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Proposition 23: Opponents surge ahead in fundraising

October 13, 2010 |  5:23 pm

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California green technology companies and wealthy environmentalists are pouring money into a campaign to defeat Proposition 23, a November ballot initiative that would suspend the state's global warming law.

So far, opponents of  Prop 23 have raised $16.3 million, nearly twice as much as supporters of the initiative, which was launched by two Texas oil companies with refineries in California.

However, No on Prop 23 spokesman Steve Maviglio said, "We are girding for what the oil companies traditionally have done on California ballot measures, when they've dumped millions of dollars into the campaign in the final stretch."

Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero Energy Corp., which has contributed $4 million of the total $8.9 million raised for the Yes on 23 campaign, said, "Valero has not made any decisions at this point about additional financial support to the Prop 23 campaign." He added that Valero is "just one of many supporters of Proposition 23."

The ballot measure is backed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn., an industry trade group. However, Valero is by far the largest contributor--giving more than three times as much as the next biggest funder, San Antonio-based Tesoro Inc. The third biggest contributor is Flint Hills Resources, a subsidiary of the Kansas-based Koch Industries, a private energy conglomerate that has been active in battling climate change legislation nationally and promoting "tea party" organizing.

California's 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, also known a AB 32, would slash the state's emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. And it would encourage the use of solar, wind and other fossil fuel substitutes.

Scientists say that greenhouse gases, which mainly come from burning fossil fuels in cars, trucks and industrial plants, are disrupting the climate. In California, the effects have begun to be felt with melting snowpacks and rising sea levels.

Prop 23 would suspend the law until the state's unemployment rate drops to 5.5% for at least a year. The jobless rate is now over 12% and has rarely dipped to 5.5% for as long as a year, so the ballot measure would effectively suspend the global warming law indefinitely. Polls show the voters closely divided over the measure.

Despite an urgent appeal last month by Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Assn., the only significant contribution to the ballot initiative in the last month was $500,000 from Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Co. The initiative, Drevna said in an e-mail to his 416 members, could “mean the difference between life and death for our industry in this century.... For all practical purposes, AB32 would have the effect of outlawing petroleum-based fuels in California in the second half of this century.”

The largest contributor to the No on Prop 23 campaign is Thomas Steyer, founder of the San Francisco hedge fund Farallon Capital Management, who co-chairs the campaign with George Shultz, former secretary of State under President Reagan. Steyer has donated $5 million, while Venture Capitalist John Doerr, a backer of clean-tech industries, and his wife have contributed $2 million.

Other major donors to the No campaign include Robert J. Fisher, founder of the Gap, and a long-time supporter of environmental causes,  Wendy Schmidt, wife of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and the Green Tech Action Fund, a Silicon Valley group.

Anita Mangels, a spokeswoman for Yes on 23, charged that "The hedge fund manager and venture capitalist trying to kill the California Jobs Initiative stand to get richer than they already are when the state's global warming law goes into effect. The state will subsidize their green tech investments, penalize their competition and create a guaranteed market for their products."

However, Steyer, a long-time environmentalist who previously funded an energy institute at Stanford University, said very little of his hedge fund is invested in clean tech. No on Prop 23 donors "come from eight different industries," he said. "Their common thread is for jobs to grow here. Some are primarily concerned with the environment. All have the state's best interests at heart."

California has attracted $9 billion in green tech investment, far more than any other state, primarily due to AB 32, according to energy experts. Seven of the country's 10 largest clean-energy technology companies are California-based.

--Margot Roosevelt


Prop 23 campaigns go head-to-head in TV spots

Proposition 23 poll shows a dead heat among voters

Prop 23: Oil giants are divided

Photo: Signs protesting Proposition 23 at a Valero station in Mountain View, Calif. Credit: Jack Owicki/