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A mailer Assemblyman Marc Levine sent out across the North Bay last week spotlights his stance on fracking — the controversial fossil fuel drilling practice — and the source of money he used to pay for the correspondence.

The San Rafael Democrat, who is seeking a second term in office, is calling for a moratorium on fracking, which Levine described in the glossy mailer next to a smiling photo of himself as "one of the most significant threats to our environment in a generation."

The mailer has sparked discussion within the environmental community, including some of Levine's sharpest critics, because of the assemblyman's support for a Senate bill last September that allowed fracking to continue in California, albeit with new regulations.

For his foes, at least, the correspondence has also cast light on Elevate California, Levine's ballot issue committee, which has received the vast majority of its funding from a managing director of a Mill Valley private investment firm with ties to fracking interests in Texas.

Levine, who ousted Assemblyman Michael Allen in 2012 with backing from business and agricultural interests, has earned mixed reviews from environmentalists while in office. Among other things, he earned praise for backing bills outlawing plastic bags and lead bullets for hunting, and enmity for abstaining on a bill that would have given the California Coastal Commission the authority to levy fines. The ambivalence is now being felt with his stance on fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used by drillers to extract previously unrecoverable oil and natural gas embedded in subterranean rock. The practice employs huge volumes of water mixed with chemicals, and the waste is often injected back into the ground.

Some environmental groups opposed or withdrew support for SB 4 last year because they wanted stricter oversight of fracking or an outright ban. Oil companies also were opposed to the legislation, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Levine this week said his support for the legislation is "not inconsistent at all" with his views on fracking, including his call for a moratorium. He presented SB 4 as the best he could hope for after several other moratorium bills failed to gain traction in the previous legislative session.

"When you argue for an all-or-nothing public policy, you often end up with nothing, and that's not good enough," he said.

Levine spent $40,000 from Elevate California on the mailers, which were sent to addresses in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties, according to a spokesman for Levine. The 10th Assembly District encompasses Sonoma County south of College Avenue and Marin County.

The California secretary of state's website states that such committees exist "primarily to support or oppose the qualification, passage or defeat of a ballot measure." However, no ballot measures related to fracking are pending in California.

Levine's statement of organization for the committee, filed in May 2013, describes its purpose as "to be determined," records show.

David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University, said "savvy politicians" have long exploited what he called a "huge loophole" in the law to use ballot committee funds for other purposes, including to help raise their profile in election years.

He said Levine is using the mailer and fracking to "raise (his) profile about issues that are important to voters in Marin and Sonoma counties."

Levine is running against Santa Rosa Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom, Marin college trustee Diana Conti, former Santa Rosa Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi and lone Republican Party candidate Gregory Allen, who lives in Novato and owns an employment staffing firm.

The primary is in June, with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advancing to November's general election.

Carrie McFadden, Carlstrom's campaign manager, said Levine's correspondence is "an obvious campaign mailer about fracking."

"He is clearly circumventing campaign finance laws in order to get this message out there, in the hopes that voters will forget that he voted to permit fracking in California just last year," McFadden said.

Levine, however, called the timing of the mailer "irrelevant" to his re-election campaign. He said he's highlighting the issue now because the governor is drafting regulations spelled out in SB 4.

Levine also has signed on in support of SB 1132, a bill in the current legislative session that would impose a moratorium.

"I want to make sure we have the greatest participation by Californians in how policy is formed in the state Capitol," Levine said.

The mailer asks recipients to sign a card calling on Gov. Brown to issue an executive order for a moratorium on fracking. The return address is Levine's Capitol office.

Levine said he wanted the cards sent to his office so that they can be delivered en masse to the governor. Asked whether he'll rely on his Capitol staff to handle the sorting and deliveries, he replied, "Yes, that's fine. This is something California residents are sending to us, about how they care for a policy issue."

Elevate California has received almost all of its funding from John and Regina Scully, who donated $102,000 of the fund's total amount of $104,500. AT&T kicked in the other $2,500, campaign finance records show.

The Scullys also contributed the maximum $16,400 — or $8,200 each — to Levine's re-election campaign for Assembly.

John Scully is a managing director of SPO Partners & Company, a private investment firm that has offices in Mill Valley. He and his wife live in San Francisco.

John Scully said in an interview Friday that he donated to Elevate California because he is opposed to fracking in the North Bay. He said he still considers himself an "expatriate Marinite" after having lived in Marin County for three decades.

"I just want to support everything Marc is involved with, as long as I don't disagree with it," Scully said. "I don't disagree with regulating and probably banning fracking in Northern California."

However, Scully said he's "absolutely for" fracking elsewhere, saying that "it is working, and it is a significantly good thing for the United States."

Scully said the stock portfolio for SPO Partners includes a publicly traded Texas company that he said is "a very significant player in oil shale fracking and recovery." He declined to name the company.

Scully said he and Levine also share a common bond over their support for charter schools. Scully co-founded Making Waves, which operates a charter middle school in the city of Richmond.

Scully said Levine "is the first politician that I knew who in this area (the North Bay) was clearly pro-charter."

Levine's campaign responded Friday with a statement saying the assemblyman supports "all public schools," including "public charter schools like the Kid Street Learning Center in Santa Rosa."

In the meantime, some environmental groups that were at odds with Levine over his support of SB 4 are now backing his call for a moratorium on fracking.

"Things have changed since September," said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. "There's new science, new evidence and greater public awareness. I think legislators have learned a lot."

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@press

democrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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