The Texas oil company Tesoro has big plans for Washington. Long an operator of a refinery near Anacortes, Tesoro recently unveiled plans for the biggest oil-by-rail facility in the US on the Columbia River at Vancouver. The scheme, which has become a lightning rod in the region, has already run into severe delays and cost increases and the company is scrambling to rebrand its proposal.

In a recent interview with the local newspaper’s editorial board, Tesoro executives tried to argue that the project is consistent with Governor Inslee’s agenda.

Inslee “has every reason to say yes… “I think (the oil terminal) fits into what he wants to accomplish,” said one VP.

That’s a Texas tall tale if we’ve ever heard one. In truth, it would be hard to find any company anywhere with a record more diametrically opposed to Governor Inslee’s agenda.

The fact is that Tesoro has a well-documented track record in Washington of meddling at the ballot box, funneling money to shadowy Republican groups, and financing anticlimate campaigns. In 2010, Tesoro started bankrolling Tim Eyman initiatives to the tune of $90,000. In the last two election cycles, the firm doubled-down on its political activities in the state, spending an additional $577,673 on candidate donations, lobbying, and funding political action committees.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

A review of public records shows that Tesoro delivers not only petroleum products, but also a heavy dose of dirty energy money into Evergreen State politics. To better understand how Tesoro cultivates influence in Washington State, let’s follow the money.

Direct Donations

Businesses and individuals often donate to specific candidates and their campaigns. These “direct donations” are recorded and available through the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. These records make it clear that Tesoro gives to a wide range of candidates on both sides of the aisle, but with a noticeable lean toward Republican candidates.

Over the last two election cycles, the firm has contributed $101,600 to 107 Washington political candidates, ranging from longtime state legislators to gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, who ran against Governor Inslee. The numbers break down like so:

  • In 2012, Tesoro donated $25,200 to candidates at the state level, with 86 percent of the money going to Republicans.
  • In 2014, out of $43,900 in total state level donations, Tesoro spent 69 percent of their funding on GOP candidates.

The company also has consistent track records with the state’s federal representatives. One notable recipient is Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen, who hails from Washington’s second district, which is home to the Tesoro Refinery. Yet the majority of Tesoro’s money went to the other side of the aisle. In 2012 Tesoro gave $10,000 to Washington federal delegates with 55 percent going to Republicans. In the 2014 election cycle, Tesoro gave $22,500 with, again, 55 percent going to Republican candidates. Two-thirds of Washington’s federal elected officials belong to the Democratic party.

Tesoro seems to spread its funds far and wide, but their giving does have an identifiable Repubican bent. That slant becomes even more pronounced when we evaluate Tesoro’s other political spending habits.

PAC Money

While direct donations reveal a money trail of direct donor support, there is a highway of dollars that leads to other destinations.

A political action committee, or PAC, pools money from many like-minded contributors into a single source of funding. Tesoro’s direct donations lean Republican, but their PAC funding went entirely to the right side of the aisle.

Records from the Public Disclosure Commission show that in 2012 Tesoro gave $110,000 to a PAC run by the conservative Association of Washington Business (AWB). (Veteran reporter Joel Connelly noted that this contribution was likely a way for Tesoro to surreptitiously funnel money to a Tim Eyman ballot initiative.) The AWB is an intractable opponent to any number of progressive policy issues. For example, the organization has been an ardent supporter of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs, a pro-coal export astroturf group. More recently, AWB came out in direct opposition to Governor Inslee’s new climate action plan.

Tesoro concluded its 2012 PAC giving with $3,500 to the Leadership Council, a state Republican-focused PAC.

In 2014, the oil company gave $22,500 to Enterprise WA JOBS, a coalition PAC of several Washington businesses (including Puget Sound Energy, Washington Restaurant Association, and Comcast), which has consistently supported more conservative candidates. Tesoro gave another $22,500 to the Leadership Council, $5,000 to the Reagan Fund, and $1,900 to the Senate Republican Committee.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

None of the firm’s PAC giving had any direct connection to the Democratic Party or individual Democratic candidates.

Ballot Initiatives

Tim Eyman, the anti-tax ballot initiative king of Washington, has long enjoyed Tesoro’s largesse. Over the last five years, Tesoro contributed $90,000 to Eyman’s efforts, especially his measures designed to limit the state legislature’s ability to generate new revenue by imposing a “minority rules” provision.

In 2010, for example, Tesoro gave $40,000 to the Citizens for Responsible Spending PAC, which was backing the Initiative 1053 campaign to require a supermajority in both legislative houses in order to raise taxes. (The initiative passed, but was subsequently overturned by the state supreme court.) Also in 2010,Tesoro gave $50,000 to the Voters Want More Choices PAC that also fueled 1053 along with several other Eyman ballot initiative campaigns, including WA I-960, WA-1125, and WA I-1185, which was largely a carbon copy of 1053.

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  • In 2012, Tesoro continued to make mischief at the ballot box by funneling $110,000 through the AWB PAC, which we described above.


    Tesoro spends the largest portion of its political funds on “lobbying,” a vague term usually associated with hiring representatives to directly work with legislators on the company’s behalf. But lobbying firms can also be used to secretly funnel funds to projects and politicians that Tesoro hopes to influence.

    Since 2012, through local firm Millennia Public Affairs, Tesoro has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars influencing Washington state politics with very little transparency or accountability. (Millennia has a wide range of clients, including TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline.) Here are Tesoro’s lobbying charges in recent years:

    Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

    Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

    Public records show that during recent election years, Tesoro spent significant sums on contributions but cleverly laundered the donations through Millennia in order to making tracking the money’s destination difficult. In fact, during the last election cycle alone, Tesoro shuttled more than $117,000 to politicians this way.

    Beyond Washington

    Tesoro’s political activities are hardly confined to Washington.

    In California, for example, Tesoro spent $1.5 million in 2010 to fund a ballot initiative campaign that would have substantially weakened the state’s climate protection laws, drawing the ire of then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who said, “Today, Valero and Tesoro are in a conspiracy. Not in a criminal conspiracy, but a cynical one about self-serving greed.”

    Tesoro also plays politics on the national stage. The Center for Responsive Politics finds that since 1990 Tesoro has made more than $1.2 million in political donations to support candidates for federal office. About two-thirds of that money flowed to Republican individuals and PACs. And in March 2011, Tesoro CEO Greg Goff went on record opposing any effort by the US EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.

    Under the auspices of the Tesoro Action Center, the company wades into a range of public policy debates. It has pushed one-sided arguments opposing environmental policies like renewable fuel standards, called the US Environmental Protection Agency a “regulatory swamp,” and labeled US leadership on carbon emissions reductions “unilateral economic disarmament.”

    For more on the facts about Tesoro’s track record, see Sightline’s research report on the company, The Dirt on Tesoro.