Oil industry and ex-legislators find a new way to peddle influence

Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, was sworn into the Assembly in 2012 .
Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, was sworn into the Assembly in 2012 . hamezcua@sacbee.com

In the ever-evolving field of influence peddling, the oil industry has updated the old line about how if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Better yet, oilies have found, co-opt them.

In most states and in Washington, D.C., the oil industry leans heavily on Republican consultants and lawmakers. In California, where Democrats dominate all levels of state governance, the industry clearly has seen the wisdom in crossing aisles.

In the legislative session just ended, the oil industry saw the reality that Gov. Jerry Brown was determined to push through legislation to extend cap-and-trade until 2030. Rather than get rolled, the oil industry worked through trade groups and their lobbyists to mold it.

In that effort, oil companies enlisted three former Democratic legislators who had quit in the middle of their terms in the Legislature and Los Angeles City Council to become corporate advocates, as detailed by reporter Laurel Rosenhall for CalMatters, the nonpartisan online journalism enterprise that is focused on covering state policy and politics.

The three include Sen. Michael Rubio, from Shafter, who works for Chevron, former Assemblyman Henry Perea, from Fresno, who works for the Western States Petroleum Association, and former Assemblyman and L.A. Councilman Felipe Fuentes, whose lobby firm represents Aera Energy, an oil company.

Rosenhall pointed out that oil companies traditionally fight climate policies pushed by California Democrats. But this year, “oil teamed with other business interests to lobby to make cap and trade more industry-friendly.”

Most environmental groups supported the bill to extend cap and trade until 2030. But some environmentalists saw it as being too easy on polluters, she wrote. Brown clearly was willing to compromise, as were several legislators.

Everyone, former legislators included, has the right to make money, so long as they don’t break any laws. No one suggests Perea, Rubio or Fuentes broke any law. But they and their clients do offer a new variation on Sacramento’s constantly revolving door.

Brown ought to exert a little influence of his own by signing Assembly Bill 1620, by Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Encino. This modest measure would bar legislators who quit mid-term from lobbying during the remainder of the legislative session, plus a year beyond that. The legislation won’t stop influence peddling. Nothing will. But every little bit helps.