Which is the Worst Oil Company of them All?

There are so many ways to assess which oil company is truly the worst of the worst. It also depends on the day. You’ve got ExxonMobil who not only caused the infamous oil spill at Alaska’s Prince William Sound but is also one of the world’s biggest funders of the global warming denial campaign. You’ve got BP –who not only caused the greatest man-made environmental disaster in history, but negotiated a settlement that does not properly compensate the victims of the spill. Still, in California, it’s hard to compete with Chevron.

If you watched the Republican National Convention and/or the Democratic National Convention, you probably saw endless Chevron greenwashing commercials. If you listen to the radio on your way to work, their advertisements run on every major station. Their "We Agree" campaign focuses on making them seem like a socially responsible business trying to do right for America. Yes, they care about profits, but their business is really all about helping everyday people meet their energy needs. Oh, and don’t worry about their fracking operations –they would never try to extract natural gas unless it was completely safe and foolproof. Um… right. In Chevron We Trust.

But what makes Chevron truly heinous is all of the campaigning they try to do outside of the public view. Unbeknownst to the public, Chevron (along with their pro-corporate allies) spend millions of dollars every election cycle to attack pro-environmental, progressive candidates. For the last decade, CLCV and our allies in the California Alliance have successfully defended our candidates and defeated theirs in no small part by revealing to voters who exactly is funding the opposition campaign. Guess what? Voters don’t like it when Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Insurance, and Wall Street Banksters try to buy an election. But while we’re successful about 75% of the time, Chevron and its allies still win 25% of their campaigns and have refined their tactics to be more deceptive and tough to beat.
Overtime, these large corporations have created PACs with innocuous sounding names mislead voters into thinking they’re something other than large corporate front groups. This includes groups like JobsPAC, the California Now Independent Expenditure PAC (which is often confused with the respected California National Organization of Women [NOW] PAC), California Alliance for Progress & Education (which sounds much like us and our partners’ California Alliance), Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, and the Alliance for California’s Tomorrow, which is primarily funded by health insurance companies.

For your convenience, I've linked all of their Secretary of State Campaign Disclosure pages, so you can see exactly who funds these groups. The first thing you may notice is that they're not funded by individuals and they tend to receive money from each other. Why? Because these groups allow a corporation like Chevron to contribute money to one PAC, and then have it transferred elsewhere from that PAC to another so that when voters receive mail from Alliance for California's Tomorrow and go to research who funded the PAC, all they see are contributors that have other innocuous sounding names completely unaware of what entities are behind it all.

The newest front group is called the California Senior Advocates League. You may be surprised to learn that it has nothing to do with seniors. The Ventura County Star’s Timm Herdt has been particularly focused on revealing just how deceptive a group this is:

If you think a group with a name like that is concerned about Medicare, think again. It's an outfit funded by the National Association of Realtors, Chevron, Philip Morris, Anthem Blue Cross, the California Chamber of Commerce and others. It focuses on state legislative races, and attempting to track its money is no easy task.

I sought to do so during the primary election campaign, and found myself doing a maneuver I called the "Chevron Four Step." It went like this: Chevron gives $375,000 to JobsPAC, which then gives $250,000 to the California Now Independent Expenditure Committee, which then gives $220,000 to the California Senior Advocates League, which then spends $400,000 on state Senate races.

As always, we have our work cut out for us to fight back and campaign for our candidates, but all of this stresses just how badly we need real campaign finance reform. Even Assemblymember Julia Brownley’s Disclose Act, which would have required improved campaign contribution disclosures met heavy opposition that lobbied hard to kill the bill in the legislature. Ten guesses who some of the bills biggest opponents were.

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