Sierra Club California has started a long-needed project, the "Tracking the Dirty Dollars" project, that will investigate and disclose how much money certain legislators and the governor receive in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and its political allies.
Independent journalists like this one will find this project invaluable in systematically following fossil fuel money in Sacramento. Because of the big influx of fossil fuel money into legislators’ campaigns in recent years, very few bills opposed by the Western States Petroleum Association and oil and gas corporations have been able to make it out of the State Legislature.
For example, on August 5, even a relatively weak bill, AB 5, to create health and safety setbacks around oil and gas wells in California failed to make it out of the Legislature, due to thousands of dollars in donations by fossil fuel interests and their promoters.
According to the report, a lot of money--about $2.1 million--flowed from oil and gas interests and their allies directly to the legislators whose receipts the Sierra Club analyzed. This doesn’t include the millions that the oil and gas industry spent on lobbyists and advertising to influence legislation.
The Sierra Club explains in the introduction to the project the purpose for launching the project:
"A reality of California politics is that it costs money to pay for political campaigns in such a populous state. It costs money to hire campaign managers, hire communications firms, buy political ads, and send political mailers. As a result, in Sacramento, legislators and statewide elected officials are regularly asking for and receiving funds from donors.
It is through campaign donations, independent expenditure campaigns, and direct gifts that both individuals and special interests, including polluting industries, help elected officials achieve their ambitions. And it’s how many interest groups representing or aligned with polluting interests maintain access to decision makers. Access often translates into votes in an industry group’s favor.
Sierra Club California is launching a year-long survey of certain special interest spending to legislators. Specifically, we investigate and disclose how much money certain legislators and the governor receive in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and its political allies. This report will be updated quarterly, and posted to this webpage."
The report overview highlights the results of the report, including the top legislators receiving fossil fuel money over $100,000. Governor Gavin Newsom was in the second tier, those receiving more than $90,000 in donations from the targeted interests. The report reveals that Newsom received $97,000.00 from the fossil fuel industry in 2019-20:
“Broadly, the results of this report were not at all surprising. The legislators with the worst scores on our report card and who are often hostile towards Sierra Club and other environmental advocates receive substantial amounts of campaign cash from dirty donors.
Assemblymembers Jim Cooper, Tom Daly and Patrick O’Donnell lead all legislators in taking fossil-fuel related money. These three all received more than $100,000 in donations from oil and gas companies, associated PACs and allied interests. All three received failing grades on our 2020 report card.
In the second tier of dirty money recipients are Assemblymembers Autumn Burke and James Ramos and Governor Gavin Newsom. These leaders all received more than $90,000 in donations from the targeted interests. While their report card scores are mixed, their pro-environment votes (or signatures and vetoes) are notoriously difficult to secure.
An honorable mention should be bestowed upon Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo. A CalAccess search into the Western State Petroleum Association’s expenditures revealed that Asm. Carrillo was the beneficiary of a $1,500 stay at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay in 2019 and a $200 spa treatment to boot. All this on the state’s most powerful oil peddlers' dime.
The rest of the legislators whose donations we analyzed are not off the hook. Most received substantial contributions from oil and gas and their allies and received dismal scores on our latest report card.”
The report is also addressed in today’s excellent “Letter from Sacramento: Disclosing Dirty Donations” from Kathyrn Phillips, Sierra Club California Director.
In the coming months, I know that I will spend a lot of time referring to and analyzing the data unveiled here in researching my articles.
To read the data sheet report and the report overview, click the links below:
Tracking the Dollars: Contributions to Legislators from Oil and Gas and Allied Interests