California’s legislators received $253,771.98 in 2016 in free trips, dinners, and hotel stays from groups at least partly funded by or affiliated with companies from the oil industry, according to legislators’ financial disclosure forms released last week.

The Energy and Policy Institute analyzed the disclosures, and we found a correlation between who got the most valuable gifts from Big Oil and the Democrats who voted with the oil industry the most.

With large Democratic majorities in California, the oil industry has pinned its hopes in the state on a group of so-called “moderate” Democrats that it has assiduously courted in recent years. (Republicans have tended to vote in lock-step with the oil industry.) Reporters have investigated how the oil industry has showered those Democrats with campaign contributions, but our analysis is the first that systematically looks at the gifts that oil companies and their allies have given to Democrats, in the form of free international and domestic travel, hotel stays, dinners, baseball tickets and bottles of wine and booze.

Oil-friendly voting correlated to higher average gift values

We found that the Democrats who voted for Big Oil interests the most received an average of $3,685 per year in gifts while in office between 2012 and 2016. That value was 2.5 times more than the$1,486 per year in office that Democrats who did not vote with Big Oil received in gifts during the same period.

It’s impossible to know whether the higher gifts have caused oil-friendly Democrats to vote more often with oil interests, or the gifts came as a reward for the voting, or some other type of causal relationship. It’s not impossible to imagine legislators becoming more sympathetic to the oil industry’s arguments as they hear them in Maui or at a Ritz Carlton, without hearing from public health or environmental advocates in the same setting. Studies from other fields have shown that even the smallest gifts can make a big difference: one 2016 study found that “as little as one free meal from a drug company can influence which medicines doctors prescribe for Medicare patients.”

From 2012 to 2016, the oil-affiliated groups gave legislators gifts with a value of $1.24 million. The total value of the gifts from oil-affiliated groups doubled from 2012 to 2015, before dropping back to 2013 levels in 2016. The data for the analysis came from the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which mandates disclosure of gifts to public office holders.

The dataset for the analysis is available here.

Flights to Maui, dinner in Napa and Newport Beach, a stay at the Ritz

Examples of gifts that oil-affiliated groups gave to California’s legislators in 2016 included:

  • The California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA), a trade association for oil companies, paid for the meals and hotel for 13 legislators at a “symposium” in Newport Beach from December 8th to 9th. The legislators were Thomas Berryhill (R), Kansen Chu (D), James Frazier (D), Cathleen Galgiani (D), Mike Gipson (D), Christopher Holden (D), Patrick O’Donnell (D), Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D), and Blanca Rubio (D), Steven Choi (R), Vince Fong (R), Rudy Salas (D), Thomas Berryhill (R).
  • The California Issues Forum (CIF) feted eight legislators, all Democrats, with a hotel room, meals, and transportation to Napa, California. CIF’s funders include Chevron and other oil companies, and it focuses on influencing “moderate” Democrats on behalf of corporations. The legislators were Autumn Burke, Jim Cooper, Jim Frazier, Mike Gipson, Adam Gray, Rudy Salas, Freddie Rodriguez, and Timothy Grayson.
  • The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), regarded as the most powerful voice for California’s oil industry, paid $1,600 for Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D) to attend its annual conference on October 4th at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay. Salas was the top recipient of gifts from oil-affiliated groups in 2016.
  • The Independent Voter Project, which receives funding from oil companies including Chevron, spent an average of about $3,000 per legislator flying, hosting and feeding nine lawmakers at its infamous annual Maui conference, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The legislators were James Cooper (D), Mike Gipson (D), Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D), Freddie Rodriguez (D), Tom Daly (D), Joes Medina (D), Miguel Santiago (D), Thomas Berryhill (R), Cathleen Galgiani (D) and Franklin Bigelow (R).

Top Recipients:

The legislators who received the highest value of gifts from oil-affiliated groups in 2016 were:

Legislator Value of Gifts Received, 2016
Rudy Salas (D-32nd Assembly District) $24,549.33
Robert Wieckowski (D-10th Senate District) $23,156.51
Rocky Chavez (R-76th Assembly District) $13,747.99
Christopher Holden (D-41st Assembly District) $13,690.49
Anthony Cannella (R-12th Senate District) $13,274.63
Ricardo Lara (D-33rd Senate District) $12,633.71
Cristina Garcia (D-58th Assembly District) $12,369.13
Evan Low (D-28th Assembly District) $11,908.95
Chad Mayes (R-42nd Assembly District) $11,664.99
James Wood (D- 2nd Assembly District) $11,182.31

The legislators who received the highest value of gifts from oil-affiliated groups from 2012 to 2016 were:

Legislator* Value of Gifts Received, 2012 – 2016
Anthony Cannella (R-12th Senate District) $84,355.17
Cristina Garcia (D-58th Assembly District) $63,066.56
Steven Bradford (D-62nd Assembly District) $48,963.69
Kristin Olsen (R-12th Assembly District) $47,966.15
Robert Wieckowski (D-25th Assembly District (2012-2014), 10th Senate District (2015-2016)) $47,568.00
Ricardo Lara (D-33rd Senate District) $43,981.19
Shirley Weber (D-79th Assembly District) $42,884.39
Marc Levine (D-10th Assembly District) $39,613.52
Henry Perea (D-31st Assembly District) $37,902.15
Rudy Salas (D-32nd Assembly District) $32,480.28
*All office position reflect title during analysis


To discern whether the gifts are correlated with more pro-oil voting patterns, we analyzed the value of the gifts received by so-called “Moderate Democrats” who have voted with the oil industry’s interests, as well as those Democrats who did not, over the 2012 – 2016 period.

“Moderate” Democrats who vote with Big Oil, average gift per year, 2012 – 2016 Other Democrats who vote against Big Oil, average gift per year, 2012 – 2016
$3,685 $1,486

Since there is no formal “Moderate Democrat” caucus, we examined how legislators voted on 15 oil-related bills, as well a 2014 sign-on letter related to climate legislation, to develop the group of Democrats we considered to have been most friendly to oil interests. We considered any legislator who voted with the oil industry in 33 percent or more of the available opportunities, and at least twice overall, as part of that oil-friendly caucus. We considered the following legislation: 

Assembly: Senate:
AB 669: Protecting water supplies from fracking (2013)

SB 1096: Oil & gas coastal sanctuaries (2014)

An Anti-AB32 sign-on letter from 2014

SB 32: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions (2015)

AB 356: Oil & gas groundwater monitoring (2015)

AB 197: Climate Equity and Transparency Act (2016)

AB 1550: Investing cap-and-trade funds in disadvantaged communities (2016)

AB 1937: Environmental justice in power plant siting (2016)

SB 32: California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2016 (2016)

SB 1054: Tell your neighbor if you’re fracking (2012)

AB 8: Investing in cleaner cars (2013)

SB 1132: Fracking moratorium (2014)

SB 32: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions (2015)

SB 248: Oil and gas extraction chemicals—underground injection (2015)

SB 454: Protecting drinking water from oil & gas (2015)

SB 32: California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2016 (2016)

We included 16 oil-affiliated groups in its analysis. They were:

Group/Company Total Gift Value to Legislators, 2012 – 2016
California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy $764,747.85
Independent Voter Project $221,774.75
California Issues Forum $77,609.68
California Independent Petroleum Association $51,636.41  
CA Chamber of Commerce $45,224.50
Pacific Northwest Economic Region- Legislative Energy Horizon Institute $21,029.52
American Legislative Exchange Council $18,176.64
Western States Petroleum Alliance $12,180.40  
CA Foundation For Commerce & Education $12,874.17
California Manufacturers & Technology Association $4,754.34
Holmes Western Oil Corporation $4,455.88
Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce $3,480.38
Phillips 66 $3,170.36
California Business Roundtable $2,374.71
Orange County Business Council $732.43
Chevron $200.00

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill in 2014 that would have limited gifts to $200 and banned amusement park and sports tickets.

Posted by David Pomerantz

David Pomerantz is the Executive Director of the Energy and Policy Institute.