Big Oil, Corporate PAC Money Seep Into State Senate Race

Despite pledges to forgo contributions from corporations and fossil fuel companies, money from major polluters and industry PACs has poured into the campaigns of some of the top candidates vying to represent California’s 15th State Senate District.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese and former Federal Elections Commission (FEC) chair Ann Ravel—two of seven candidates trying to replace state Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) when he terms out this year—vowed to shun donations from Big Oil and corporate PACs. But a peek at the duo’s latest campaign filings suggest that neither candidate stayed true to their word.

On Sept. 15, Cortese signed his name to the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, an agreement that says a candidate won’t take more than $200 from oil, gas and coal industry executives, lobbyists and PACs. By the time the county official made that promise, however, he’d already taken three checks from the fossil fuel industry—namely, $2,500 from AMG Petroleum Inc., $1,000 from Robinson Oil Corporation and $500 from Western States Oil Co. Stephen Lopes.

Cortese defended the donations. Not only did they come in before he took the pledge, he argued that they wouldn’t have broken his vow even if they were made after the fact. That’s because the No Fossil Fuel Money vow reportedly exempts retail gas stations, which make most of their money from convenience store sales, Cortese explained. AMG Petroleum Inc. owns a Valero gas station, he said, while Robinson Oil Corporation is the parent company of Rotten Robbie.

“Clearly these are not Big Oil interests,” Cortese said. “They are locally owned, generational family service station businesses. … We continue to vet our contributions to ensure that nothing within the pledge definitions slips in.”

But David Turnball, a spokesman for one of the groups in the No Fossil Fuel Money coalition, said that donations Robinson Oil Corporation and Western States Oil Co. may have violated the spirit of the pledge.

“As for Robinson Oil, as far as I understand it, that company does both retail gas stations via their Rotten Robbie brand as well as fleet/commercial distribution via the Robinson Oil brand,” he said. “Whereas a gas station owner likely makes equal amounts on convenience store receipts as on gas, a wholesale seller of gas/oil to fleets is solely focused on distribution of oil/gas and thus should be included as a fossil fuel company.”

As for Ravel, the ex-Obama FEC appointee has taken a couple of checks from corporate PACs—initial campaign pledge notwithstanding. To wit: $1,500 from Liberty Mutual Insurance Company Federal PAC and $4,700 from Personal Insurance Federation of California Agents and Employees PAC. When asked about the donations, Ravel said she didn’t feel that insurance companies are “acting as a detriment [to] society”—her litmus test for refusing donations.

Garrick Percival, a political science professor at San Jose State University, called that logic questionable. “There are big stakes in what government does for insurance companies, so they have an incentive to influence who’s in office,” he said. “Insurance companies understand the importance of lawmaking because it does have such a big impact on their industry.”

Ravel deflected criticism of her insurance PAC donations by calling out her rival Nora Campos, a former assemblywoman whose bid for SD 15 has drawn considerable financial support from the oil and gas industry.

Indeed, a Big Oil PAC called the Restore California’s Middle Class Coalition spent nearly $700,000 in independent expenditures supporting Campos. Granted, campaign finance laws prohibit the committee from coordinating with Campos’ campaign—something Campos raised in her own defense.

“The fact is, I have received one $4,700 contribution from one oil company,” Campos said about a donation she received from Chevron. “While some may speculate as to the motivation of energy companies, I can simply point to my 97 percent California League of Conservation Voters legislative report card scores during my six years in the Assembly.”

However, Campos’ actual lifetime score for the California League of Conservation Voters was 87 percent. And in 2016, her scorecard dropped to mere 67 percent for the year.

Ravel, Cortese and Campos are running in the March 3 primary against San Jose Councilman Johnny Khamis, Army Staff Sgt. Ken Del Valle, paratransit driver Tim Gildersleeve and mechanical equipment manufacturer Robert Howell.

In a previous version of this story Campos misstated that her California League of Conservation Voters score was 97 percent. Her actual score was 87 percent. The story has been updated. 

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

9 Comments

  1. Yes, Yes! No fossil fuels please . Whale oil and Crisco oil is the future of transportation. Cut down those pesky forest’s that keep catching fire and burning down our homes. We must save our heritage of dinosaur grease. No more plastic cups plates only glass and pottery burned in wood fired kilns will do.
    Can’t wait to see the crash test on next years all wood Tesla, with wood and grass wound motor, else where called a sail. Natural gas, we will have to be capturing Cow Farts!

    Let’s all travel in our minds like we are all Timothy Leary, flying around the bay in our Astro Plane. You people think you people can just shut down big oil, you’ll all starve or freeze in a few weeks. With out fossil fuel your going to find out just how cold this planet really is.

    Thank God the rest of the country has Trump!

  2. There seems to be a big difference between Cortese’s “big oil” contributions and those to Campos, according to the article.

  3. > Big Oil, Corporate PAC Money Seep Into State Senate Race

    Hmmmm.

    Do you suppose that Santa Clara County Democrats ever do favors for San Francisco Democrats, and vice versa?

    https://www.sfchronicle.com/local-politics/article/SF-official-arrested-by-FBI-was-go-to-guy-for-15011155.php

    “SF mayors embraced Mohammed Nuru, now charged with corruption, despite red flags”

    According to radio talking head Michael Savage, the “public corruption” suit against San Francisco politicians is being prosecuted by a U.S.Attorney promoted by President Trump. (Payback is a bitch}. It is a FEDERAL lawsuit.

    The reported M.O. of federal prosecutors is to START with a corrupt underling and then “squeeze” them (metaphorically) until singing begins.

    Is there reason to believe that Silicon Valley connected politicians might be the objects of such “singing”?

    Gavin Newsom, former San Francisco mayor?

    Kamala Harris, former San Francisco district attorney?

    Senator Dianne Feinstein?

    • Mr. Bubble,
      I would hope the federal prosecutors would squeeze until the oil runs out of them, and the singing is the dry thumb screws squealing to a halt. Payback is a wonderful bitch!

      Time for the feds to fine and sue the coast sanctuary, cities for all the excrement being washed into the oceans, killing poor little sea otters, seals, and whales and fish. That’s just so wrong…………….

  4. I had the experience of working with Nora Campos’ office. It was to get her to hear the concerns of a group of women who were affected by the poor administration of a California law. I can tell you that by direct experience her office’s handling of the interaction was the most unresponsive and arrogant that I have ever witnessed. The irony is that the group included women. Asian women. Nora Campos did not get personally involved. I will personally fuel my cars at the gas stations of any oil company that supports Campos’ competitors. She’s the poster child of out-of-touch government. We don’t need more of that in California.

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