February 2011 Archives

Western Congressman Rides Again with a Lobbyist in His Posse

Rep. Steve Pearce, a former oil services company owner, drew in the most money from oil and gas companies as a House candidate in the 2010 election cycle. (Oil well photo - Bureau of Land Management; photo of Steve Pearce - Wikimedia Commons; gray wolf photo - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

House Rep. Steve Pearce rode a wave of national resentment and money from oil and gas companies to regain an office he vacated in 2008.

Now he's back, and he brought with him a former Washington insider and lobbyist who sought to roll back environmental legislation well before it was the hot new thing to do.

Money File: Koch Brothers and the Media

The now high-profile billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, are not only major funders of conservative causes and candidates but also exert significant influence over media outlets and public opinion generators.

In June of 2010, the Koch brothers, who together own the second largest privately held company in America, held a conference in Aspen to plot strategy for the November 2010 elections. The list of attendees was leaked, revealing some interesting ties the Koch brothers have to the mainstream media.

Industry-Backed Congressional Reps Target EPA

Much of the country is projected to become several degrees warmer if emissions trends continue. Graphic from U.S. Global Change Research Program.With the federal government looking for places to cut spending, Republicans in Congress seem increasingly intent on targeting climate legislation.

The GOP-controlled House just last week passed a budget that would, among other things, greatly limit the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

And recently, Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) each introduced legislation that would tie the federal government's hands when it comes to carbon pollution, while Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced a companion bill shortly thereafter.

Perhaps it should be no surprise then that all three — Inhofe, Barrasso and Upton — received a large chunk of their campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

California Teachers Lobbying for Higher Taxes, Better Public Education

An estimated 800 CTA members met to discuss the potential cuts to education. (Photo: Catherine Cloutier)In the face of severe state budget cuts, the California Teachers' Association has been cozying up to Gov. Jerry Brown to lobby for higher taxes and to help minimize the damage to public education.

The CTA gave Brown $49,300 in campaign contributions for his 2010 gubernatorial run.

Now both want to extend higher sales and income taxes and fee increases for five years to soften projected blows to the education budget. They hope to put their tax extension initiative before voters in a June special election.

But getting the extensions to pass will be an uphill battle, and if they fail, funding for the 2011-12 school year faces a $4.5 billion cut.

Behind the School Board Races: Reformers With Deep Pockets

Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad gave $150,000 to the newly launched Coalition for School Reform. (Creative Commons licensed by flickr user <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelevanetarchives/4559018735/'>Michael Evanet Archives</a>)As we reported last week, independent expenditures in the four Board of Education races are approaching $1 million. The races are largely a pitched battle between the United Teachers Union of Los Angeles and a group called the Coalition for School Reform.

In three out of four races, the Coalition has heavily outspent the UTLA (see chart after the jump). As of the last filing deadline in January, they'd raised more than $1 million and still had more than $800,000 left. With the UTLA withdrawing support from two of their candidates earlier in the month the Coalition appears to be cruising towards an unexpectedly easy victory.

But where did all that money come from?

Rich people, mostly.

Green vs. Greenbacks: Sierra Club Takes on Koch Industries

(Image courtesy of the Sierra Club)The Sierra Club, the oldest and largest grassroots environmental group in the United States, has launched a social media campaign targeting Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the nation according to a 2010 Forbes ranking.

In an effort to increase public awareness of what it alleges are environmental transgressions by the industrial giant, the organization has called on its 1.4 million members to take to social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook to express their sentiments and "dislike" Koch Industries.

"The Kochs have a lot of money, which they are using to try and buy our government and undermine common sense protection of clean air and water," said Rachele Huennekens, a Grassroots Media Coordinator for the Sierra Club. "We can't match them in terms of resources, so we have to turn to the passion of our supporters."

Backgrounder: Hollywood's Film Incentives Fight

(Image courtesy of TheWrap.com)The film production industry in Los Angeles took a beating during the recent recession, not helped by the three-month writers' strike that started in late 2007 and cost the industry an estimated $2.1 billion.

As the film industry looks to regain some of that lost footing here in California, we could see an increase in lobbying efforts from the studios. The goal? Persuade state and local agencies to increase subsidies and tax breaks to filmmakers to keep them from straying to states that offer juicier handouts.

Here's a quick peek at the current landscape for film incentives.

Big Bets on LAUSD Board Races

(Graphic: Catherine Cloutier)The Los Angeles City Council races aren't the only game to watch in the March 8 citywide elections. In fact, they aren't even attracting the biggest bets.

Independent expenditures in the Board of Education races are about to top $1 million, compared with just over half a million raised in the fight for a city council seat.

Dough Rising In L.A. City Council Races

So far more than $500,000 in independent money has been spent on Los Angeles City Council races, the City Ethics Commission announced Wednesday.

The vast majority of those independent expenditures — money spent by outside groups on radio, TV, and print ads to support or oppose candidates — is being funneled into the 8th District race between incumbent Bernard Parks and union-backed Forescee Hogan-Rowles.

In 2007 the 8th District race received less than $2000 in outside money, all of which went to support Parks. With almost three weeks still to go, the same district has already pulled in more than $446,000 — more than a 22,000 percent increase.

Backgrounder: The Money Behind California's Open Primaries

How Prop 14 works. Click to enlarge. (Jessica Porter)Yesterday Republican Sharon Runner of Lancaster and Democrat Ted Lieu of Torrance became the first to win office outright under the new open primary system in California. Because both candidates won more than 50 percent of the vote, respectively, neither will have to go to a runoff.

In the past, one candidate from every political party was put on a ballot for the general election. Under the new system, which was voted into law as Proposition 14 last June, all candidates are lumped into a single primary. If no one wins a majority of the vote, the top two, regardless of political party, advance to the general election. That means two candidates from the same party could face off in a general election. And that, in theory, could lead to more moderate candidates, since a Republican voter would likely pick the more conservative of two Democrats, and vice versa. It also means that third-party candidates are likely not to be represented in the general election.

So, taking a look back for a moment, who put money on Prop 14, and who stands to benefit?

California Freshman Congressman's Lobbyist Ties

U.S. Representative Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

Even before Jeff Denham was sworn into Congress in January with a promise to "stand up for the community," California's only Republican freshman U.S. representative began surrounding himself with former and current lobbyists from big money political campaigns.

Just after Denham was elected to Congress from California's 19th district in November, he created JEFF PAC and America's New Majority. The creation of JEFF PAC makes him one of only two freshman members of Congress to have already formed a leadership political action committee, or PAC, an organization used to raise money for election campaigns.

Federal Election Commission filings for the two PACs show they have already received contributions from interests that often lobby the very congressional committees Denham sits on — Natural Resources, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Veterans' Affairs.

Why Do Oil And Gas Interests Oppose Healthcare Reform?

Ever since the healthcare reform bill was passed last spring, conservatives have vowed to undo the law, and it has turned out to be a classic case of strange bedfellows looking for strength in numbers.

Last month, House Republicans pushed through a largely ceremonial repeal bid, which never made it through the Senate. The individual mandate has been highly contested in courts, with judges across the country in dispute about the mandate's constitutionality. Now, some states, Florida in particular, are eagerly claiming that they can exempt themselves from enacting the law.

With all the invective floating around about the healthcare reform law, it can be hard to remember who was behind — and against — the law to begin with. There are the obvious opponents — the pharmaceutical manufacturers, HMOs and insurance companies. But when you follow the money behind the original opposition to healthcare reform, you find it's not the interest groups you'd think it would be.

Where Alcohol And Politics Mix, Sin Taxes Leave Bad Taste

(Photo: John Guenther)

California's big alcohol industry fills the glasses of many Americans and the coffers of many politicians. The state's tax rates on alcohol are some of the lowest in the country as a result. Despite a large budget deficit, Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers are not looking to change this any time soon.

"They have hordes of lobbyists," California Assembly Member Jim Beall, Jr. (D-24) said, describing the alcohol industry's political army. "One of them called me 'the devil.'" Why? Simply because Beall authored a recent failed bill to impose a fee on alcohol purchases.

Bernard Parks v. Unions

(From Bernard Parks's Facebook page)No one was really expecting Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks to have much trouble defeating Forescee Hogan-Rowles in the upcoming city election. But that was before big labor got involved with the race for Council District 8.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO has spent more than $80,000 in support of Hogan-Rowles, and the IBEW—the electrical workers union—more than $125,000. Through an innocuously named group, Working Californians to Support Forescee Hogan-Rowles, the IBEW is prepared to spend almost a quarter million more on the race. And Hogan-Rowles has drawn further endorsements from the SEIU local 721, the firefighter's union and the policemen's union, which just put in its opening ante on Friday: $47,550 for Hogan-Rowles and $54,000 for radio ads attacking Parks.

So why do the unions have it in for Bernard Parks?

Proposed City Tax's Big Opponent: Small Oil?

Janice Hahn proposed Measure O, but then voted against it, saying the oil companies would put up an expensive fight.  (OFA California/Flickr)
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who has declared that she will run for the Congressional seat being vacated by Jane Harman, originally came up with the idea to place a new tax on Los Angeles oil. She ultimately voted against putting her own proposed tax on the March 2011 ballot. Her reason? She said big oil would pour money into the anti-tax campaign and crush the measure.


The proposed tax made the ballot anyway, however, thanks to support from the rest of the City Council. If passed by voters in March, the tax, called Measure O, would levy $1.44 on every barrel of oil extracted within city limits.

Contrary to Hahn's prediction, it has actually been small oil companies, not the major corporations, that have banded together to fight the measure.