Archive for the ‘Proposition 23’ Category

In The New York Times on Monday, I write about how opponents of Proposition 23, the California ballot measure that would suspend the state’s global warming law, are outspending the oil industry interests backing the initiative:

At the start of the campaign for California’s Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend the state’s global warming law, opponents darkly warned that the Texas oil companies backing the initiative would spend as much as $50 million to win the election.

But with three weeks until Election Day, it is the No on 23 coalition of environmentalists, investors and Silicon Valley technology companies that is raking in the cash, taking in nearly twice as much money as the Yes on 23 campaign.

As of Monday, the No on 23 forces had raised $16.3 million to the Yes campaign’s $8.9 million, according to California Secretary of State records. Over the past two weeks, nearly $7 million has flowed into No campaign coffers while contributions to the Yes effort had fallen off dramatically.

With the failure of federal climate change legislation, considerable national attention is focused on Proposition 23, which marks the first time a global warming law has been put before voters.

Representatives from the Yes campaign did not return a request for comment. But Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the main No campaign, said he still expects the oil and petrochemical interests that account for 97 percent of the Yes contributions to “drop a nuclear bomb” in the coming weeks.

“You don’t launch this kind of campaign without knowing from the get-go what you’re going to spend,” said Mr. Maviglio, a longtime Democratic operative in California. “Did we catch them off guard on how much the business community in the state would spend to defend the law? Yes. But they’re still going to blitz us.”

A few hours after the interview with Mr. Maviglio on Friday, the Yes campaign reported its first sizable donation since Sept. 13, with Marathon Petroleum of Findlay, Ohio, contributing $500,000.

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 requires the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Proposition 23 would suspend the law, known as A.B. 32, until the state unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters, something that has happened only three times in the past 40 years

A recent Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll showed voters evenly split over Proposition 23, with 21 percent undecided. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll published Tuesday found the ballot initiative losing 49 percent to 37 percent.

Campaign finance records show that the No campaign has attracted big donations from Silicon Valley venture capitalists, New York hedge fund managers, national environmental groups and green technology executives.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

Talk about student activism: Lucy Southworth, a Stanford University doctoral student, has given $100,000 to the campaign to defeat Proposition 23, the California ballot initiative that would suspend the state’s global warming law.

If the name doesn’t ring a bill, try Googling. In Silicon Valley, Southworth is better known as the wife of Google co-founder Larry Page.

Her contribution follows the $500,000 earlier donated to the No campaign by Wendy Schmidt, wife of Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt. (Disclosure: Wendy Schmidt serves on Grist’s board of directors.)

The No forces took in $200,580 in campaign contributions on Monday, following a $5 million haul in the previous week, according to California Secretary of State records. Applied Materials, the world’s biggest manufacturer of the machines that make computer chips, gave $25,000 on Monday; Chicago-based wind developer Invenergy donated $10,000; and William S. Fisher, San Francisco investor and an heir to the Gap clothing empire, donated $25,000, as did Sakurako D. Fisher.

All this check writing is to protect California’s climate change law, known as AB 32. The law requires the state to cut greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. Prop 23 would suspend AB 32 until the unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters, a rare occurrence in recent decades.

The Yes campaign, which is largely funded by two Texas oil companies, continues to lag far behind in the fundraising department of late. It logged one $5,000 contribution on Monday, from a Mississippi barge company that hauls petroleum and petrochemicals.

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I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

When Silicon Valley’s elite gathered at Google’s headquarters in August to rally opposition to Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend the state’s global warming law, one speaker darkly warned that the Texas oil companies backing the initiative would spend as much as $50 million to ensure its passage.

As it turns out, the No on 23 campaign is outspending the Texans. Big time. Case in point: Over the past few days, the No forces have collected $5 million from venture capitalists, New York financiers, renewable energy companies, and other deep-pocketed backers, according to California Secretary of State records.

The Yes campaign, meanwhile, has received only a single $10,000 donation over the past week, from a Houston company that provides services to the oil and petrochemical industries. The last big contribution to the Yes coffers was a $100,000 donation made on Sept. 13.

Of course, Texas oil companies Tesoro and Valero and the billionaire Koch brothers, who earlier contributed $1 million to the Yes effort, could drop $10 million on the campaign tomorrow. But there appears to be a fundraising enthusiasm gap between the campaigns during the home stretch sprint to Election Day.

Take a look at the growing roster of No partisans willing to put their money where their mouths are — not to mention their self-interest.

Ann Doerr, the wife of leading Silicon Valley capitalist John Doerr, gave $1 million to the No campaign on Thursday while her husband contributed $500,000 (in addition to the half million dollars he previously donated). Thomas Steyer, founder of the Farallon Capital Management hedge fund and co-chair of the No on 23 effort, put another $2.5 million into the campaign. San Francisco venture capitalist Paul Klingenstein contributed $100,0000.

On the other coast, New York hedge fund manager Julian Robertson of Tiger Management kicked in half a million dollars on Thursday.

Renewable energy companies stepped to the plate as well. The U.S. division of Spanish wind giant Iberdrola Renewables gave $25,000; Santa Monica-based Solar Reserve, a developer of solar power plants, pitched in $50,000; and Google executive Jonathan Rosenberg contributed $10,000.

The Consumers Union, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, and Working Assets also gave a collective $100,000 over the past week.

With absentee voting beginning in California today, expect to see that cash put to work influencing those who plan to vote early.

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In The New York Times on Thursday, I write about an unusual alliance between California financiers and environmental justice activists to reach minority voters who they believe will be key in defeating Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend the state’s global warming law:

The fight over Proposition 23, the California ballot initiative that would suspend the state’s landmark global warming law, has spawned some unusual political alliances. Mainstream environmentalists, venture capitalists, labor unions, tech chieftains and even some Republicans have all made common cause to oppose the measure, which is backed by two Texas oil companies.

Now activists who work on behalf of poor communities afflicted by pollution and some of California’s top financiers have come together in an effort to bring minority voters to the polls on Nov. 2.

At a recent fund raiser at the waterfront offices of Sungevity, an Oakland, Calif., solar company, hedge-fund managers and other well-heeled investors sipped cocktails and mingled with inner-city activists in the hope of raising $1.9 million for a turn-out-the-vote campaign that will target nine counties with large populations of African-American, Asian and Latino voters.

“There is something kind of strange but great that there are environmental justice activists mixing with entrepreneurs and financiers who are all committed equally to building this clean economy that can lift all boats,” Danny Kennedy, Sungevity’s co-founder and a former Greenpeace activist, told the crowd.

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, known as A.B. 32, mandates that the state’s greenhouse gas emissions be cut to 1990 levels by 2020. Proposition 23 would suspend the law until the state unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters, a rare occurrence in recent decades.

“How voters of color vote on Prop 23 will be the margin of victory or defeat on this,” Roger Kim, executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, an Oakland-based group, said at the event. “As little as three percent of the vote may make the difference.” (Mr. Kennedy’s wife, Miya Yoshitani, serves as associate director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.)

A Field Poll released on Sunday showed Proposition 23 opposed by 45 percent and favored by 34 percent of respondents, with 21 percent still undecided. Latino voters supported the ballot measure 41 percent to 38 percent while African-American and Asian voters opposed it 41 percent to 34 percent. A Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll published on Friday found the initiative supported by a slight margin, 40 percent to 38 percent.

“Let’s talk about why people of color especially matter in this campaign,” Thomas F. Steyer, founder of Farallon Capital Management, a $20 billion San Francisco hedge fund, and co-chairman of the “No on 23” campaign, said in a speech at the fund raiser. “And it is true that the swing vote if you look at it may well be people of color. And that’s definitely important and we need to definitely to win this so I don’t want to downplay that.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

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graphic: Grist

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

As predicted, the big money has started to pour into the battle over Proposition 23, the California ballot measure that would suspend the state’s global warming law.

But not from where you’d expect. The six-figure donations filling campaign coffers is not coming from the Texas oil companies and petrochemical giants backing Prop 23 but from a coalition of environmentalists, venture capitalists, green tech companies, and environmental justice activists who are working to defeat the measure.

Over the past two weeks, the No on 23 forces have collected more than $1.8 million in contributions while the Yes campaign has taken in only $6,500, according to California Secretary of State records.

The windfall for opponents comes as a Field Poll released Sunday shows Prop 23 losing 45 percent to 34 percent with a large number of voters — 21 percent — still undecided. Meanwhile, a poll from the Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California has Prop 23 winning by a slight margin, 40 percent to 38 percent.

I’ll take a closer look at those poll numbers later but first let’s see who’s putting up the green to keep California green.

Environmental justice groups have jumped into the fight in a significant way this month. SCOPE (Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education), a Los Angeles-based group that formed in the wake of the 1992 Rodney King riots, has contributed $300,000 in recent weeks. SCOPE is funded by various foundations, including the Ford Foundation and James Irvine Foundation. The organization promotes green jobs and other economic development programs for disadvantaged areas of Los Angeles.

Another Los Angeles organization, listed in financial disclosure filings only as A.L.L.E.R.T., donated $150,000 to another No on Prop 23 group called the California Alliance Action Fund: A Committee Sponsored by Social Justice Organizations.

Then there’s Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs, a Sacramento-based organization that says its “sponsored by environmental organizations and business.” It gave $100,000 to a No on Prop 23 campaign committee that’s backed by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Oakland, Calif., organization founded by Van Jones.

Meanwhile, individuals continue to write checks. San Francisco investor Robert Fisher, former chair of The Gap clothing empire, contributed another half million dollars on Thursday, bringing his total donations to $1 million.

Steve Westly, the former eBay executive and California state controller who now runs an investment group, donated $10,000; Southern California businessperson, Claire Perry, made her second $250,000 contribution.

A couple of well-heeled New Yorkers also got into the act: Daniel Tishman of Tishman Construction and Garrett Moran of private equity giant The Blackstone group, each donated $25,000 on Friday.

The solar industry, whose prosperity in the United States has been driven in large part by California mandates and incentives for renewable energy, has begun to step up to the plate.

Recurrent Energy, which last week agreed to be acquired by the Japanese conglomerate Sharp, donated $50,000, as did First Solar, the Tempe, Ariz., thin-film solar giant whose early investors include the Walton family. Thomas Werner, chief executive of Silicon Valley’s SunPower, one of the largest American solar panel makers and developers, gave $25,000 on Sept. 18. Another Silicon Valley solar startup, Solaria, put in $5,000.

The Field Poll released this weekend indicates that the broad-based alliance against Prop 23 appears to be keeping proponents of the ballot measure from gaining ground. The only demographic groups that favor Prop 23 are Republicans (47 percent to 33 percent), Latino voters (41 percent to 38 percent), and less educated voters (37 percent to 34 percent for those with a high school education or less; 39 percent to 37 percent for those with some college education).

Geographically, all areas of California, including the conservative Central Valley, oppose Prop 23 by varying margins, according to the poll.

Over the past few weeks, the editorial boards of California’s major newspapers have come out against Prop 23. And Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for governor, has said she’ll voted against the measure, though she supports suspending the global warming law for one year.

But with just six weeks to go until Election Day, Prop 23 opponents still expect to see a gusher of oil money flowing into the Yes campaign from fossil fuel interests.

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I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

The campaign against Proposition 23, the California ballot initiative that would suspend the state’s global warming law, took in more than a half million dollars in contributions this week. Meanwhile, fundraising by the oil companies backing the measure was so lackluster it prompted a plea for help from the petrochemical industry.

“A defeat for Proposition 23 in California could energize environmental fanatics around the country and in Washington to match California’s destructive policies with their own versions of AB32,” wrote Charles T. Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, in an email first reported by The New York Times. “We’ve raised about $6 million so far, but unfortunately in California’s expensive media market this is not enough to win the fight against environmental zealots led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who seems hell-bent on becoming the real-life Terminator of our industry.”

“I am pleading with each you,” Drevna continued, “for our nation’s best interest and for your company’s own self-interest, please contact me and tell me how much you can contribute to this critical effort as soon as possible. Nov. 2 is drawing near.”

The Texas oil companies backing the initiative made news recently when they secured a $1 million donation from the billionaire Koch brothers, who bankroll various right-wing causes. But the only sizeable donation to the Yes on 23 campaign this week came from Tower Energy Group, a Southern California-based petroleum wholesaler, which contributed $100,000 on Monday. Meanwhile, according to campaign finance records, the anti-Prop 23 forces have been having a pretty good few weeks.

On Monday, Susan Packard Orr, yet another daughter of David Packard, the late co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, contributed $250,000 to the No campaign. She joins her two sisters who have given a total of $201,895 to the effort to defeat Prop 23.

On Wednesday, William Patterson of SPO Partners, a Marin County, Calif., private investment firm, also gave $250,000. The California chapter of the Audubon Society stepped up with a $100,000 donation last week. Earlier in the month, Environment California, a non-profit, made a $100,000 contribution.

Another non-profit, the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, put in $40,000 while a high-profile San Francisco real estate magnate, Douglas Shorenstein, contributed $25,000.

The big Silicon Valley venture capitalists, who vociferously oppose a ballot initiative that could derail the billions of dollars they’ve invested in green technology startups, have largely remained no-shows on the No on 23 donor roll. Though Tom Baruch, founder of CMEA Capital, did give $25,000 on Wednesday, and John Doerr, a leading green tech investor with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is a notable exception with his $500,000 investment to defeat Prop 23.

If Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists decide to open their checkbooks, game on.

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Photo: Todd Woody

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

With the campaign season revving up, even more money is starting to flow into the campaign to defeat Proposition 23.

Prop 23 is the California ballot initiative that would suspend the state’s landmark climate change law. Its opponents had been relying mostly on the largesse of a California coalition of environmental groups and Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists and tech elite to finance their No on 23 campaign. But now No forces are tapping out-of-state donors.

On Thursday, they got $250,000 from New York investor Nicolas Berggruen. Berggruen is head of Berggruen Holdings, which has made investments in wind energy projects.

Also last week, Nancy Burnett of Lummi Island, Wash., deposited $100,000 in the anti-Prop 23 coffers. Burnett is a daughter of David Packard, co-founder of Silicon Valley tech giant Hewlett-Packard, and a supporter of Democratic candidates.

And this week, David Bonderman, a Texas investor with TPG Capital, donated $7,500.

Closer to home, Warren Hellman, the wealthy San Francisco investor, banjo player, and blue-grass aficionado, wrote a $75,000 check to the No campaign. The campaign’s supporters are fighting to preserve California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, popularly known as Assembly Bill 32. AB 32 requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and allows the creation of a cap-and-trade market to meet that mandate.

The bulk of the money financing the pro-Prop 23 campaign has come from two Texas-based oil companies, Tesoro and Valero, and other out-of-state fossil fuel interests. The most recent big donation came earlier this month when Valero gave $3 million to the effort.

Both sides expect the campaign spending to peak somewhere north of $100 million by the time Election Day rolls around in November, with huge amounts of cash rolling in when the traditional election season kicks off after Labor Day.

One person watching the Prop 23 battle closely is Lawrence Goldenhersh, chief executive of Enviance, a California firm that sells environmental compliance software and services — including those that track greenhouse gas emissions — to big industrial companies.

“If AB 32 is sustained by the voters of California, you will have the largest plebiscite in the history of the climate change debate cast by voters in the world’s seventh largest economy,” Goldenhersh told me Tuesday. “If AB 32 survives and Jerry Brown gets elected governor I think you’ll have cap-and-trade nationally by 2013.”

Enviance has clients on both sides of the Prop 23 fight — including Valero — and thus is not taking a position on the ballot measure, according to Goldenhersh. Still, he calls the election the “Normandy invasion of climate change.”

“If Prop 23 passes and AB 32 is suspended or killed then I think there will not be a lot of drive and political appetite to take on a piece of grand climate legislation in Congress,” he says. “People will say, ‘if it’s too expensive for California then it’s too expensive for a little state.’ “

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photo: NRDC

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

The climate war has shifted to California.

Proposition 23, an initiative that would suspend Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), the state’s landmark global warming law, provides the first ballot box test for climate change legislation — and for the prospects of reviving a national cap-and-trade bill.

So far, much of the media attention has focused on Prop 23’s funding. It’s being underwritten by the Texas oil companies Tesoro and Valero along with other mostly out-of-state petrochemical and fossil fuel interests. Prop 23 supporters have contributed more than $6.5 million to the campaign.

But a review of opposition fundraising — for the No on 23 campaign — offers a revealing look at what amounts to a fight for the future, a struggle between the industrial behemoths of the old fossil fuel economy and a startup coalition of environmental groups, Silicon Valley technology companies, financiers, and old-line corporations looking to profit from decarbonizing California.

“The choice that is before California is between the new clean economy versus the dirty old economy,” says Annie Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Silicon Valley folks who are willing to invest in the new clean energy economy with their dollars are tangible evidence that this is an economic issue as well as an environmental one.”

The NRDC has emerged as one of the key fundraisers, funneling more than a million dollars to the No on 23 campaign to date. Big green groups such as NRDC and the Environmental Defense Fund took the lead on forging alliances with Fortune 500 companies in the unsuccessful effort to pass national climate change legislation. In contrast, the heavy hitters in California’s Prop 23 battle are green tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, who have traditionally shied away from electoral politics.

The last stand for climate change has brought John Doerr, a leading green tech investor with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, to the table. Doerr has given $500,000 to defeat Prop 23. And he’s not alone.

Wendy Schmidt, founder the 11th Hour Project, a Silicon Valley environmental grant-making nonprofit (and wife of Google chief executive Eric Schmidt), donated $500,000 to NRDC’s No Prop 23 Committee. (Disclosure: The Schmidt Family Foundation is a financial supporter of Grist’s, and Wendy Schmidt is a member of the Grist Board.)

Google itself hasn’t contributed to the No campaign, but last week the search giant’s green energy chief, Bill Weihl, assured a gathering at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters that, “We’re strongly behind the No on 23 campaign” and the global warming law, known as AB 32.

When asked about Google’s potential financial support for the No campaign, company spokesperson Parag Chokshi said, “Google has been a very strong supporter of AB 32 and wants it to be implemented. We’ll continue to monitor the situation as we move forward.”

To date, the heaviest hitter on Team No is Thomas Steyer, the press-shy founder of San Francisco hedge fund Farallon Capital Management. Steyer, a big donor to Democratic candidates, has pledged $5 million and stepped forward to co-chair the No on 23 Committee with George Schulz, the Republican former secretary of state.

“I personally come at this issue as a businessperson who cares about the economic future of California as well as the environmental and security issues here,” Steyer said on a conference call late last month. “The right way to frame this is that we have a fairly stark choice to either move forward or turn back the clock.”

“We have 12,000 companies in California working on clean energy already,” he added. “It’s going to be one of the dominant spaces in the world and for us to excel and lead in this area we need a consistent regulatory framework for investment.”

Yet another mainstream investor is Robert Fisher, former chair of The Gap, the San Francisco-based clothing empire. Like Schmidt, Fisher has put up a half million dollars for the NRDC fund. And Southern California investor Anne Getty Earhart, an heir to the Getty oil fortune, donated $250,000 directly to the No campaign.

“What makes this unusual is that this is not your classic tree-huggers-versus-big business battle,” says Steve Maviglio, a longtime California Democratic operative and the chief spokesperson for the No on Prop 23 campaign. “Environmentalists, dyed-in-the-wool businessmen, tech companies — they have all been very active in fundraising, active on the lecture circuit and before editorial boards.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

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