Smelling a chance to burn oil money, tobacco lobbyists orchestrate effort to repeal CA clean energy law

No to Proposition 23!Big Oil Showdown in California” is a Progressive Media blogging series on the fossil fuel-funded Prop 23 effort to repeal California’s clean energy and climate law. Read previous posts on Prop 23’s economic impact, national repercussions, and funding from Texas oil companies. Today’s post is cross-posted from the Wonk Room.

To manage their initiative to roll back California’s landmark climate change law, AB 32, big oil is turning to the same deceptive tobacco operatives who engineered Philip Morris’ fight against efforts to tax cigarettes and stop childhood as well as indoor smoking. According to veteran right-wing activist Ted Costa, former Philip Morris outside counsel Tom Hiltachk co-opted his AB 32 repeal initiative, known as Proposition 23 (“Prop 23″³). Hiltachk’s name appears on both versions of Prop 23 filed with the California Attorney General, and his tactics and already ubiquitous in the campaign.

Hiltachk, who is also serving as an attorney for Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, has made a career writing misleading right-wing initiatives, then pitching the initiatives to corporations that may benefit from their passage. To fund Prop 23, he reached out to a friend from his days working for the tobacco industry, Mike Carpenter. Carpenter, the former top California lobbyist for Philip Morris, now lobbies for Valero, a Texan oil company with operations in California. To date, Valero has been the prime driver of the Prop 23, donating over $1 million so far directly to the effort.

The Prop 23 campaign seems to be laundering money and using front groups to promote their efforts. Indeed, one of the most visible groups supporting Prop 23, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, which is mobilizing press events and “pro-business” organizing is, produced anti-clean energy studies “” are funded by Valero. Carpenter sits on the board of the conservative think-tank, the Pacific Research Institute, producing bunk studies to bolster pro-Prop 23 claims. Other large donations to the pro-Prop 23 campaign are from front groups like the Missouri-based Adam Smith Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which both carefully conceal their funding.

But these under-the-radar tactics of shifting money around and using phony groups are nothing new to Hiltachk and Carpenter:

During the eighties and nineties, Hiltachk and his law partners helped the tobacco industry, with funding from Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, coordinate a variety of stealth front groups. While his law firm received over a million from tobacco interests, Hiltachk helped organize “Californians for Smokers’ Rights,” a supposedly “grassroots” group that relied on tobacco industry consumer lists to mobilize opposition to anti-smoking initiatives. Working with “academic” fronts like the Claremont Institute (also funded by tobacco), Hiltachk and his law partner Charles Bell mobilized business opposition through a front they helped manage called Californians for Fair Business Policy.

As the top California lobbyist for Philip Morris, Carpenter helped liaison to nonprofit groups to orchestrate efforts to fight back against anti-smoking laws. Working closely with Hiltachk’s law firm at the time, Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, Carpenter distributed news clips, recommended tobacco donations to certain outside groups, and mobilized messaging and polling operations against an initiative to tax cigarettes to fund anti-childhood smoking programs, according to files with the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. One document shows Carpenter receiving a pro-tobacco screed from the Pacific Research Institute, faxed by a communications officer at Philip Morris. The Pacific Research Institute, funded by Valero and tobacco interests, is now helping to provide academic-sounding cachet to the pro-Prop 23 campaign.

After millions of Californians needlessly suffered or died from smoking, the pair ultimately failed in their tobacco lobbying. California voters successfully passed several successive cigarette taxes and smoking bans.

It appears Hiltachk and Carpenter are up to their old tricks. Carpenter is busy recruiting trade association support for the initiative, spending April meeting with groups like the California League of Food Processors. And for his part, Hiltachk has tapped firms he has steered contracts to for over twenty years, like Goddard Claussen West and Woodward & McDowell, to do the legwork of signature gathering and ad making. According to Costa, the Prop 23 proponents boasted to him that they would raise $50 million for their campaign. Aside from the devastating impact Prop 23 will have on California’s economy and the prospects for addressing climate change, at least former tobacco operatives like Hiltachk and Carpenter will be doing quite well.


8 Responses to Smelling a chance to burn oil money, tobacco lobbyists orchestrate effort to repeal CA clean energy law

  1. This is all we need.

  2. homunq says:

    Pie. Face. New hero!

  3. Daniel Ives says:

    Hey Joe,

    Since climate legislation appears to be dead (for a few years anyway) at the federal level, is there any chance that state climate and clean energy policies can have much of an impact on the climate outlook? Obviously they can have quite an economic impact on a state, but what about their effects on national greenhouse gas emissions? I’m wondering if a mini-American Power Act passed in say 20 states or more could buy some time (climate-wise) and pressure the federal government to act.



  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    One Aspect of The New, Authentic, and Necessary Paradigm (if we want to improve effectiveness)!

    When something like this — i.e., the misleading, oil-financed, old-tobacco-staffed campaign to roll back AB 32 — doesn’t make sense, is dramatically at odds with human well being, and is transparently manipulative and misleading, then what?

    Well, often (it seems) we just try to fight it, and “spread light”, alone — or nearly so. And often, that’s a lonely and ineffective path.

    There is an authentic and necessary “lever” that we have to use much more, and asap.

    Think of it this way: When something big, that will impact society negatively if it happens, simply doesn’t make sense, then we should appeal strongly to — and indeed put valid moral pressure on — the institutions and folks in society that are supposed to help society make sense, and who (presumably) rely on “sense-making” for their own credibility and livelihoods. We should appeal to them, and put appropriate pressure on them, to play vital roles in shining light on nonsense and in making sure that sense prevails, for the public good.

    Who am I talking about? I am talking about, respectfully, the universities (Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, San Jose State, Santa Clara U., and so forth, depending on the issue), leading (but “independent”) business consultancies whose credibility is ultimately at stake, and so forth.

    In other words, as these oil-funded, old-tobacco staffed groups are trying to muck up responsible efforts to address the climate and energy problems (problems that are VERY real, of course), where is Stanford? Where is Berkeley? Where are the San Jose State and Santa Clara U. folks? Where are the voices of the halls of academia, and of bona fide scientists?

    And indeed, where is McKinsey & Company on this?

    One can’t just lump all of these institutions/groups together, of course, and some people at some of them are doing heroic work. (As we know, one of them just died, sadly, this past week!) But relatively speaking, they are amazingly and irresponsibly silent on these issues, relative to what should be happening given the immensely high stakes.

    Groups that are actively concerned about these issues (and rightly so) should — in addition to combatting the oil-tobacco folks directly — pose the pertinent question to the institutions who are supposed to be helping society and business make more responsible sense! WHERE ARE YOU?? No more standing on the sidelines! If you want to be seen as credible and responsible in the future, then you’d better BE credible and responsible now, when it counts!

    I have a (fairly) deep respect for Berkeley and Harvard and Stanford and etc. I went to Berkeley and Harvard. I also have considerable respect for McKinsey, on many counts anyhow. And I’ve worked there. But, I do not believe that any of those places/institutions are doing all of the things that they ought to be doing on the climate and energy issues or to help address these “modern ways” that allow our democracy to be highjacked by folks with Money who want to preserve a harmful status quo and will stoop to misleading the public to do so.

    We need to call on those sorts of places now. If they want credibility in the future, they should act responsibly now.

    This is an important point, I believe, for many reasons. I’ll only mention three of them here. (Many of the rest are obvious anyhow.) For one thing, we (the directly-involved “cause” organizations) can’t fight these battles alone. We are usually out-resourced. For another thing, it is ultimately demotivating and “fatally” exhausting to fight the battles alone. One gets “pooped out” if one fights and loses, and fights and loses again, and fights and loses again, even as other organizations are standing on the sidelines. And for another thing, the fact that these other institutions/organizations are too silent, or sit on the sidelines too much, itself undermines all the good work that IS done by the organizations who are directly fighting the battle. After all, in the minds of many people in the public, if these battles are mainly fought by the “proposition people” (and the front groups that support them) and, on the other hand, the “environmentalists” and “climate folks” — while the universities and so forth stay quiet, and while the public continues with business as usual — then how important can the issue be, really? If the stakes were genuinely large, and not merely “ideological”, then our largest institutions would be taking a stand, right? Berkeley and Stanford wouldn’t just stay invisible, or in the background, if an asteroid were heading toward Earth, right? In other words, the perceived importance of the issues, on the part of the public en masse, and the perception of whether one way is more sensible and responsible than the other way (or, instead, whether all of these things simply amount to matters of preference, as if we are comparing Coke and Pepsi), are influenced in part by whether our “institutions that claim to be sensible” take part in the public dialogue and help champion sensibility.

    We need help in these matters. And some organizations SHOULD be providing it.

    Be Well,


  5. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Here is a really amazing discussion with Van Jones. This guy is really good. The one thing that bothers me here at CP is the attacks on our own side. Though it may feel good in the moment I think it slows us down in the long run. Van Jones takes a much broader view of the issue saying we’ve done something really important in getting the authoritarians out of power and reestablishing a democracy in this nation. But that’s just the start.

    The issue of climate change, as I’m sure we all agree here, is too important to lose. Van Jones is well worth listening to.

  6. Mark Shapiro says:

    When I read the names of the men doing these evil deeds, Tom Hiltachk and Mike Carpenter, my blood boils. Their actions make them no better than paid killers. What are they like? Do they enjoy their work? Do they care a fig for the destruction in their wake? How are they raising their children? What of the people writing their paychecks?

    How to counter them, now that we know their names?

  7. Mark Shapiro says:

    Would I like to hear something like this about Tom Hiltachk and Mike Carpenter? . . .

    “Fellow citizens, two of our compatriots, our fellow human beings, are in great need of our help. Tom and Mike are committing grave errors and need to be stopped before their souls are lost forever. They are taking dirty oil money, laundering it, and turning it into a big ball of deadly lies called Prop 23. They have the scrubbed faces and soothing voices of men selling cigarettes to young children, and now they are selling pollution and waste, telling you that it’s good for you. That it will save you job.

    “But Tom and Mike are selling dirt, death, and destruction. They are paid handsomely, but it is truly terrible work. It is terrible for them, terrible for you, and worse yet for all your children. Free them from this curse. Lift this terrible burden from their souls. Etc! Vote NO on Prop 23! Thank you.”

    Okay, now you know why my kids don’t want me to be a politician. Or a preacher. But I am angry at what these guys are doing.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    “funding from Texas oil companies.” – and dirty coal.

    Ohio coal company that backed Fiorina also gave to Prop. 23