THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
No sooner did Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger call for a state investigation of price gouging at the pump than his critics jumped in feet first — noting that the “no special-interest money” governor has taken nearly $2 million in campaign contributions from the very oil companies he wants investigated.
“Arnold’s latest slick stunt, pretending to care about soaring costs of gas prices, rings hollower than a Krispy Kreme doughnut,” said the anti-Arnold labor folks at the Alliance for a Better California.
And indeed, records show that the governor — who has raised $82.7 million since riding into Sacramento on the promise not to be beholden to special interests — has accepted nearly two dozen contributions from oil interests since 2002.
In the past year alone, the governor’s California Recovery Team collected $500,000 apiece from independent oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and Vail Drilling Co., plus $250,000 from Chevron Corp. and $50,000 from Shell Oil.
Chevron has also given $44,600 to Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign since November.
So, Arnold’s critics ask, how can we expect Gov. Fox to investigate the henhouse thefts?
Team Arnold campaign spokeswoman Julie Soderlund calls such oil contribution complaints “nothing but baseless political attacks to score political points.”
Soderlund insisted the governor hasn’t tempered his response to the oil companies as a result of the donations. She pointed in particular to his call Monday for the state Energy Commission to look into rising gas prices and his earlier push for the development of alternative fuel sources.
The oil companies aren’t the only ones benefiting from the price spike, says Doug Heller of the Arnold watchdog group Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
The state has reaped a $100 million-plus sales tax windfall since the start of the year, he said.
“So the pols themselves get addicted to the high gas prices,” Heller said.
Ultimately, however, there’s not much Sacramento can do about rising prices, even if the pols want to, said Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California’s Energy Institute.
“Most of this is the world oil market, and the world oil market is telling us the prices are very high because there is a real shortage,” Borenstein said.
He agrees that refiners are “making a ton of money” — about 30 cents a gallon more than they earned at the start of the year — because of a refining capacity shortage.
But he also added, “Contrary to what many believe, we don’t have a God-given right to unlimited quantities of gas at a price we choose.”