 2017, the Community Foundation Sonoma County hosted a conference called Resilience Convening, to discuss local recovery efforts.

In a panel discussion, Anderson represented the Rebuild North Bay Foundation, the nonprofit he founded in October 2017, meant to bridge the gap between businesses and public interest during the regional fire recovery for six months to five years after the fires.

"This is a public-private partnership," Anderson told the attendees. "We really believe that if we are going ahead and meeting that ultimate goal of building back greener, cleaner and stronger than before the fires, we have to have our people in the public sector as our partners."

From the beginning, Rebuild North Bay placed itself at the center of the rebuilding process and brought in James Lee Witt, former FEMA director under President Bill Clinton, to lead the organization. Its honorary board boasts a cross-section of shareholders that has included labor representation, a PG&E official and the wife of a Sonoma County supervisor.

"The majority of the money we need to rebuild our community is going to have to come in partnership with the federal government, the state government and local governments," Anderson said at the November conference.

Jennifer Gray Thompson, who took over for Witt as the organization's second director, voiced the need for "a new regional reality," in an interview with the North Bay Business Journal, which is part of the Sonoma Media Investment portfolio of publications.

A slideshow from the presentation also states Rebuild planned to "partner with the Press Democrat" and pledged to "ensure transparency in the community."

Rebuild North Bay did not respond to an emailed request for comment. An email sent to Platinum Advisors for comment was not returned.

In the months since the conference, Rebuild and Anderson have made the news a few times, but the news hasn't always made it into the pages of the Press Democrat.

For example, in March, the Bohemian reported that Platinum Advisors took on PG&E as a client just days before state legislators began to consider new legislation to regulate the utility. Steven Malnight, senior vice president for strategy and policy at PG&E, serves on Rebuild North Bay's board of directors.

Steve Falk, the Press Democrat's publisher, told the San Francisco Chronicle last August that Anderson is not involved in newsroom decisions.

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