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Corporate Farmer Calls Upon Sen. Feinstein to Influence Environmental Dispute

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Posted on Dec 6, 2009

Stewart and Lynda Resnick

By Lance Williams, California Watch

(Page 2)

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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In the 1990s, they gave $238,000 to Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, records show, although Resnick says he doesn’t recall giving to Wilson and doesn’t think he ever met him. 

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. 

Hedging Bets

The Resnicks have developed easy access to some of the politicians to whom they donate.

Click here to view an interactive graphic and documents related to this story.

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.

The water was to be pumped south via the California Aqueduct, then put into a vast aquifer in Kern County that could hold a year’s water supply for 1 million homes. The state spent about $75 million to buy a 20,000-acre site and to design the water bank. But in 1994, state water officials transferred the water bank site to the local Kern County Water Agency in exchange for significant water rights, Resnick said. The water agency developed the water bank in partnership with four other public agencies and one private business—a subsidiary of Paramount Farms. Paramount wound up controlling a 48 percent share of the bank.

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.

A Supportive Community

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.

Her attention to agriculture and water issues has paid off, says Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a former Wilson aide

“That community has been very supportive of her, much more for her than for most statewide Democrats,” Schnur says. 

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
spent New Year’s with Feinstein at the Resnicks’ home in Aspen. “We wore silly hats and had lots of streamers and everything,” she said of the party.

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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By ardee, December 9, 2009 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

Rice addendum:
According to estimates for the 2006 crop year, rice production in the U.S. is valued at $1.88 billion, approximately half of which is expected to be exported. The U.S. provides about 12% of world rice trade.[24] The majority of domestic utilization of U.S. rice is direct food use (58%), while 16 percent is used in processed foods and beer respectively. The remaining 10 percent is found in pet food.[24]
source: good old Wiki

The problems with both rice and wheat crops, from the standpoint of an avid fisherman, is that when the fields are flooded for rice, or watered for wheat and alfalfa the salmon eggs and the striped bass young are the most vulnerable. The pumps destroy striped bass and the lowered water levels warm the water and leave the eggs vulnerable to rot.

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By cabdriver, December 9, 2009 at 10:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rice is also a big water user in California- I think it’s the crop that uses the second largest amount.

But rice has some ameliorating factors going for it. For one thing, it’s a food crop. Also, an increasing acreage is devoted to organic rice farming. Additionally, in the case of rice the water floods the fields, after the fashion of paddies- and subsequently, much of it runs back off into the watershed of the rivers. The rice fields are in close proximity to riparian areas, which means that to some extent the water isn’t so much soaked up as it is borrowed. It helps to sustain a healthy waterfowl habitat, for instance, working as what might be termed a domesticated wetland.

Obviously, the rice fields and nut groves of the Sacramento Valley aren’t nearly as verdant and productive to widlife as the original bottomlands and wetlands of the Delta, which used to resemble an American Serengeti. But the Sacramento Valley ecosystem did need to be tamed, in order to allow for permanent human settlement. The rivers are hemmed in fairly effectively by levees, these days. And there’s still a healthy wildlife habitat coexisting with the farm fields and the rice paddies. The Yolo Causeway area is a fantastic bird refuge, both for waterfowl, cranes, and herons, and for raptors- hawks, falcons, owls. The fish habitat could be healthier, but the dewatering problems are largely due to the excessive demands from other crops besides rice or orchard crops, along with some other problems- hangovers from having spawning beds churned up by gold mining operations, and tributary habitat that’s been upset by deforestation.

Possibly there’s an argument to be made that California presently raises too much rice- 500,000 acres- for its semiarid climate region, as compared to a state like Louisiana, which used to be the primary rice bowl state. But as far as its effects on the California ecosystem- I think it’s a good thing that the state raises a healthy crop here. The wetland effect of the rice crop is pretty beneficient.

Meanwhile, Louisiana has ecological problems of its own- too much use of the coastline for ship channels and oil operations, with resulting salt water intrusion. That state is losing a huge amount of habitat, for both wildlife and humans. Read the last section of the book Game Wars, by Marc Reisner. It’s a very succinct summary of the problem. Unlike California, Louisiana doesn’t appear to have had any forethought or protections put in place to manage sustainable development. Politically, Louisiana is in the pocket of Big Oil and Petro-Ag, and those particular PTBs don’t even seem to want to get a clue, much less having one.

And that’s a terrible shame, because the Mississippi Delta is a fish, shellfish, waterfowl, and wildlife treasure trove that’s right up there with the Chesapeake Bay. A natural protein factory.

Like the Sacramento Delta, and the San Joaquin and Sacramento-American-Feather-Yuba River network, for that matter. There’s no need to squander these things. It just takes some effort and planning, and some give-back. Allow a generous margin for the riparian areas, and they’ll do the nursery and growing work for you. All that needs to be done is the harvesting.

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By Leefeller, December 9, 2009 at 8:39 am Link to this comment

Cabdriver’s post provides insight into what has become the problem, my question is, what of other crops besides alfalfa and cotton, rice for instance?

Not really being aware of the water issue, most people may want to keep up on it for in the future it will be much more important.

Regulations vs non regulations and politics the eternal monkey wrench!

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By drklassen, December 9, 2009 at 4:48 am Link to this comment

I’m not sure I see “the problem” here.  This doesn’t read like a corporation or corporate industry group pumping loads and loads of money towards a candidate.  This sounds more like what what election funding ought to be: individuals making their full, individual, contributions.  That they have bundled them together to make a point on their issues, doesn’t bother me.

Doing the math, $3.97M over 25 years is just under $160k per year.  The article fails to tell us how many “executives” are in this pool, but based on FEC papers for 20009-10 the limits any one person can contribute to campaigns is $115.5k (split up into limits to individuals per election, national and local parties, etc.).  If we assume that, on average, these folks are only giving 25% of the maximum, this means we’re talking about *four* people.

Granted, this assumes the high values for this year held for 25 years, but even if we assume the average over those years is 1/4 the current value, that means we’re still only talking about *sixteen* people.

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By FreeWill, December 8, 2009 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment

TAO Walker is right.

Just more evidence that our Corporate-Capitalist system is totally corrupt and dysfunctional when it comes to representing “we the People”. It’s obvious that voting for either Democratic or Republican Candidates only exacerbates and accelerates the destruction of the planet and favors consolidation of its resources and wealth to the top 1%.

Hanging on to the belief that us common folk, have any real say or influence on the greed driven political system, is an illusion that fixes us to be enslaved by it. We urgently need new model for the structuring and organizing of our society with the preservation of the environment and the equitable distribution of it’s resources as a priority. 

Those now in control will not give up that control easily or willingly and will hang on until our environment is totally depleted and life itself is unsupportable. They have lost all connection to mother earth believing that their wealth insulates them from all harm. But nature is not just another politician that can be bribed and that, unlike our government, is something we can count on.

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By thebeerdoctor, December 8, 2009 at 6:28 am Link to this comment

Samson said it best, it is time to quit electing people who have a second home in Aspen.

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By cabdriver, December 8, 2009 at 5:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Beyond the whole influence-buying part of it:

I don’t get how it is that this guy feels so obligated to make common cause with the real water wastrels of California agriculture- the alfalfa/dairy/cattle and cotton industries- against the entire rest of the State of California? 

I like the crops being grown by Resnick- citrus, pomegranate, almonds, pistachios. They’re good candidates for irrigation and semiraid climate.

But with 80% of the water in California going to agriculture, the #1 and #2 crops are- alfalfa and cotton!

Resnick presently appears to be bent on following in the autocratic, eco-ignorant steps of the Boswell dynasty, who have done so much to skew water policy in California in the direction of Money and Power rather than Logic and Sustainability.

The dairy industry of California presently receives $1 billion in Federal subsidies every year- so they can buy California desert-raised alfalfa, and undercut the industries of states where a huge dairy industry makes sense and has more history, like Wisconsin and Oregon. Alfalfa alone drinks more water than the entire population of Southern California- the California water crisis is an artificial crisis!

Resnick has a terrific opportunity here to be a hero, by making common cause with the California fishing industry and the people of northern California- using his undeniable power and massive fortune to help turn California away from the crises that are mounting SOLELY due to the inappropriate allotment of water from the rivers of the north state and the Delta, to crops that do not belong in the arid/semiarid bio-regions of California!

Instead, it seems that he’s just another eco-ignoramus, bent on throwing the State into crisis and catastrophe.

Many if not most Californians are still viewing the water crisis as something pitting the human populations of the north and south state against each other- that’s bullshit! Literally! It’s about all of those huge factory dairy farms in the San Joaquin valley! It’s about a hugely thirsty cotton crop being grown in California, to undercut the Egyptian cotton from places like the Nile Delta!

Man’s power to terraform the Earth has rarely been more abused, than by the introduction and establishment of the alfalfa and cotton crops into California- crops that suck up more water than any human food crop, or or the demand from the human population of the state.

Will no one talk sense? Will no one in the California Legislature put the truth out there to the power of Big Ag?

It would be a real help to have someone like Resnick working toward acting as a responsible steward of the resources of the state, in concert with the “interests” of those who don’t want to see California fated to drink its rivers dry and drain the Delta into a state of ecological impoverishment. For that matter, I’d like to see Boswell- or whoever the inheritors of those holding are- on board to act to save this state from water wars that are completely unnecessary, and that could be settled simply by a newfound commitment to growing only appropriate food crops, while investing to modernize the irrigation methods used on California fields. They’re nowhere near up to par in terms of maximum efficiency of water use.

But the first priority is to highlight the fact that the long-standing crises in California water allocation is about shortsightedness, stubbornness, and stupidity- NOT “food production” versus “the Delta smelt”, or “California’s largest industry (agriculture, in aggregate)” versus “environmentalist wackos”.

California deserves a thriving agricultural sector. But that should not mean that anything goes!

Alfalfa! Cotton! My God, central California is a desert! What are people thinking?

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By Donald Nygaard, December 7, 2009 at 8:45 pm Link to this comment

Fast forward 20 years to when water resources in the central valley are even more depleted than today, perhaps even non-existent.

What will the Senator and her vested interest financier expect then? Will Mr. Resnick write to the Senator with a fast-track command to the political system to make it rain? Really, I’m quite sick of the short-sighted exploitation of finite resources without thoughtful consideration and accounting of obvious, measurable, detrimental side-effects.

The slavish pursuit of short-term profit with utter disregard of future consequences is utterly and morally bankrupt. Please, everyone support EPA regulation on behalf of the entire planet, not just market forces. Do it for the fish! Do it for your kids!

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By rollzone, December 7, 2009 at 8:42 pm Link to this comment

hello. water is a thirsty issue in Calleyphonia. political power could be cut, with a swift undercurrent from ocean water; filtered by emf technology (like they use in Egypt). locals need to change the regulations, put down the bong, and go sit-in at Sacramental: until they are less dependent upon snow melt from the mountains. usually giant agribusiness are the biggest environmental polluters, so Paramount is a candidate to finance the projects.

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By Samson, December 7, 2009 at 8:01 pm Link to this comment

The thing to learn is to quit electing people who have ‘a second home in Aspen’ and expecting them to represent ordinary people.

The funny part of this is that many of the environmentalists who are opposing this project were probably stupid enough to vote for Feinstein.

People have to learn not to vote Democrat. 

Remember the old Kennedy family slogan ...
“Don’t get mad, get even.”  Its time for environmentalists and the rest of the left to exact retribution upon the Democrats in 2010.  Organize independent races that take back our votes from the Democrats. 

Don’t get mad, get even!  Organize!

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By JimBob, December 7, 2009 at 2:49 pm Link to this comment

We’re never going to get money out of politics short of a revolution.  Once it’s in there this far, it’s like an inoperable cancer that feeds on the very body it’s killing. 
Sad.  We all believed this time the human race just maybe got it right.

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By TAO Walker, December 7, 2009 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment

In any privateering pyramid scheme it is the nature of the shit it generates to roll downhill, sickening and suffocating the unfortunates (in their “....huddled masses”) in the bottom layers.  It is, on the other hand, in the very nature of “money” to percolate up to the exalted levels of the elite….and if that process sometimes proves too slow to satisfy artificially enhanced (and ever-growing) appetites, then wells will be drilled, “power”-ful pumps installed, and “wealth” sucked ruthlessly from the pockets of the “commoners” into the coffers of the rich. 

This is what the “civilization” CONtraption was put-in-place here to do.  This is all it does or has ever done or will ever do.  The “privileged” clip coupons and primp for paparazzi….while the rest buy lottery tickets or pimp their selfs’ out in desperate hopes of cashing-in on “15 minutes of fame.”

It is a testimony to the effectiveness of the propagandists for theallamericandreammachine that most of its inmates still believe its supposed “malfunctions” are blamable on the perfidy of mere “individuals,” rather than simply the inevitable CONsequence of the damned thing’s basic operations.  So some still get upset by such reports as this one here, and look for some remedial response CONsistent, however, with the presumed requirements of keeping the rapacious processes of the monstrosity itself essentially undisturbed.

The reason “It just doesn’t get any better than this!” for beer-soaked boobs at the bottom of the abyss, is because the “global” feedlot system guarantees it can only get worse….except, possibly for those with enough of their wits still left to find and together escape-through the one big hole in the command-and-CONtrol regime to which they’ve unfortunately become too accustomed to being CONfined.  Yes, this old Indian is referring to what some of us free wild survivors call The Tiyoshpaye Way.

The deafening din of inequity, in this worldwide den-of-iniquity its captives mistake for the actual Living Arrangement of our Mother Earth, is “music” to your tormentors’ virtual “ears,” Tame Sisters and Brothers.  You’ll be so much better-off back with us and All Our Relations in the real Song ‘n’ Dance of Life Herownself. 


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By Mary Ann McNeely, December 7, 2009 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

What?!  Dianne Feinstein is corrupt?!  Where’s my Prozac?!

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By Michele Horaney, December 7, 2009 at 11:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Would definitely like to see a link to this article
and site from the SFGate site. Seems a shame
to go to all this work, craft this great alliance,
and have this make the front page of the Sunday
physical paper and then it just - poof! - disappears
and cannot be found over at the newspaper site.

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By LostHills, December 7, 2009 at 9:27 am Link to this comment

A case study of the demise of democracy in America.

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By Leefeller, December 7, 2009 at 7:50 am Link to this comment

Business as usual greased palms with coconut oil, one can vision a slathering away of each others backs and other body parts!

In the end one pays for what they want. Good old boys and girls, it is winking and everything is just fine (stine), what is the problem?

We may only be seeing the tit of the iceberg! Are people like Feinstein becoming sloppy or do they just not give a damn? Is it just possible integrity has become to mean;  what we are seeing is what we should expect and (bend over everyone) going to get? 

As for accountability, this is as good as it can be, money exchanges hands and things get done! What is the problem? Maybe not fast enough in execution.

Feinstein may need to work on speeding things up. She is being so busy having both hands out and at the same time is supposed to be getting things done, like sending out important letters,  seems such hard work, maybe she needs some help or something?

How does she do it?

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By Bronwen Rowlands, December 7, 2009 at 6:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An excellent piece from Berkeley’s Center for Investigative Reporting.  I was happy and surprised to see it as the lead story in the hard-copy SF Chronicle yesterday. It was pulled from the paper’s online presence, though, or else it never appeared there.

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By glider, December 7, 2009 at 6:00 am Link to this comment

Feinstein is an elite corrupt corporate whore, as is Obama.  I hope people have enough wisdom to vote her and her ilk out next round.  I am saddened but not surprised to see that a system of political favors are what determine policy with both these dishonest politicians. Feinstein’s elitist parties are legend.  Vomit yet again.

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By cabdriver, December 7, 2009 at 4:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Quite often, “business as usual” is still newsworthy.

And water policy is perhaps the most important issue in the future of California.

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By ardee, December 7, 2009 at 3:59 am Link to this comment

Why single out one individual and treat this incident as if it were not business as usual. I think this article is third rate and naive.

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By Ouroborus, December 7, 2009 at 3:40 am Link to this comment

Gee, how about that. Who’d a thunk. wink

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By Ralph Kramden, December 7, 2009 at 2:32 am Link to this comment

Come on you guys, I never liked Feinstein, never voted for her even as she ran for supervisor in San Francisco. Still, even though I never donated a penny on her behalf, she always acceded to my demands: I requested she ignore my complaints and she did.
I heard she is the wealthiest member in all of Congress, even when Kennedy was alive. What do you expect her to do? You surely don’t expect her to be like us stupid, brainwashed working-class who vote against our financial interests, do you?

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By ChaoticGood, December 7, 2009 at 12:16 am Link to this comment

I am shocked…
Imagine that.  A rich corporate pirate makes a phone call to his “purchased” politician and things change in his favor.
Things like this are not supposed to happen in America.
How do we explain this type of thing to Hamid Karzai?

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