Runs like well-oiled campaign machinery

When the New York Times reported on Oct. 21 that investment bankers and oil companies with near anonymity have been pouring large amounts of hard-to-trace money into the coffers of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to finance lobbying and political battles, it prompted me to take a second look at the propositions on the ballot here in California to see which ones had the backing of our own state chamber.
Conspicuously absent is the state chamber’s seal of approval for Proposition 23, the measure that would suspend a law aimed at curbing greenhouse gases and consequent global warming, Assembly Bill 32, which is not even in effect until 2012. This air pollution law would remain dormant until unemployment, now hovering around 12.4 percent in the state, drops to at least 5.5 percent for four quarters in a row.
Seeing as how the national unemployment rate now is about three points lower than California’s, how cold a day in Hades must it become before ours slips not only by seven or so points, but four points below the U.S. rate? And since when do the chief proponents of Prop. 23 — meaning the oil industry, led by mega Benicia, Calif.-based refiner Valero Services Inc. and its more than $5 million stake in a $30 million (and counting) Pro-23 pot — care so deeply about the plight of the jobless?
How long will it take to ring up four straight quarters of 5.5 percent unemployment as we sputter and struggle toward recovery from the economy’s free-fall that had its origins during the last presidential administration? How unhealthful might the air get before our state reaches a new height of prosperity that sees unemployment down by well more than half?
The New York Times found the oil company Chevron Texaco (headquarters in San Ramon, Calif.), investment banker Goldman Sachs of Wall Street and a Netherlands-based multinational insurance company called Aegon to have contributed more than $8 million to the U.S. Chamber in recent years (a host of others, including Prudential Financial, gave substantial amounts, too) in order to influence the making of laws and regulations in their industries, including those aimed at tightening the oversight of the financial markets.
Were it not for the doggedness and persistence of its reporters, the Times would have been hard pressed to find that these contributions were made at all. The paper pieced it together from corporate tax filings and obscure public records.
As usual, I’ve got more questions than answers, but here’s a modest proposal for an oil industry that professes to care so much about putting Golden Bears back to work: How about offering people jobs scrubbing refinery towers clean so as to abate some of the air from becoming unbreathable? Please be sure to outfit the newly employed with appropriate masks and hazardous materials clothing, and anchor them firmly so they don’t slip and fall.
Perhaps our unemployment rate will fall further if other proponents of Prop. 23 — these being the ones from out of state — would lure Californians out of here with attractive wage and benefit packages. They could scrub whatever needed scrubbing in Texas and Kansas, for example. That’s where two of the other major donors come from, Tesoro Companies of San Antonio ($2 million) and Flint Hills Resources of Wichita ($1 million). (The figures are from Maplight.org, which derives them from state records and posts new influxes faster for whatever reason than the California secretary of state’s office.)
Aside from Prop. 23, the California Chamber of Commerce takes no position on Prop. 21, the $18 fee for state parks. It is for Propositions 20, 22 and 26 and against Propositions 19, 24, 25 and 27. (If both Prop. 20 and 27 pass, only the one with the most yes votes gets approved.)
In light of this reporting in the Times, I am rethinking whether to support anything the state Chamber of Commerce’s agenda, at least this time out. This stance admittedly assumes that if the national chamber can keep secret the sources of scads of money that pours in, maybe a similar policy leaches, through loopholes here or there, into the state arm.
Forgive me the presumption, too, that, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, our state’s chamber has little or no diametric opposition to becoming even more well-heeled, working on its contributors’ behalf, and staunchly opposing the Obama administration’s efforts to rein in the recklessness that tumbled the economy down in the first place and brought us a rate of 12.4 percent unemployment.
Mea culpa: In last week’s column about the salaries and benefits of top-tier civil servants, the population of San Marcos, Calif. was reported incorrectly. The official figure, according to the city’s web site, is 84,391.

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