Last week, an international coalition of unions released a scathing report on Chevron’s political spending and tax avoidance in California.
“Chevron is one of the largest corporate spenders on politics and lobbying in California,” stated the report, The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading Democracy, which was produced by the London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF).
According to the report, Chevron has spent more than $37 million on contributions to candidates and committees in California state races alone since January 2009. The oil company spent an additional $24 million on lobbying in the state during that time, according to the report.
The report was commissioned by ITWF and produced in conjunction with the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Courage Campaign, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, AFSCME Local 3299 and Consumer Watchdog.
“The negative thing is that they can still get away with doing this,” said Jason Ward, Senior Global Strategist at ITWF. But, he added, “I think that there is a growing awareness of corporate money in politics in California.”
Ward explained that the data came largely from California campaign finance disclosures, but that the numbers are likely conservative because they do not account for undisclosed spending.
In response to the report, Chevron spokesperson Melissa Ritchie said via email that Chevron makes “the products consumers use on a daily basis” and that Chevron’s refinery produces large portions of the gasoline and jet fuel used in California.
Campaign finance records filed with the California Secretary of State and analyzed by Richmond Confidential show that Chevron and its affiliates and subsidiaries made 124 political contributions in 2016, totaling $4,040,500 as of Nov. 17.
ITWF’s report did not break down Chevron’s spending for 2016 alone.
The records show that Chevron spent millions in the recent election cycle on the Republican and Democratic parties, political action campaigns, trade associations, and senate and assembly members’ campaigns.
In a familiar pattern, Chevron donated a significant share of this year’s contributions to the California Republican Party Committee: $660,000, in contrast with the $200,000 the company donated to the California Democratic Party.
According to the same records, Chevron gave $285,000 to the California Independent Petroleum Association PAC (CIPA), a trade association that represents approximately 500 oil and natural gas producers, investors, and affiliate companies that operate in California. CIPA’s website states that its members collectively represent about 70 percent of oil production in California and 90 percent of natural gas production in California. CIPA did not respond to a request to confirm these figures.
“The oil industry has essentially unlimited money to spend and it’s interfering with our democracy,” said Kassie Siegel, Climate Law Institute Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental group that supported a recently passed Monterey County measure to ban fracking.
Chevron spent significantly this election cycle to defeat that measure, Measure Z, which passed with 55.8 percent of the Monterey County vote. In addition to banning fracking, the measure will restrict expansion of oil exploration in the county.
With Chevron and other companies spending more than $5 million to defeat the measure, the No on Measure Z campaign outspent proponents more than thirty to one. According to campaign finance forms filed with the Monterey County Elections Department, Chevron alone spent $2,228,480 to defeat the measure as of Oct. 22.
“Local campaigns like Measure Z… are incredible because they show that grassroots movements can overcome spending from the world’s biggest polluters,” said Siegel.
When Measure Z passed earlier this month, Monterey joined six other counties in California that have banned fracking. But it is the first among those counties that produces oil. California has the fourth-largest proven oil reserves in the U.S., with Monterey County accounting for about four percent of statewide onshore production.
“Chevron is disappointed that voters passed Measure Z,” said Ritchie via email. “It could have a devastating impact on oil and gas production in Monterey County, with loss of tax revenue and jobs.”
Ritchie said that the company “will evaluate our option to protect our rights in Monterey County.”
Chevron also spent significantly on other causes and candidates in the recent election.
The company donated $50,000 to Californians to Stop Higher Property Taxes, a coalition of businesses and business groups committed to maintaining Prop 13, which caps annual property tax increases.
Chevron also made small contributions to some 59 assembly member and senate elections. The donations ranged from $100 to $4,200, the state limit per cycle that a campaign may receive from an individual, business, committee or political action committee.
Chevron donated the state maximum to the campaigns for assembly members Adam Gray and Joaquin Arambula, who sit on the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, and assemblyman Kevin Kiley, a self-described proponent of slashing corporate taxes and rolling back the California Environmental Quality Act. All three candidates won their seats this election.
Ritchie said that Chevron “identifies and supports candidates from both parties who promote economic growth and development,” and that all of its political contributions comply with both the “letter and spirit of the law.”
Bruce Freed, president and founder of the Center for Political Accountability (CPA), a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that monitors campaign spending, said that the oil company “has a very weak record on reporting its spending.”
The CPA, which evaluates organizations based on accountability policies and practices, gave Chevron a rating of 60 percent. This is because it does not disclose spending to 501 [c] 4s (nonprofits that can spend extensively in elections) and discloses only the legally required expenditures, and because it does not archive its own political spending reports over multiple years, said Freed.
Campaign finance reports do not disclose all money spent in elections, as Richmond residents learned in 2014 when Chevron spent over $3 million to promote some candidates and defeat others. The monetary influence that such corporations have on elections remains largely unseen.
“You can track some of it, but I can almost guarantee there is some we haven’t been able to track,” said ITWF’s Ward. “And I think California’s disclosures are probably superior to what it is in many other states.”