Nine Sempra Energy executives made individual contributions totaling $1,200 to Supervisor Ron Roberts’ reelection campaign on the same day in September. One later decided his donation wasn’t appropriate, though it’s not clear why.

Mike Niggli, president and chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, asked Roberts to return his $125 check two weeks ago to “avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest,” Sempra spokeswoman Jennifer Ramp said, responding to questions by email.

“Because of Niggli’s highly visible role as President and COO of SDG&E, he decided that he’d be more comfortable not making the contribution,” Ramp wrote.

Ramp declined to explain what conflict Niggli wanted to avoid.

Tom Shepard, a Roberts campaign consultant, said Niggli is the only Sempra executive to request a refund and didn’t know why he asked for it.

Since Niggli declined to elaborate on his concerns, it’s unclear whether the other Sempra executives could have similar issues.

Sempra Energy and its subsidiaries are primarily regulated by state and federal energy officials, not the county supervisors. Roberts, however, plays a dual role as supervisor and a member of the state Air Resources Board, which oversees pollution regulation.

Roberts, a 16-year Republican incumbent, is campaigning this fall against Stephen Whitburn, a Democrat and public affairs manager for the American Red Cross. Roberts has been an outspoken supporter of SDG&E’s controversial Sunrise Powerlink, a transmission line connecting Imperial and San Diego counties, and arranged to have one of the project’s helicopters made available this year for firefighting emergencies.

Only one other Sempra executive has donated to Roberts since the initial contributions came in. Mark Nelson, vice president of Sempra Global, donated $250 on Oct. 15, the same day that Roberts refunded Niggli’s money. That brought the company’s total campaign support to $1,325.

If you know of anything that may explain Niggli’s concern about a conflict of interest, please send me an email.

Update: We identified the officials as Sempra executives because that’s how they were identified by campaign finance disclosures. A spokeswoman contacted us today as said the first nine contributors should be referred to as employees of SDG&E, a Sempra subsidiary.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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