Residents of the Santa Barbara County hamlet of Casmalia are often treated to the sights and sounds of missiles launched from nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base.
But something else has begun rocketing skyward in Casmalia: the prices charged by Casmite Corp., the small local water company that’s owned by oil giant Chevron Texaco. Water rates will be going up 89.73 percent over the next three years for the fewer than 200 residents of Casmalia, which is also afflicted by a major hazardous waste dump that has been the target of cleanup efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency since 1992.
Why should anyone else care about water rates in tiny Casmalia? Because they just might be one of the most recent manifestations of a principle set forth by Arnold Schwarzenegger when he began his run for governor in August 2003.
“Any of these kinds of real big, powerful special interests, if you take money from them, you owe them something,” Schwarzenegger intoned. Since then, he’s taken more than $128 million from precisely such special interests for his various campaign committees. And despite his more recent denials that contributors get anything, he knew in 2003 that by accepting their money he would unquestionably owe them something. What has changed since then?
Among his largest donors is Chevron Texaco, which plunked $100,000 into the kitty of the governor’s Dream Team Committee in early May, moving into 14th place on the list of his contributors with a total of $765,800 over five years.
Was it coincidence that the state Public Utilities Commission, controlled by Schwarzenegger appointees, within days gave Casmite an increase it had been seeking off and on for five years?
Nobody can be sure. But the rate increase will mean more than $100,000 in new revenue for Casmite (read: Chevron Texaco) over the next five years, which covers the donation. Anything after that is gravy. The amount is peanuts to Chevron Texaco, whose record-level profits of the last few years have been in the tens of billions of dollars. But giant corporations pay attention to their small subsidiaries, too.
This was merely the most recent example of suspicious-looking possible links between Schwarzenegger’s receipt of campaign donations and public policy decisions directly affecting the donors.
The list of these actions doesn’t even include actions benefiting companies that help pay Schwarzenegger’s often-extravagant travel expenses through a committee that grants them virtual anonymity, or companies that help pay for state-sponsored Schwarzenegger-run events like the Border Governors Conference coming up within the next month.
Schwarzenegger and his aides maintain his own wealth, estimated at more than $120 million, insulates him from undue influence by donors. “He never takes actions because of what anyone contributes,” press aide Aaron McLear has often said.
But yet… what about the fact that Sempra Energy has kicked in hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, and Schwarzenegger has twice killed legislative efforts to mandate public hearings on whether California needs liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports, featuring sworn testimony and cross-examination of witnesses?
What about his Air Resources Board drastically scaling back last spring its longstanding zero emission vehicle requirements for 2010 and beyond in a move strongly pushed by the auto industry, which has contributed $3.75 million to Schwarzenegger?
What about his taking several hundred thousand dollars from the former SBC Corp. shortly before the PUC okayed its merger into the new AT&T, creating more concentration in the communications industry than has existed since the breakup of the old Ma Bell in the early 1980s? That merger could not have happened without the PUC action, and – oddly enough – AT&T has given very little to Schwarzenegger since.
The list goes on and on. It’s every bit as egregious as the similar “coincidences” that occurred under former Governor Gray Davis. His relations with campaign donors created an aura of corruption that led to his recall and Schwarzenegger’s election.
It’s been plain for many months that if Schwarzenegger didn’t clean up his fundraising act, his administration would be forever tainted. Plainly, Schwarzenegger has not changed, has not even begun to worry about how his fund-raising casts doubt on his integrity. The Casmalia action is merely the latest questionable event – and one of the smallest.