Solved: the Curious Case of the California Oil Companies who Sat Out Prop 23.

Proposition 23, known as the Dirty Energy Proposition for its financial backing from oil companies, has garnered national publicity for its effort to roll back California’s greenhouse gas law.  Virtually all of its funding has come from outside California, beginning with Texas-based Valero Energy Co., Texas-based Tesoro Energy Co., and the Kansas-based Koch brothers.  Californians who care about our state, and who remember Texas-based Enron and Utah-based LDS Church, resent the intrusion of out of state interests meddling in our politics.  

But what of in-state oil companies and businesses who might normally put their money into Proposition 23?  Chevron and the California Chamber of Commerce are staying neutral.  That’s good, right?

I investigated.  Short answer: no, that’s not good.

Proposition 23 is easy to understand — FAQs here.  Propositions 25 and 26, by comparison, are MEGO propositions — “my eyes glaze over” — addressing budget processes.  Proposition 25 will end budget gridlock by requiring a simple majority, rather than a 2/3 vote, to pass a state budget; both the California Democratic Party and the Los Angeles Times recommend a “yes” vote.  Proposition 26, a state constitutional amendment, seeks to require a 2/3 majority on certain business fees by declaring them “taxes”; both the California Democratic Party and Los Angeles Times recommend “no” votes.  

While officially remaining neutral on Proposition 23, California-based oil companies Chevron and Occidental, and the California Chamber of Commerce, have been quietly funnelling their cash into a No on 25/Yes on 26 political action committee.  I’ve reviewed donations made through the end of September 2010, reported 10/5/10.  All data from California Secretary of State.

First, the basic size of the PAC:

TOTAL CONTRIBUTIONS 1/1/2010 – 09/30/2010 $6,051,060.29


TOTAL EXPENDITURES 1/1/2010 – 09/30/2010 $9,459,904.08

ENDING CASH $819,351.21

By contrast, here’s the same data for the dirty energy “Yes on 23” PAC:

TOTAL CONTRIBUTIONS 1/1/2010 – 09/30/2010 $8,362,235.39


TOTAL EXPENDITURES 1/1/2010 – 09/30/2010 $5,317,593.35

ENDING CASH $3,122,966.01

In other words, both groups have taken in about the same amount of money; Yes on 23 has more cash in reserve and No on 25/Yes on 26 has spent more.

Here are some contributions to No on 25/Yes on 26:

California Business Political Action Committee, Sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce:

$215,000.00  4/23/2010

$325,000.00  4/30/2010

$100,000.00  5/7/2010

$120,000.00  5/17/2010

$75,000.00  4/1/2010

$235,000.00  8/20/2010

 $2,322.65  7/1/2010 (non-monetary contribution)

$100,000.00  3/4/2010

$50,000.00  3/5/2010

$125,000.00  3/10/2010

$75,000.00  3/18/2010

Subtotal: $1,422.322.65

Chevron Corporation [based in San Ramon, CA]

$250,000.00  4/15/2010

$250,000.00  9/13/2010

$750,000.00  9/24/2010

Occidental Petroleum [based in Los Angeles, CA]

$250,000.00  9/24/2010

Subtotal from California-based oil companies: $1,500,000

Chevron has donated $1.25M to Prop 26, compared to Koch’s donation of $1M to Prop 23.  But why does Chevron care about California’s budget?  Proposition 26’s backers portray the initiative as necessary to stop “hidden taxes.”  Jean Ross of the California Budget Project explains otherwise:

the fees at issue are primarily those that regulate, mitigate and otherwise respond to environmental, health, and other social impacts of products and services. In other words, businesses seeking to avoid financial responsibility for the “externalities” of the products that they sell….

If the state can’t impose the fees on “pollution-causing industries” to recoup the cost of environmental monitoring and remediation, those costs will be shifted to taxpayers as a whole. Or, in an era where budget crises have become the status quo, programs that enforce environmental, food safety and other laws will be scaled back, if not eliminated. Which may be the true goal of the backers of Proposition 26.

Proposition 26 is a Polluters Protection Act.  Its goal is simple: whatever Proposition 23 can’t undo openly, Proposition 26 will undermine sneakily.  Californians are enthusiastically mobilizing against Proposition 23, but they need to be equally energized against Proposition 26 and for Proposition 25.

2 thoughts on “Solved: the Curious Case of the California Oil Companies who Sat Out Prop 23.”

  1. Without “Governor Chevronegger” in office, the Big C is going after some different kind of muscle in Sacramento.

    Now how about some bumper-sticker slogans?


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