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Corporate Farmer Calls Upon Sen. Feinstein to Influence Environmental Dispute
Posted on Dec 6, 2009
By Lance Williams, California Watch
Underpinning their fortune is agribusiness—70,000 acres of pistachios and almonds, 48,000 acres of citrus and pomegranates—most of it in Kern County at the south end of the San Joaquin Valley, and all requiring irrigation to survive.
Resnick said he makes political donations “without much real strategy,” other than to give to centrists from both parties. Water issues aren’t a major factor, he said.
Records show Resnick often contributes to politicians with power over the bureaucracies that make decisions affecting farming’s financial bottom line.
Since 1993, the Resnicks have given $1.6 million to California governors, key players in determining state water policy. Their donation pattern seems nonpartisan, with the money following who’s in power.
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The Resnicks also backed the Democrat who replaced Wilson, Gray Davis. They gave Davis $643,000 and $91,500 more to oppose Davis’ recall in 2003.
With Davis gone, Resnick began donating to Arnold Schwarzenegger—$221,000, records show — plus $50,000 to a foundation that pays for the governor’s foreign travel.
Other big donations include $776,000 to Democratic political committees; $134,000 to agribusiness political committees and initiatives; and $59,000 to Republican committees.
The Resnicks have developed easy access to some of the politicians to whom they donate.
Schwarzenegger has called them “some of my dearest, dearest friends,” and like Feinstein, he has urged a review of the science behind the delta restoration plan. Davis appointed Resnick co-chair to a special state committee on water and agriculture.
A more enduring benefit came during Wilson’s administration, when Paramount Farms gained part ownership of what was to have been a state-owned storage bank for surplus water.
As recounted in a report by the advocacy group Public Citizen, in the 1980s state water officials devised a plan to ease the impact of future droughts by collecting excess water during rainy years and storing it underground.
Resnick said the state had been unable to develop the water bank and gave up on the project. The local agencies and his company spent about $50 million to engineer the project and make the bank a success, he said.
Paramount’s control of the bank continues to infuriate some environmentalists. In recent dry years, the bank sold some of its stored water back to the state at a premium, Public Citizen reported.
“Resnick likes to call himself a farmer, but he is in the business of selling public water, with none of the profits returned to the taxpayers,” says Walter Shubin, a director of the Revive the San Joaquin environmental group in Fresno.
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When she first emerged as a statewide candidate in the 1990 governor’s race, Feinstein made little headway in the Central Valley, and she was defeated by Wilson. After she was elected to the Senate two years later, Feinstein set out to befriend farmers.
The Resnicks contributed $4,000 to Feinstein’s 1994 re-election campaign. When she ran again in 2000, they gave her $7,000. Resnick also donated $225,000 to Democratic political committees that were active in key Democratic races.
Resnick said he first got to know Feinstein personally 10 or 12 years ago because the senator also has a second home in Aspen.
In August 2000, when the Democratic National Convention was in Los Angeles, the Resnicks hosted a cocktail party for Feinstein in their home. Among the guests were the singer Nancy Sinatra, then-Gov. Davis and former President Jimmy Carter, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In 2007, they gave $10,000 to the Fund for the Majority, Feinstein’s political action committee. In June, another committee to which Resnick has contributed, the California Citrus Mutual PAC, spent $2,500 to host a fundraiser for Feinstein, records show.
Feinstein also socializes with the Resnicks. Arianna Huffington, the blog editor and former candidate for governor, told The New York Observer in 2006 that she had
On Aug. 26, Feinstein met with growers and water agency officials in Coalinga, Fresno County. While there, she told The Fresno Bee that she wanted the U.S. Interior Department to reconsider the biological opinions underlying the delta protection plan.
The following week, she received the letter from Resnick, which was first reported by the Contra Costa Times. She then sent her own letters to Interior Secretary Salazar and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Days later, the administration agreed to pay $750,000 to have the National Academy of Sciences restudy the scientific issues underlying the delta protection plan.
Last month, state lawmakers enacted a package of measures aimed at reforming the state’s outmoded water allocation system. The centerpiece—an $11 billion bond to build new dams and canals—must be approved by voters.
California Watch is a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, with offices in the Bay Area and Sacramento.
This story was edited by Mark Katches and copy-edited by William Cooley at California Watch.
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