Prop 23 and Out of State Interests

Thomas Friedman’s latest column on “The Terminator vs. Big Oil” adds another dimension to the rampant campaign finance conflicts of interest inherent in our political system.

In particular, Friedman shines a spotlight on California Prop 23, which “proposes to suspend implementation of A.B. 32 until California achieves four consecutive quarters of unemployment below 5.5 percent. It is currently above 12 percent.” A.B. 32, or California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, was designed to put California on a path to reducing greenhouse gases in its air to 1990 levels by 2020, and at the time it was enacted had the support “of Republicans, Democrats, businesses and environmentalists.”

But now, according to Governor Schwarzenegger, speaking at an energy forum last week in Sacramento:

“It is very clear that the oil companies from outside the state that are trying to take out A.B. 32, and trying to take out our environmental laws, have no interest in suspending it, but just to get rid of it… They want to kill A.B. 32. Otherwise they wouldn’t put this provision in there about the 5.5 percent unemployment rate. It’s very rare that California in the last 40 years had an unemployment rate of below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. They’re not interested in our environment; they are only interested in greed and filling their pockets with more money… And they are very deceptive when they say they want to go and create more jobs in California… Since when has [an] oil company ever been interested in jobs? Let’s be honest. If they really are interested in jobs, they would want to protect A.B. 32, because actually it’s green technology that is creating the most jobs right now in California, 10 times more than any other sector.”

In particular, Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro “have led the charge against the landmark climate law, along with Koch Industries, the giant oil conglomerate owned by right-wing megafunders Charles and David Koch. Koch recently donated $1 million to the effort and has been supporting front groups involved in the campaign.”

For me, this raises some interesting questions. At the federal level, foreign interests are technically prohibited from making political contributions (although there is reason to suspect they are being circumvented and not adequately enforced). Why don’t states adopt similar regulations with regard to out of state interests — corporate or otherwise? After all, why should the citizens of a state be held hostage to outside interests of any kind? It seems that residents of a state should have more say over their own governance than a couple of businesses who happen to have facilities located there. Of course, the same goes for other activists.