It's The Oil Industry, Stupid, But Is It Mail Fraud?

The mailer that landed in thousands of Angelenos’ mailboxes earlier this week slamming California’s signature legislation to slash petroleum use in cars and trucks in half by 2030 was sent by a grassrootsie-sounding group called the California Drivers Alliance.

It accused Senate pro Tem Kevin de Leon, sponsor of SB 350, of “fighting to empower unelected bureaucrats in Sacramento, and taking away power and choice from your own constituents.” The top of the mailer screamed: “Gasoline Restrictions hurt families in LA.” If the legislation passed, the mailer alleged it would make it tougher for families to drive to work or buy groceries.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the group would have understandably gone to a website called DriversAlliance.org because that was what was printed on the upper left of the mailer. But anyone who actually typed in that name would be directed to a website filled with information about driving in Texas and see that the domain name is for sale.

Now why would a mailer like that direct the public to such a website? Because the singular real interest behind the anything-but-grassroots California Drivers Alliance is the oil industry scared out of its mind that cutting demand for its product will bring down the price of gasoline. And the industry didn’t want to help the public figure that one out.

Now what would the public think if they knew that this whole grassrootsie campaign was really backed by Big Oil? They might support the legislation, God Forbid.

The last people the oil industry wants to help are the middle class and the working poor. If the legislation had passed in entirety, it would have actually helped middle class families and companies dependent on gasoline to cut the cost of driving. Middle class families would have more money to spend on groceries and other necessities if that happened, and the price of products could even fall.

Now how do we know that the California Drivers Alliance is bogus?

By going to their real website at californiadriversalliance.org

That page states right up front that the California Drivers Alliance is “a program of the Western States Petroleum Association.”

From there all anyone has to do is take a trip to the Western Petroleum Association’s website at WSPA.org  It reveals that the association “represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in the five western states of Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.” Not a word about regular folks who drive in that description.

Senate pro Tem Kevin de Leon could not have described better why the most important component of SB 350 was sacrificed:  “We could not cut through the multi-million-dollar smokescreen created by a single special-interest with a singular motive and a bottomless war chest.”

Sound like mail fraud? It could be. Federal Statute 940. 18 U.S.C. Section 1341 sets out two elements in mail fraud:  "(1) having devised or intending to devise a scheme to defraud (or to perform specified fraudulent acts), and (2) use of the mail for the purpose of executing, or attempting to execute, the scheme (or specified fraudulent acts)."

Clearly, the oil industry had a scheme to commit fraud, perpetrated for profit, by steering the public to a red herring website that masked the true financial interests behind the mailer. The oil industry used the mail to further that scheme, and had the specific intent of deceiving the public in order to continue to protect the oil industry’s future profits and its business model. 

That is why we are asking the California Attorney General and US Attorneys to investigate. Click here to read the letter.

Sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant.

Capitol Watchdog is owned and operated by nonprofit Consumer Watchdog. For more information about Consumer Watchdog visit http://www.consumerwatchdog.org

 
 

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