San Joaquin Valley Farmers Funded Their Own Destruction! November 2008 High-Speed Rail Proposition Funded in Part by Committee Supporting March 2000 Water Bond

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I’ve been researching the sources of campaign support for Proposition 1A, the November 2008 statewide ballot measure (“Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century”) that authorized the California High-Speed Rail Authority to borrow up to $10 billion by selling bonds to investors.

Not surprisingly, self-interested construction industry corporations, organizations, and unions comprise all of the top ten donors to the main campaign committee, Californians for High Speed Trains – Yes on Proposition 1A – A Coalition of Taxpayer, Business, Environmental and Labor Groups and People from Across California Tired of Being Stuck In Traffic. (See list below.)

But the #11 donor is mysterious. Something called Californians for a Safe & Reliable High Speed Rail contributed the oddball amount of $53,487.86 to the campaign to pass Proposition 1A.

Here’s the list of the top eleven donors, including in-kind (non-monetary) campaign contributions, to Californians for High Speed Trains – Yes on Proposition 1A – A Coalition of Taxpayer, Business, Environmental and Labor Groups and People from Across California Tired of Being Stuck In Traffic:

1

California Alliance For Jobs Rebuild California Committee Union-Affiliated Labor-Management Cooperation Committee

$600,000

2

International Union of Operating Engineers Construction Union

$250,000

3

Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3 (Union & PAC) Construction Union

$250,000

4

California State Council of Laborers Issues PAC Construction Union

$100,000

5

Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) Public Employee Union

$100,000

6

Parsons Brinckerhoff Americas Inc. Construction Design/Engineering

$76,500

7

AECOM Tech Corporation Construction Design/Engineering

$75,000

8

International Union of Operating Engineers Local No. 12 Construction Union

$75,000

9

Members Voice of the State Building Trades Construction Union

$75,000

10

HNTB Corporation Construction Design/Engineering

$63,000

11

Californians for a Safe & Reliable High Speed Rail Remnant of $80 transferred from “Californians for Clean, Safe, Reliable Water – Yes on Propositions 12/13”

$53,487.86

It turns out that Californians for a Safe & Reliable High Speed Rail obtained all of its money from the leftover campaign funds of Californians for Clean Safe Reliable Water – Yes on Propositions 12/13, a committee meant to pass two statewide ballot propositions in the March 2000 election. Over the next five years, it spent some of that money on administrative fees and a few travel expenses for someone. It then terminated after transferring its remaining money to Californians for High Speed Trains – Yes on Proposition 1A – A Coalition of Taxpayer, Business, Environmental and Labor Groups and People from Across California Tired of Being Stuck In Traffic.

Here’s the historical record, in chronological order:

Californians for Clean Safe Reliable Water – Yes on Propositions 12/13 was formed in January 2000 to support two water-related bond measures on the March 2000 ballot: the $2.1 billion (not including interest) Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2000 (Prop 12) and the $2 billion (not including interest) Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Bond Act (Prop 13). Voters approved both statewide ballot propositions.

This campaign committee did not spend all of the money it raised. At the end of 2000 – ten months after Proposition 12 and Proposition 13 appeared on the ballot – Californians for Clean Safe Reliable Water – Yes on Propositions 12/13 still had $86,067.09.

In February 2003, the Californians for Clean, Safe, Reliable Water – Yes on Propositions 12/13 campaign committee was terminated. The leftover $80,800 was transferred to another campaign committee, Californians for a Safe Reliable High Speed Rail.

Californians for a Safe Reliable High Speed Rail appears to have been formed in the first three months of 2003, with the $80,800 contribution recorded as received on February 21, 2003. Initially, the campaign committee was making payments directly to James M. Costa for consulting and travel, as well as a $3,645.95 American Airlines bill and a $607.35 charge from the Fairmont – Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, Canada and also a $1,321.02 charge at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach, California. But after 2003, the money trickled away almost exclusively as fees to Olson Hagel & Fishburn LLP, a law firm that specializes in campaign and political law for Democratic Party operations in California and for many construction unions. The treasurer was listed as Charlene Chessum with an address at the Fresno zip code of 93711 and a phone number of (559) 264-3078. This phone number appears to have been related in some way to Jim Costa, and Ms. Chessum held various positions in association with Jim Costa.

In 2008, Californians for a Safe & Reliable High Speed Rail rose from dormancy and dumped its remaining funds through a contribution of $53,487.86 in June 2008 to a new campaign committee called Californians for High Speed Trains – Yes on Proposition 1A – A Coalition of Taxpayer, Business, Environmental and Labor Groups and People from Across California Tired of Being Stuck In Traffic.

Californians for a Safe & Reliable High Speed Rail was then terminated on June 10, 2008 (even though the election date for Proposition 1A wasn’t until November 2008).

The Irony: Campaign Contributions from San Joaquin Valley Farm Interests Ultimately Transferred to the Campaign to Shoot the High-Speed Rail through That Farmland

As you can see from the contributor list to Californians for Clean Safe Reliable Water – Yes on Propositions 12/13, agriculture interests in the San Joaquin Valley were a significant portion of the campaign funding for Proposition 12 and Proposition 13. The Fresno County Farm Bureau and the Kern County Farm Bureau contributed to “Californians for Clean, Safe, Reliable Water – Yes on Propositions 12/13,” along with numerous farms in Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Kern County.

The “Californians for a Safe & Reliable High Speed Rail” money bridge between “Californians for Clean Safe Reliable Water – Yes on Propositions 12/13” and “Californians for High Speed Trains – Yes on Proposition 1A” appears to be the work of Congressman Jim Costadescribed in this July 13, 2012 Wall Street Journal article as “the project’s godfather”. An August 2003 article from the Los Angeles-based publication The Planning Report identified Costa as the “campaign chair” for Californians for Safe, Reliable High-Speed Rail.

San Joaquin Valley farmers who contributed to the campaign to pass the water bonds in March 2000 may want to ask Congressman Jim Costa why some of their money ended up in November 2008 supporting the high-speed rail project now cutting through their farmland.