Ventura County voters have seen a surge of advertisements in the mail for the Third District Supervisor race. Those who read the fine print have noticed the source: a political action committee called “Keep Ventura County Working,” supporting Republican Kelly Long for County Supervisor. If you read its campaign finance disclosure forms, you’ll find this PAC is financed by huge checks written by Big Oil trying to buy Ventura County elections.
The state’s largest oil companies and lobbyists have suddenly flooded this County Supervisor race with unprecedented amounts of money. They know that they can only get more oil drilling approved throughout Ventura County if they control this swing seat. And they want a candidate in their pocket so they can avoid responsible oversight that would protect our community from water contamination, air pollution and oil spills.
The biggest check is $100,000 from California Resources Corporation, the state’s largest oil and gas company. This year it won a narrowly divided 3-2 Board of Supervisors vote to approve a major new drilling project in Santa Paula Canyon (the popular Punch Bowls hiking trail) despite staunch public opposition. Could it be a coincidence that the most controversial new oil project in the county comes from a corporation with a sudden deep interest in county elections?
This is how oil lobbyists move their pieces on the chessboard. The California Independent Petroleum Association, which started this PAC, spent $60,000 in September trying to buy the Santa Barbara County Supervisor race under the name “Keep Santa Barbara County Working.” A day after Big Oil filed papers to close that PAC, it opened the identical cookie-cutter “Keep Ventura County Working.” It’s now shifted its crosshairs to unload $160,000 into our election to try to take down Democrat Carla Castilla. Both PACs are run by the same infamous right-wing political operative: Thomas Hiltachk, whom The Huffington Post called the “Master of Deception,” and whose law firm The New Yorker said “specializes in initiatives that are the opposite of what they sound like.”
Just how obscene is this amount of money in a local election? In one fell swoop the oil lobby cut a check for nearly as much as both candidates combined have raised over the course of the entire campaign. Ventura County’s clean elections law limits candidates to fundraising from small donations of $750 or less. Carla Castilla has raised $123,000 this way, while Kelly Long has only managed to raise $87,000 from her smaller base of local supporters. But with a bailout from Big Oil, Kelly Long has pulled far ahead. Oil companies don’t have to follow the $750 contribution limit because they’re making an independent expenditure — writing huge checks to send their own advertisements directly to voters.
Locals saw oil spills in Ventura this year and Santa Barbara last year due to irresponsibility of the industry and lack of oversight by regulators. The Santa Clara Valley is seeing a major increase in oil drilling, including dangerous fracking. We need Ventura County leaders accountable to our local community’s concerns about oil spills and water contamination, not bought by the faraway shareholders of huge corporations like California Resources Corp.
Carla Castilla has a proven track record of working alongside our community to protect our environment. She worked to stop the world’s largest mining company from building the LNG terminal off our coast that would have been the No. 1 source of pollution in Ventura County. She advocated for cleanup of the Halaco toxic waste site in the middle of the Ormond Beach Wetlands. She supports SOAR, Ventura County’s landmark open space law that’s prevented our farmland and hillsides from being paved over with sprawl. And she’s taken a stand against the Calpine power plant being proposed in Santa Paula.
Why are oil companies spending so much money to oppose Carla? Because they know she will side with the people of Ventura County and our environment when it’s time to make tough decisions. But voters should wonder — if Kelly Long is elected, how will she pay back the $160,000 debt she owes to the oil industry?
Lucas Zucker is Policy Director at CAUSE Action Fund, a local organization that advocates for social, economic and environmental justice. CAUSE Action Fund is endorsing Carla Castilla for County Supervisor.