Is Big Oil Striking Back Against the California Bullet Train?

Oct 15th, 2012 | Posted by

Thanks to Bruce McF for agreeing to let me post this article here. It’s a good look at how the right and the oil companies are using high speed rail as a bludgeon against pro-HSR candidates in California. -Robert

Crossposted from Daily Kos

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

One of the biggest difficulties in the fight for sustainable energy independence is that Big Oil and Big Coal, the entrenched vested interests against our nation’s long term economic survival, have ample resources and ample practice in playing the long game. They have, over decades, built up a network of propaganda mills (Heritage, Cato, Reason), pro-corporate legislative cookie cutter factories (ALEC) and have invested heavily in buying large number of legislatures at both the state and federal level.

So we should not expect victories to come without an effort to strike back coming from Big Oil or Big Coal. It appear that this effort may be underway in California, following Big Oil’s big loss when the California State Legislature approved the California State funding to match the Federal Funding of the HSR Initial Construction Segment.

“Julia Brownley, Running Us Off the Tracks”

Here’s an NRCC ad running against Julia Brownley:

Just what you’d expect: hitting Julia Brownley voted for “the biggest tax increase in California History”, and “a $68b train that California can’t afford”. Of course, ignoring the facts that the total California bond funding that can be authorized is $9.95b, and the “$68b train” that “Californians can’t afford” is a cheaper way of providing the same increase in transport capacity as additional road or air operating subsidies combined with new road lane miles or new airport infrastructure.

This is from the NRCC, but it is an exact echo of oil-funded Cato/Reason/Heritage attacks.

This is from a “Taxpayers Network” mailer. Elsewhere in the flyer it tells people to contact (State) Sen. Tony Strickland and thank him for opposing HSR, tells people that Julia Brownley supports the “up to $100b” HSR, and that (State) Sen. Fran Pavley has both opposed and supported the HSR project, and to contact her to help her make up her mind.

Who is the “Taxpayer Network”? The group’s website doesn’t say ~ it is one of these supposed public benefit corporations:

The Taxpayer Network is a non-profit public benefit corporation organized under Section 501c (4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Its goal is to educate the public about the policies and policy-makers involved in issues of taxation, spending and regulation of the economy. Taxpayer Network uses television, radio, direct mail and the internet to communicate its messages.

However in 2011, the Sacramento Bee was able to dig out a little bit about the group, which ran a “sleezy little ad” against Senator Boxer in the 2010 California Senate race:

Dan Morain: Shady ad brought to you by the Supreme Court

Who funds Taxpayer Network, and what motivates its donors? …

You will never know – except that one of its directors is a high-powered Washington lobbyist who represents moneyed interests that have a financial stake in whether Democrats or Republicans control the U.S. Senate.

Taxpayer Network lists one director as David McIntosh, a former congressman from Indiana. McIntosh is a lobbyist at Mayer Brown in Washington, where he represents energy companies worried about climate legislation, health care clients, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on financial services regulation, and more.

So near as we can tell, the “Taxpayer Network” ran a sleezy ad against Senator Boxer to punish her for her support of Carbon Pricing and other policies to avoid the threat that climate change may wreck our national economy.

And since they are a shadowy hidden money group, they can be even more misleading than the NRCC. They completely ignore the intervention by Governor Brown in the project. When the strategy pursued by Judge Kopp of running exclusive track through urban areas of the Bay Area and LA Basin slated for the slower 125mph Regional HSR corridors pushed the project cost up to $100b, Governor Brown intervened and brought the CHSRA and local rail authorities together to commit to the sharing of the slower speed corridors between the California HSR system and regional rail systems.

It is, of course, no great surprise that Governor Brown was able to intervene. He was first promoting HSR in the state of California when France was building their first Express HSR corridor, and France has been very successful in focusing the Express HSR corridors in the terrain between large metropolitan areas, and using Express Intercity corridors shared with other trains to gain access to and egress from the large metropolitan areas.

And who is pushing this even more misleading description of the project? Thanks to the US Supreme Court, we don’t know, but we do know that there are no degrees of separation between the “Taxpayer Network” and Big Oil ~ one of the “Taxpayer Network” directors is someone they pay to push their interests in Washington DC.

Who Is The California Senior Advocates League?

Then there is this from Professor Keith Smith, from the Political Science at the University of the Pacific blog:

Campaign Advertising Lies

…the California Senior Advocates League PAC (ID#1327236), which had released an ad in San Diego attacking Fran Pavley (D). Pavley is seeking reelection in State Senate District 27. … The ad … contains a bald-faced lie. It says that Sen. Pavley earns $261,000 in tax-free salary each year. This statement is wrong on so many levels its incredible. First, the annual salary for a State Senator is $90,526 not $261,000. Second, like everyone else’s salary, hers is taxed by both the state and the federal governments.

Then I checked yesterday’s pile of mail. In it was a campaign flyer from the California Senior Advocates League PAC attacking the Democratic candidate in my local State Senate district, Cathleen Galgiani. It has the same basic lie in bold print in multiple places. The lie is a little different because Galgiani is a member of the Assembly, so it says she makes $180,000 a year in tax-free salary. It’s a lie none the less.

So who is the California Senior Advocates League PAC? The name implies that it is a group looking out for the interests of seniors in California, right? Mr. Herdt tried to find out who they really were by calling their offices, but was rebuffed. shows all of the donors and amounts given to the League. The lion’s share of its money this cycle ($563,500 of $616,630) comes from the California Now Independent Expenditure Committee. (The California State Republican Party was a big contributor in the past, which should give you a clue about the organization and why it is targeting Democrats.) What is the California Now Independent Expenditure Committee? Mr. Herdt did the leg work here: It’s basically Chevron and Philip Morris by way of the California Chamber of Commerce.

So here you have money from Chevron and Phillip Morris, by way the California “Chamber of Commerce” … attacking State Senator Pavley and State Assemblymember Galgiani.

Now, they are not, in this ad, being attacked for HSR, but a quick look at Assemblymember Galgiani’s legislative site reveals that she has been a staunch advocate for the California HSR system, while Fran Pavley is the author of the California Carbon Pricing Scheme, AB32.

So the Empire is Striking Back … what do we do about it?

Ok, so seems to be on the attack against Big Oil is on the attack against Julia Brownley, running for CA-26, and Cathleen Galgiani, running for CA State Senate District 5, two staunch supporters of HSR. They are also on the attack against Fran Pavley, running for re-election in CA State Senate District 27, who despite voting against the California HSR system, carries the mortal political sin of authoring carbon pricing legislation that was signed into law.

So … what should be done about it? I mean, I’m an economist, so on political strategy, I am in the same boat as many of the readers of the Sunday Train, as long time observer, with some strong views of my own … but by no means any kind of expert in this kind of campaign politics.

  1. joe
    Oct 15th, 2012 at 08:32

    1. Donate and support HSR politicians in this cycle.

    2. Go on the offensive. CA should tax oil extraction at the exact same rate as Alaska. CA is the 3rd largest producer in the US and the only State I know of that DOES NOT tax oil extraction. TX and Alaska both raise money.

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, Also fire department personnel, police, teachers, etc would still get laid off even without HSR…

    Well I sure won’t be buying any products from Chevron…

    joe Reply:

    Oil extraction tax would bring in about 3.5 B a year.

    VBobier Reply:

    Provided Big Dirty Oil doesn’t shut the wells off in protest and just buy oil elsewhere and they could…

    joe Reply:

    They could shut down the wells. CA would not lose one cent in Taxes if they did. We’d lose nothing.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In my judgment, the most important thing this election is Democratic control of the federal government, which could lead to a jobs act with some HSR funding, potentially enough to build a useful IOS. State control is less important, since the state legislature already agreed to appropriate funds for a cheaper but weaker segment, and one PITA legislator is being kicked up to Congress.

    Since the polls are already shifting back toward Obama, and the Senate is in all likelihood going to have no net change in seats, this means the House. Are there any competitive seats in California? Are there any competitive seats in other states you guys have a stake in, such as in Washington for Robert? I’d recommend focusing energy for the next 3 weeks on those to the exclusion of everything else.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The Democrats lost the chance to retake the House after Obama’s abysmal debate performance on the 3rd. Now there’s little chance that disenchanted Republicans will take Election Night off like in 2006 and give Democrats the chance to win.

    However, your assumption is flawed a little bit that nominal Republican control will stop everything in its tracks. Instead, it’s very likely that unlike 2006, new Democrat pick ups will vote in a bloc with Speaker, I mean uh, Leader Pelosi. That gives the Democrats lots of leverage with the non-Tea Party element of the Republican Party that would like to pass economic stimulus measures out, even if done as a bipartisan compromise.

    The State Senate issue probably has everything to do with candidates that are receptive to taxing carbon. Since HSR and other rail improvements need more revenue, saddling them with the idea of a tax on carbon is probably preferable as far as how these groups are spending their money. Plus don’t forget, high gas prices are affecting California right now, and most of the nation is comparably much lower….

    Peter Reply:

    How many 2010 Tea Party loons are likely to be reelected? And how many of them would be replaced by moderate Republicans versus Democrats?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Given that redistricting (and by extension, the Census) just occurred, that is the wrong attitude to have. The question is how many seats are safe for each Party, regardless of who the incumbent is. For example, a guy like Joe Walsh (IL-9) is toast, not because he’s a Tea Partier, but because the Illinois Legislature painted him into such a corner, even Chris Shays could have lost the seat.

    However, in order to win back the House, Democrats need to pick up 25 seats. That’s going to be very difficult because outside of a handful of states (California, Illinois), the GOP controlled the process and made sure to undercount in suburban areas.

    joe Reply:

    Texas. Their redistricting efforts we’re ruled illegal and were invalidated and the GOP failed passing a legal voter ID law.

    Walsh is toast probably due to his erratic behavior, and he’s a deadbeat dad.

    joe Reply:

    and NY

    Democrats believe New York is prime turf to take back seats and slice into the GOP’s majority in the House of Representatives. The four freshmen — Ann Marie Buerkle, Nan Hayworth, Chris Gibson and Michael Grimm — are being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red-to-Blue” campaign. And their challengers are all employing similar strategies by attacking them for a pair of conservative House votes and hoping Obama’s popularity in the state will result in more voters casting a ballot for Democrats this year.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That gives the Democrats lots of leverage with the non-Tea Party element of the Republican Party

    Both of them or either of them?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Good idea for those in most of the country. There are probably important statehouse races in other states.

  2. Andy M
    Oct 15th, 2012 at 09:59

    Has anybody calculated how much diverted military spending could save those firefighters and teachers? Would it really hurt the military?

    thatbruce Reply:

    Order of magnitude difference. The Military spending is so much above most other programs that the diverting of any fraction of Military spending (such as the automatic cuts scheduled to take effect 2nd January) fully funds any other program you care to name.

    joe Reply:

    Pick a few projects. I like the F-35. The price tag is just about $1 trillion USD – for a fighter airplane.
    The other new plane, F-22, isn’t safe to fly – oxygen problems cause pilots to back out.

    Then we’ll need new bombers. B-2 is 2 B each.

    Also domestic spying – It’s illegal to even acknowledge the programs let alone know the cost.

    Derek Reply:

    Good news! They’ve found and fixed the oxygen problem in the F-22.

    And the estimated $1 trillion for the F-35 is the total program cost over 50 years and all aircraft built.

    Michael Reply:

    Thank god for the clarification. That means the F-35 is ONLY $20 billion a year. Completely reasonable expenditure.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Just transfer the fire departments to the military, then they’ll get all the money they want.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Works for the police. ANTI-TERRORISM! Department of Homeland Security grants! 9/11!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Hey worked for Harry Truman too. The railroads went on strike so he drafted all the railroad workers.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Works for parts of the police. Regular police work? Fuck you. Airport harassment, fingerprinting tourists, free trips to Syria? $$$!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    And the cost of getting an HSR station within 50 miles of 80 percent of the population is only half that! also probably over 50 years. And it will last a lot longer than a jet.

    Peter Reply:

    And it will last a lot longer than a jet.

    Don’t be so sure!

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Now that is amazing.

    Peter Reply:

    Now if they could only reengine them finally, they could maybe lower the operating cost.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    For once, I have to agree with Richard!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Get back to us in 100 years give or take a few

    Peter Reply:


    Nathanael Reply:

    Well, they built them to last in those days. The era of air dominance is actually ending, though, so spending lots of money on military bombers is not really sound policy.

    VBobier Reply:

    Just like today coffee makers are made like cheap junk, not like back in the 80’s and before when really good coffee makers, percolators were made by GE back then that still work today, ones in My kitchen, better than buying a new one every year.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    V, back in 1963 the cheap ones that would fall apart in a year or two … fell apart in 1965 and got thrown out. That’s why everyone thinks they made things so much better back in the day. The cheap flimsy stuff falls apart…

    swing hanger Reply:

    The cheapest Mr. Coffee coffemakers made decent coffee, at least the models made until about 2002 or so (can’t vouch for the later models). The key point was the way the hot water was evenly distributed over the ground coffee- the Mr Coffee had a wide spread, while the more fancy and expensive makers typically dumped the hot water in the center of the filter, oversoaking the coffee in the center and barely moistening the stuff along the edges. Just this made a big difference, otherwise, coffee makers are merely hot water element heaters that hold a filter for your java of choice.

    VBobier Reply:

    I started with a Krupps, then 2 Mr Coffee’s before going back to an Autumn Gold/Chrome GE Percolator that I’d grown up with, which except for the handle, 2 lid parts and the water level, is mostly metal, of course the bottom might have a heat resistant enamel over a metal bottom, It’s proven design, one that has worked since the 70’s. Mr Coffee will replace the drip coffee maker if the maker breaks while in warranty, repair? Not a chance, after the warranty, go buy another one and toss the old one in the landfill I was told.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    My parents and my grandparents made coffee with a pot on the stove that looked something like this:

    My mother also recalled making coffee in a pot in which you added the coffee to the water and boiled it all together. She also recalled throwing in some egg shell bits, which were supposed to help hold down the ground coffee when you went to pour it. She said she didn’t know how this was supposed to work (suggesting it didn’t); my guess is that the egg residue was supposed to form a coating that trapped the grounds on the bottom of the pot:

    Bill Knapke in “The Railroad Caboose” mentioned that one conductor he knew who made his coffee in such a pot would put the coffee and water in the pot and let the mix stand all night before boiling it in the morning. Knapke’s comment as to its taste was “Wow!” You can only imagine how strong it must have been, probably really woke you up!!

    Just for fun:

    I wonder if this holds up as well as the old timers did:

    This is in Pennsylvania, but didn’t California have a lot of “thematic” buildings like this in the past:

    swing hanger Reply:

    Of course it’s all a matter of preferences, but to me the best tasting coffee is made in the simplest way- by pouring freshly drawn hot water over freshly ground beans in a paper filter mounted on a pot. No fancy percolators, machines, etc. and it never breaks.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    … and it never breaks.

    hmmm, my coffee pot broke… :(

    (so now I just put the cone on top of my cup… gotta be very careful with the water amount though…)

    [btw, although I’ve always used the filter-inna-cone method, I’ve heard french-presses make better-tasting coffee, for seems roughly the same complexity/cost…]

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    DP there’s the propane powered automatic coffeemakers….

    There is also another model where you supply the burner, so it can run on any fuel….

    joe Reply:

    F-35 is well recognized fiscal disaster.


    If they fixed the Oxygen problem then they sure haven’t made the press yet and surely not vetted the solution with enough hours.

    BTW the F-22 did lose all avionics when it flew across the international date line on a flight to Japan. If it were not for the tankers and clear skies, they might have lost the aircraft. Software patched.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Nothing that cutting defense spending by a factor of 3 won’t solve.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    Why not Sell the Vatican also and solve other niggardly little problems while you’re at it?

    Somebody must have calculated that.

    joe Reply:

    More GOP talking points from a dude professing to be more liberal than most.

    Peter Reply:

    Dude, I know that it’s sometimes difficult to spot sarcasm in text, but seriously?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sarah Silverman is the same person who made this.

    But yeah, making fun of the Catholic church is a GOP talking point. Or something.

    thatbruce Reply:

    @Richard Mlynarik:

    Why not Sell the Vatican also

    They’ve got nearly six popes per square mile in there, more than enough for any religion.

    Jerry Reply:

    Thank you Andy for raising the question. It should be asked everyday!

  3. BruceMcF
    Oct 15th, 2012 at 11:00

    Robert may have seen it on Daily Kos, but that was a cross post as well. The home station for the Sunday Train is Voices on the Square

  4. StevieB
    Oct 15th, 2012 at 11:11

    The law governing a non-profit PAC to not disclose donors is absurd. Huge corporations hide millions in advertising behind non-profit shells. Dave Gilliard–the prominent California Republican political consultant tied to the group by Morain–notes that Taxpayer Network has no legal requirement to disclose its contributors to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) because the group claims it is not trying to influence any federal election.

    “In fact, Taxpayer Network’s TV ads were unrelated to any election and did not mention any election,” wrote Gilliard. “Its goal is to educate the public about the policies and policy-makers involved in issues of taxation, spending and regulation of the economy.”

    With regard to the ads against Sen. Barbara Boxer democrats disagree.

    Believing that the group was indeed attempting to defeat Boxer and cheat disclosure laws, the California Young Democrats filed a complaint with the FEC.

  5. John Nachtigall
    Oct 15th, 2012 at 22:01

    The Dems are going to retain control of the Senate. The GOP will retain the House. The presidency is up for grabs now. Just today they called 140 delegates in the Electoral College up for grabs.

    Still, the office races are a nice little sidelight…but the real problem is going to be that HSR is going to loose Brown the Prop 30 battle. The GOP and the conservatives have tapped into voter anger over HSR + “loosing” money in parks accounts + raises for the legislative aids. Polls are under 50% and dropping. They finally got some money on the No side to get out the message.

    After Prop 30 goes down in flames, Moonbeam will need someone to blame and HSR will be front and center. At the very least he will stop stumping for it publicly because Jerry is nothing if not a practical politician and he known now how bad it hurt him.

    I would not be surprised to see the whole approval rescinded and “Poof” there goes HSR.

    joe Reply:

    There is no HSR ballot initiative. It’s irrelevant.

    Prop 30 may fail due to misinformation about re-purposing prop1a money to schools. That mistake will be corrected once the state cuts spending post election.

    Attacking unions, pensions and HSR will not stop the budget cuts. That does not fix the budget. some fraction will be in disbelief. Most recognize the cuts are bad for the economy.

    You get to a point where the con is over – I think that’s when the state amends the super majority requirement for tax votes and the state GOP becomes totally irrelevant.


    Prop 25 eliminated the super-majority requirement for passing a budget – The GOP, refusing to negotiate any revenue compromise, has 0% say in the budget cutting.

    If the GOP doesn’t compromise and help produce some revenue along with cuts, they’ll lose the super-majority requirement. Then what?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    The legislature can take away the money already authorized and not used or monre likely just not give it more. No money no HSR

    Paul H. Reply:

    Wouldn’t be so sure that Prop 30 will lose, it’s looking more likely that it will pass. HSR opinion has been turning since the vote, and gas prices reaching $5 in some areas of California has boosted HSR polling numbers in just the last two weeks. One anti-tax article from a suburban San Diego rag isn’t an indication of Prop 30 falling. Try again. The fact is people are turning on the Tea Party, and many moderate Republicans do support infrastructure spending.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    It fell below 50% in polling already and it is losing ground. It’s fallen 8% in just the last month. Plus tax initiatives have gotten weaker in even instance in the past the closer you get to the election. It has 1 foot in the grave and is falling in

    synonymouse Reply:

    Wishful thinking – prop 30 will most probably pass; the Pelosi Machine has its two-thirds lock and the Republican Party is history; Barack will likely win. It’s an historical trend – what you see in Venezuela is what’s happening here. A single party welfare state doling out payouts to favored groups and corps and paying for it with what’s left in the treasury and borrowing.

    Rich people move to California because of the better weather and treat it as their sandbox. SF is a microcosm of this process. Pandering, profiteering, profligacy, parasitism is the natural outcome.

    The leadership is abysmal. The sclerotic crones and drone are reality-impaired, utterly blindered. Moonbeam fires the only one who has an idea of what’s going on for suggesting the wisdom of backups. What is the first thing they teach you in computing 101?

  6. D. P. Lubic
    Oct 16th, 2012 at 04:06

    Off topic, and in reference to an incident in Great Britain, but I think very worth reading:

    Andy M Reply:

    It seems more than shameful and obscene to count the death of a railroad worker in a road accident as a rail-related death.

  7. Ben
    Oct 16th, 2012 at 04:33

    What you can do about this is volunteer. I am going to the DNC headquarters tonight to call voters and help make sure they vote this November. There are 5-10 very competitive House races in CA and I am sure that all of the Democrat candidates would appreciate having volunteers to help with canvassing, phone-banking, and other get out the vote activities.

    Additionally, Right next door, Nevada has an extemely competitive Senate election and it is very competitive on the presidential level as well. Now would be as good of a time as any for a weekend road trip.

    As Samuel L. Jackson has said, now is the time to wake the f— up!

  8. Jesse D.
    Oct 19th, 2012 at 04:56

    “But think of the CHILDREN! Would you lay off this poor, innocent teacher? And don’t forget the police NYPD FDNY 9/11 never forget!”

    Trying to prey on my sympathies merely makes me loathe you more, guys. And especially putting on a mask of “But the senior citizens! YOU WOULDN’T HURT NANA AND PAWPAW WOULD YOU” makes me sick and really makes me want to start a rallying cry for the banning of any sort of PAC. Who’s with me?

    Also, I’ve been to Kristen Olsen’s HQ. I think I know where our money went.

Comments are closed.