Thursday, June 03, 2010

Voter literacy lab - Astroturfing on California's Proposition 16

Updated. (Jump to update)

OK, boys and girls -

Today's San Francisco Chronicle has a full-page ad urging you to vote Yes on what they call the "Taxpayers Right to Vote Act", Proposition 16. The ad prominently features endorsements and stirring quotes from:

* Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council;
* Hunter Stern of the Coalition for Green Jobs;
* Darnell Turner of the Contra Costa NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)

Does this create the impression that Bay Area leaders, green job folk, and - ahem - colored people support this initiative? Do you think "Taxpayer's Right to Vote" aptly conveys the initiative's purpose?

OK, here's your exercise: do two minutes of googling or other research, and report back what you found. Don't be shy.

I'll return shortly.

OK, back now*. And you were shy.

Here's what I found -

The best overall resource I saw was Ballotpedia on Prop 16, which notes that the initiative's title is actually "the New Two-Thirds Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers Act".

Ballotpedia then goes on to say*:
"If Proposition 16 is approved by voters, it will take a two-thirds vote of the electorate before a public agency could enter the retail power business. This will make it more difficult than it is currently for local entities to form either municipal utilities, or community wide clean electricity districts called Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs).
Pacific Gas & Electric is the primary financial sponsor of the initiative, having contributed $46.1 million through May 25, 2010. That makes PG&E the Goliath in a David-v-Goliath battle, since Prop 16's opponents have raised less than $50,000 through mid-May.[2],[3]
As of May 25, 2010, utility company Pacific Gas & Electric has given $41.1 million to the campaign for a "yes" vote. One other donor, the California Chamber of Commerce, has contributed slightly less than $100,000 to the campaign.
(If you prefer to go straight to the source, for campaign finance info, you could visit the Calif. Secretary of State Prop. 16 page (link).)

As for the quoted supporters in the Yes-on-16 ad, their organizations either have PG&E entanglements or a history that suggests such entanglements are likely:

Hunter Stern's "Coalition for Green Jobs" smells like serious (or laughable) astroturf; it has no website, and there's no indication of what groups, if any, are in the coalition.
Googling reveals that its previous spokesman was a fellow named
Scott Wetch (link), who is * a lobbyist with Carter Wetch & Associates (link), whose clients include the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1245, which "represents utility workers in CA, NV, OR and ID." (link) - which include PG&E workers ("PG&E’s highly skilled and experienced meter test and repair personnel are members of the IBEW" - link)

And "Coalition" current spokesman Hunter Stern is also with this PG&E union ("Hunter Stern, IBEW Local 1245" leader - link)

(I've left a message for Mr. Stern and an email for the Yes-on-16 folks, asking who's in this Coalition; but until we hear otherwise, we should probably expect the answer to be "PG&E workers".)


Darnell Turner of the Contra Costa NAACP
It's probably unfair to single out Mr. Turner and his local NAACP chapter, since the Prop 16 supporters do include "California State Conference NAACP including 53 local branches" (link)

So let's keep in mind that the California NAACP has a history of throwing its support behind dubious measures while accepting support from the motivated party - in October 2006,
"The head of the California branch of the NAACP acknowledged that she and her organization have received tens of thousands of dollars from tobacco companies, but said that has nothing to do with the group's opposition to a tobacco tax on the Nov. 7 ballot." (link)

Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council -
I know little about Bay Area Council President and CEO Wunderman. (Though if you want to know more, here's an SF Chron profile)

PG&E and the Bay Area Council do have financial entanglements; PG&E is a BAC contributing member, giving them 52k dues in 2006 (pdf link) and 25k dues in 2008 (pdf link), and giving the Bay Area Council Foundation $15,000 in 2009 (pdf link).

...though I haven't checked to see what % of BAC's funding these contributions provide.
(and should probably do so)

That's pretty much what I turned up; but if you google, you'll find plenty of other (better) blog posts and articles shining a light on the PG&E Prop 16 efforts.
I think next time I'll just contribute directly to Ballotpedia, and point you there.

June 9 Update: California rejects shady Proposition 16

1 comment:

Matt H said...

Great post. Why isn't the media covering this? Anyone with a computer and a few minutes of spare time can uncover how threadbare the support for Prop 16 is.

Why on earth should local government need a 2/3 vote just to study re-asserting some local control over their power? The bar shouldn't be the same as, It shouldn't require the same super-majority as amending the state constitution.

PG&E's attempt to perpetuate its monopoly is so baldfaced and brazen, I really don't understand how their employees and shareholders allow this in good conscience.