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.