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Michael Hiltzik: Industry tries to buy a California election (part 23)

July 27, 2010 |  3:54 pm

You would think that big corporations had learned a lesson from the slapdown delivered by California voters in June to two industry-sponsored ballot initiatives (PG&E's Proposition 18 and Mercury Insurance's Proposition 17): Corporation sponsorship can be a drawback, not an advantage.

The oil industry may have the business world's worst reputation for public-spiritedness just now. But as my Wednesday column observes, that hasn't kept it from pouring more than $1 million into the war chest for an initiative to kill California's pioneering greenhouse gas law.  

One interesting development in the fight against Proposition 23, which would effectively overturn AB 32, is that it looks like it will be well-funded. Unlike the efforts against the two June ballot measures, which were David vs. Goliath affairs, the anti-Prop. 23 campaign may have millions to spend, thanks to the participation of hedge fund manager Tom Steyer.

It also has the support of former secretary of State and Bechtel executive George Schultz, who will co-chair the campaign with Steyer, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who no doubt fears the last vestige of his gubernatorial legacy going up in smoke if Proposition 23 passes. One more curious fact: The team fighting Proposition 23 even has PG&E in its lineup.

The column begins below:

If a ballot initiative is known by the company it keeps, we should be just a teeny bit suspicious of Proposition 23, the Nov. 2 measure designed to eviscerate California’s new greenhouse gas regulation.

The driving force behind the initiative is the oil industry, which has contributed more than $2.3 million to getting it passed. The biggest single contributor is San Antonio-based Valero Energy ($1.05 million, according to the latest state campaign disclosures), with San Antonio-based Tesoro Corp. in second place with $525,000.

Other oil firms bring up the rear, including California’s own Occidental Petroleum ($300,000). Then there’s the mysterious Adam Smith Foundation of Missouri, which put up $498,000. This outfit raised all of $5,162.40 in 2009 and ended that year with $109 to its name (according to its federal tax return). I’d love to know who’s using the group as a front, but it hasn’t been answering its phone.

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik