Follow the money

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on August 1, 2002

A report Tuesday in the San Jose Mercury News suggests that California has become a "pay to play" state under the direction of its fundraiser-in-chief Gray Davis.

State officials allowed one of California's largest polluters to increase toxic discharges into San Francisco Bay shortly after the company donated $70,500 to Gov. Gray Davis, a Mercury News investigation has found.

The decision by a key state water board in June 2000 came just four months after the board had refused to relax the pollution permit at Tosco's Avon refinery east of Martinez -- and after the company had tried unsuccessfully to get the rules eased for seven years.

A review of state campaign records found that the day after the water board voted not to ease the pollution limits on Feb. 16, 2000, Davis -- who appoints the board's members -- received $55,500 from Tosco.

That donation was 10 times larger than any other single donation Tosco had given Davis during his governorship. An additional $15,000 followed before the board issued its unusual reversal.

Davis officials say there is no connection between the donation and the decision to allow Tosco to increase its dioxin releases fivefold.

The members of the state water board are appointed by Davis.

Environmentalists are rightly outraged by the move (maybe they need to contribute more $). And while Gray Davis was receiving plaudits on the network evening news shows late last month after signing California's version of the Kyoto treaty into law, the News' report has received little attention in other papers -- a search of The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle turned up no reporting on the incident.

Gray Davis the environmentalist? Not according to the EPA's records.

Larry Kolb, who was acting executive officer at the time, said the water board staff supported the change because it concluded that dioxin came from other sources, such as automobiles, into the air and was washing onto Tosco's property. It would be unfair to make Tosco spend millions cleaning it up, he said.

But EPA databases show the refinery, now called the Tesoro Golden Eagle, was the second-largest industrial source of dioxin air pollution in the nine-county Bay Area in 2000 -- behind only Tosco's other refinery in Rodeo.

If Gray Davis is so concerned about clean air and clean water for Californians, then what the heck is he doing here? The truth is that Davis may just be a prolific fund-raiser -- not a leader who stands by his convictions. At least not when there's money to be made.

I predicted earlier this year that political reporters could get a lot of juicy stories if they just followed the money and made connections between campaign cash and policy decisions.

Simon too has his troubles, and is not looking particularly attractive as a gubernatorial candidate.

Come November, sadly, California voters may be faced with two disappointing choices atop the ballot.


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August 2002



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