Oil Industry Trying to "Buy" California Elections

May 6, 2016
By Jenesse Miller

They're ba-ack! (Actually, they never left).

Recent campaign funding activities show that the oil industry, led by Chevron, is continuing its past practice of trying to “buy” California voters to influence the outcome of legislative races. The industry is investing in independent expenditure campaigns designed to support candidates who they see as aligned with their agenda, and undercut legislative candidates who articulate the need to reduce air and water pollution from the oil and gas industry.

Specifically, Chevron reported in April that it had formed an independent expenditure campaign and contributed $1 million to confuse voters in Assembly District 47, located in San Bernardino County, about who's the real "environmental champion" in that race. Big Oil's campaign is intended to deflect voter support for advocate and educator Eloise Reyes, a candidate for the Assembly who has strong backing from environmental groups including CLCV, and misrepresents the record of the incumbent, Cheryl Brown, who is clearly the oil industry's choice in this race.

Brown, who worked behind the scenes during the 2015 legislative session to weaken a major climate bill and failed to vote for other climate and water quality bills opposed by the oil industry, only received a 73% on CLCV's most recent California Environmental Scorecard—not the record of a champion for environmental progress.

Even more recently, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA)—which lobbies for Big Oil in Sacramento—poured money into an independent expenditure applauding Assemblyman Jim Cooper for undermining climate policies in the 2015 legislative cycle. Cooper (who also scored 73% on our most recent Scorecard) is the co-chair of a loosely-associated group or "caucus" of lawmakers who are funded by special interests including the oil industry.

In 2015, oil companies spent an astounding $22 million to influence legislation at the state Capitol, including efforts to undermine groundbreaking legislation to reduce oil-generated pollution in the state. The "Oil Caucus" played a major role in 2015 in stopping climate bill SB 32 from moving forward and in forcing the removal of a critical provision from another climate bill (SB 350) that would have reduced petroleum use in California by 50 percent—that demonstration of loyalty to the oil industry over their own constituents is clearly continuing to reap benefits for Oil Caucus members like Cooper.

Finally, an independent expenditure campaign in Senate District 27, which includes parts of northern Los Angeles County and Ventura County, has been formed with funds from a political action committee heavily financed by Chevron Oil. That independent expenditure campaign is designed to undercut front-runner Henry Stern, a policy adviser who helped craft successful legislation to contain oil and gas industry pollution while serving on Senator Fran Pavley’s staff.

Kathryn Phillips, director of California Sierra Club, pointed out that Chevron implemented similar tactics in 2012 in this district:

As Yogi Berra would say, this is déjà vu all over again. Chevron did this kind of spending in 2012 to try to seat pro-oil Democrats. It’s not a new tactic, but it requires the public to be alert to the kinds of dishonest claims they will hear from the oil-backed campaigns.

Sarah Rose, CEO of CLCV, added:

In 2016, as in prior years, the oil industry has decided to pour money into campaigns to stop candidates who have the public’s and the environment’s best interests at heart. Our message to Californians who care about their health, their children’s health, and the environment is to beware. Candidates who will lead on the environment have typically earned endorsements from environmental groups, not support from polluters like Chevron. Oil companies’ spending in support of a candidate is a clear indication that candidate’s record on the environment and public health should be heavily scrutinized.

It's still early in the 2016 election cycle, and we expect to see even more races and environmental champions being targeted by oil companies and their front groups. CLCV and our partners in the environmental community will work hard to make sure the real environmental champions win in their primary contests on June 7th and then in the November General Election, but we'll need the participation of all Californians who care about the future of our planet, healthy communities, clean air, and clean water. Stay tuned!



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