Chevron Trying to Buy City Hall in California Refinery Town

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 16 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is stepping into a battle in Richmond, California, where the oil giant Chevron has sunk at least $3 million into a municipal election that pits anti-Chevron candidates for mayor and city council against candidates backed by the owner of a giant petroleum refinery in the Bay Area city.

“Chevron is trying to buy the Richmond City Hall. We can’t let them get away with it,” Sanders said. “This is not what democracy is supposed to be about.”

One of Chevron’s prime targets is the current mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, an oil company critic who is running for a seat on the city council. Sanders will appear with her and other progressive city council members at a town meeting tonight at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium.

Chevron is able to spend millions of dollars to try to displace McLaughlin and her allies on the city council with company-friendly candidates because of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that voided decades-old laws against corporate campaign spending. 

“Three million dollars may sound like a lot of money, but to Chevron it’s nothing.  Over the past decade Chevron has made more than $200 billion in profits ripping off Americans at the gas pump, even as it has paid hundreds of millions in fines for polluting the air we breathe, the water we drink, violating health and safety laws and evading taxes.  We cannot allow a company like Chevron that has thumbed its nose at the law to buy politicians,” Sanders said. 

Sanders is a co-sponsor of a constitutional amendment that would undo the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Senate Republicans on Sept. 11 blocked consideration of the amendment.

Chevron’s campaign in California is a vivid example of how the Supreme Court has corrupted the electoral process in the United States by letting corporations and billionaires spend unlimited sums to sway elections. Nationwide, the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are funneling hundreds of millions into campaigns and candidates who would shower the wealthy with more tax breaks while cutting programs that help working families.

In Richmond, Sanders renewed his call for voters to go to the polls on Nov. 4. He said elections in non-presidential election years often see turnouts of fewer than 40 percent of eligible voters. “We are not living in a democracy when 60 percent of Americans are not voting, while billionaires like the Koch Brothers are spending hundreds of millions to buy the United States Senate. We are not living in a democracy when giant corporations like Chevron can buy local governments. That's called oligarchy, not democracy.  We have got to fight back,” Sanders said.