Communications behemoth AT&T is the single largest corporate dispenser of political cash in the Capitol -- about $14,000 a day for the past seven years, by one estimate -- and the company wields a profound influence on public policies affecting millions of Californians. The LAT's Anthony York and Shane Goldmacher tell the tale.
"Many of the company's victories have come at the California Public Utilities Commission, a five-member panel appointed by the governor that oversees the telecommunications industry. Its members have waved through mergers, limited regulations on cellular service and helped AT&T rebuild itself into a telecom behemoth almost 30 years after it was split apart in the wake of a federal antitrust case."
"The rest of AT&T's wins come at the state Capitol, where the company focuses most of its lobbying efforts. There, lawmakers have passed bills that have translated into millions of dollars for the firm's bottom line and stopped dozens of measures that AT&T has opposed."
"The core of the firm's strategy has long been the two-day Speaker's Cup, the jewel of the legislative fundraising circuit. There is an annual golf outing in Del Mar for the Capitol's minority Republicans, but it raises a fraction of what Democrats get at Pebble Beach."
Speaking of politics and money, state Sen.Tony Strickland, a Ventura County Republican who is running for a House seat, is proving to be a prolific fund raiser. He's bringing in more than $10,400 a day, more than all but a handful of the 1,347 House contenders across the country. The Ventura County Star's Timm Herdt has the story.
"Only one Republican challenger nationwide outpaced Strickland — Joseph Carvin, of New York, a partner in a hedge fund who outpaced Strickland only because he wrote himself a $1 million check."
"Strickland, the lone Republican among six candidates running in Ventura County's 26th Congressional District, raised $781,804 from the day he entered the race, Jan. 17, through the end of the first quarter, March 31 — an average of $10,424 a day."
"He's definitely one of the top fundraisers among all Republican challengers," said Dan Scarpinato, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "It was an extremely strong quarter."
And continuing the politics-money theme, the Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund, a California pool of money financed by casino-owning tribes, has provided millions of dollars over the years to ease the local impacts of casinos, including paying for police services and medical facilities. The Fund always has been a bright spot in California's otherwise dismal fiscal picture, but now a curious thing is happening -- the fund is shrinking.
From the Press-Enterprise's Jim Miller: "No county has benefited from the tribe-supported fund as much as Riverside, which has received $77 million since 2003, almost one-half of the mitigation money allocated statewide. San Bernardino County has received $11 million, about 6 percent of the total."
"Now the account is sliding toward insolvency. Revised gaming agreements have redirected some tribes’ payments, shrinking the fund’s balance to $5 million in June 2013, down from $115 million in 2010 and nearly $200 million in the middle of the past decade."
“It’s certainly on a downward trend,” said Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, who leads the local committee that reviews proposals to spend the money. Its demise, he said, is among the contributors to local agencies’ budget problems."
Californians appear to be engaged in the political process -- their voter registration figures reflect that -- but they are disenchanted with both major political parties.
From Capitol Weekly's John Howard: "Increasingly, the voters are leaving the Democrats and Republicans in droves and are declining to state a party preference. And they are not going to smaller, lesser known parties."
"Of California’s 23.7 million people who are eligible to vote, about 17 million, or 71.9 percent, actually have registered – the highest level since the 1996 presidential election when Bill Clinton won a second term."
"Of those voters who have registered, 21.3 percent – better than one in five – declined to align themselves with a political party. The unprecedented statewide level of decline-to-state voters has nearly doubled over the past 15 years."
Fuel and heating-oil prices are at near-record levels, but in some cases there actually is a glut of oil on the market -- clear evidence that the time-honored supply-and-demand dynamic doesn't seem to be working.
From the Chronicle's Eric Nalder: "The tanker's inability to unload its oil underlines a startling reality: Crude oil supplies in the United States have been at historic highs for two years, while Americans are using less of its most important product - gasoline. The Gulf Coast is particularly glutted with crude, due in part to a pipeline bottleneck. But federal statistics show another recent development: West Coast refineries are decreasing their production as the domestic demand for gasoline shrinks."
"If there is so much crude oil around, why is the price of gasoline so high? Why is the price of heating oil so high?" asked Dan Lawn, an environmental consultant who was in the same job as Kotula for decades before he retired in 2005."
"The BP refinery in northern Washington had been shut down due to a February fire when the Alaskan Explorer arrived there on April 6. But that doesn't explain the tanker's return to Valdez with a big load of oil. Refinery spokesman Bill Kidd acknowledged that in normal times, the ship would have delivered the remainder of its cargo to a nearby refinery (there are three of them)."
The problems of CalSTRS, the nation's second-largest public pension system, often are overshadowed by those of CalPERS, the nation's largest public pension fund. But CalSTRS has its issues, too, including whether more money needs to be put into the fund.
From CalPensions' Ed Mendel: "Actuaries estimate that the total annual contribution to the pension system, 19.4 percent of payroll, would have to be increased by an additional 12.9 percent of pay (about $3.25 billion) to fully fund pensions promised over the next three decades."
"Each year that a contribution increase is delayed, the additional amount needed for full funding is expected to grow roughly half of one percent of pay, Milliman actuaries Nick Collier and Mark Olleman told the CalSTRS board earlier this month."
“Each year we defer there is an additional cost . . . all other things being equal,” Collier said."
"Unlike nearly all public pension systems in California, the California State Teachers Retirement System lacks the power to set annual contribution rates that must be paid by employers, needing legislation instead."
Researchers say tobacco marketing is targeting California's low-income and African American youth, with their findings derived in part from the distribution of the avdertising.
From California Watch's Bernice Yeung: "Henriksen’s research, published last year, found that as the proportion of black students increased at a California high school, so did the share of both menthol-related advertising and Newport brand promotions at nearby retailers."
"The study looked at all cigarette advertising, but specifically analyzed promotions and price discounts for Newport and Marlboro, two of the most popular brands with underage smokers, researchers said."
"The University of Michigan’s Robert Lipton also presented research at the briefing showing that in the Los Angeles area, communities that tended to be dense, poor and minority had greater rates of underage tobacco sales."