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."