Op-Ed: What California Democrats Must Do About Oil Money

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The California Democratic Party recently announced that it would no longer accept political contributions from Big Oil. Bravo.

This is a positive step forward, especially as the state investigates the party’s alleged funneling of millions in oil and energy company contributions to Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014 re-election campaign – an inquiry spurred by my consumer group’s report.

But Democrats need to go much further by purging the party of consultants who work for, or invest heavily in, the oil industry and by requiring endorsed candidates, including all those who want to succeed Brown, take the same no-oil-money pledge.

When Brown lectured his Florida counterpart on the importance of fighting climate change, the environmental community rightly applauded him. But when he took millions in campaign contributions from Big Oil, then refused to limit neighborhood oil drilling or ban fracking, it reflected a hypocrisy that Democrats have engaged in for too long.

If California’s elected officials are going to lead the world against a fossil fuel economy, their campaigns should not be fueled by its profits.

In recent weeks, California’s leaders have sought to distinguish our state as the chief progressive bulwark to President-elect Donald Trump. But to truly serve as the antidote to Trump’s dirty energy-fueled America, our next governor must be an independent voice for climate action.

As well-intentioned as Brown and his administration may be, his example shows the danger of allowing Big Oil a seat at the table. For example, as Consumer Watchdog’s “Brown’s Dirty Hands” report documented, just three months after weakened fracking legislation was signed in 2013, Chevron donated $350,000 to the Democratic Party.


One week later, the party donated $300,000 to Brown’s campaign committee. That very same day, Chevron made a maximum donation of $54,400 to the campaign. Weeks later, Brown announced his opposition to an oil severance tax – long opposed by Chevron – that would have produced billions for the state’s coffers and forced oil companies to begin compensating for the many negative impacts of their dirty practices.

The demise of strong fracking regulation was particularly troubling because Brown’s top aide, also a Democratic Party consultant, held as much as $1 million in stock in a drilling company that benefited from the legislation’s gutting.

And while the governor was a vocal advocate for a strong initial version of Senate Bill 350, the major climate change bill last year, he ultimately caved and signed a weaker version gutted by Big Oil’s darling caucus of moderate Democrats willing to sell out the health of their own constituents in exchange for campaign donations.

Moreover, Californians have endured the highest gasoline prices in the nation, more than $1 per gallon extra during 2015, with nary a word from the governor about oil refiner profiteering.

As long as Big Oil is holding the puppet strings of our state’s top elected officials, California cannot lead the nation by example. And the purge of the Democratic Party elite should begin with the oil barons.


Jamie Court is president of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit public interest group based in Santa Monica. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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