Capitol Alert

Are Exxon, Facebook in California's cross hairs? Top cop hints at investigations

‘It was my mistake’ Facebook CEO Zuckerberg testifies before Senate committees

The Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a hearing on April 10. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook’s handling of user data and privacy.
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The Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a hearing on April 10. Zuckerberg testified about Facebook’s handling of user data and privacy.

California's top cop hinted this week that the state Department of Justice is looking into the business practices of Big Oil giant Exxon Mobil and Facebook.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra did not say explicitly that he is investigating ExxonMobil, but in response to questions from The Sacramento Bee's Editorial Board, he suggested an investigation is underway. He drew a parallel to the lengthy investigation of Sutter Health, Northern California's largest hospital system, which resulted last month in a lawsuit charging the company with engaging in anti-competitive business practices.

"Did you know that we were getting ready to sue Sutter Health? That was a six-year investigation. You did not know about that," Becerra said. "I could not tell you what, if anything, we're doing, but I can tell you I'm fully aware of the issues involved with Exxon and I can tell you … we are on top of what we must do."

Researchers found last year that ExxonMobil misled the public about the realities of climate change and spread doubt by taking different positions on "real, human-caused, serious and solvable" climate change.

"Available documents show a systemic, quantifiable discrepancy between what ExxonMobil's scientists and executives discussed about climate change in private and academic circles, and what it presented to the general public," researchers wrote last year.

ExxonMobil has sought to delegitimize research and other studies commonly referred to as #ExxonKnew, charging that they were launched by environmental activists and class action lawyers.

Becerra, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the position vacated by Sen. Kamala Harris, also suggested the department could launch an investigation into Facebook.

The social media company is under intense scrutiny for election interference by foreign governments and for failing to secure the personal data of tens of millions of its users. Personal information was harvested and used by political data firm Cambridge Analytica, linked to President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

"We don't disclose anything of what we're doing," Becerra said. "You could ask me about Facebook and I'd have to tell you the same thing."

Becerra has in some cases made public investigations. The Department of Justice, for example, is overseeing the investigation into the death of Stephon Clark, who was shot and killed by Sacramento police. Becerra announced his department's role in that case last month. The state has also publicized its opioid investigation, seeking information about whether pharmaceutical companies engaged in unlawful activity involving marketing, sales and distribution of opioids.

"You know about the Stephon Clark matter because that one, we had to make public," Becerra said. "You can imagine that on some of these matters that impact Californians … we're going to be on top of it, whether it's Facebook, Exxon, Equifax, opioids, Stephon Clark. We'll be on top of it, but we won't tell you what, if anything, we're doing on any of these matters."

Becerra is up for election this year for his first statewide campaign after serving more than two decades in the House of Representatives. His Democratic challenger, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, has criticized Becerra on the campaign trail for being "missing in action" on issues like opioids and climate change.

Becerra brushed off Jones' attacks.

"We don't need to telegraph what we're doing," Becerra said. "It makes it difficult sometimes to get into some of these conversations, and it makes it awkward when you're running in a campaign when people accuse you of things and you cannot respond.

"But then the nice thing is I get to be AG," Becerra said.

Welcome to the AM Alert, your morning rundown on California policy and politics. To receive it regularly, please sign up for it here.

IMPEACHMENT CAMPAIGN: Billionaire activist Tom Steyer's "Need to Impeach" campaign heads to Oakland today for a town hall pressing for Trump's impeachment.

Steyer is hosting town halls across the country seeking public support and to pressure elected officials to back his impeachment campaign. Steyer has spread his message through television and social media ads, saying Trump has obstructed justice in party by firing former FBI Director James Comey and interfering in the Russia investigation, among other unproven charges.

The town hall begins at 7:30 p.m. at Impact Hub Oakland, 2323 Broadway. Doors are at 6:30.

ARMED SCHOOL GUARD PROPOSAL: Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher of Yuba City is proposing a bill that would require armed guards in schools. The controversial idea has resurfaced following the deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Gallagher's Assembly Bill 2067 would require school districts or charter schools to hire or contract with at least one "armed school resource officer … authorized to carry a loaded firearm," according to the proposed legislation. The officer would be required to be present at each school of the school district or charter school during regular school hours and any other time students are on campus. The bill is up for a 9 a.m. hearing today in Room 4202 of the Capitol.

EDUCATION EQUITY: The state Legislature's Black Caucus and other African American community leaders will press for passage of a state bill this year that proposes to expand state educational funding for African American students.

A press conference is set for 10 a.m. in Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon's press office to rally support for Assembly Bill 2635 from Assemblywomen Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, Autumn Burke, D-Marina Del Rey, and Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson. The bill will later be heard in the Assembly's education committee beginning at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4202 of the Capitol.

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