Tribune columnist is a paid lobbyist

September 29, 2015
Tom Fulks

Tom Fulks


A regularly-featured columnist for San Luis Obispo County’s daily newspaper, who is a vocal critic of a controversial rail spur project proposed by Phillips 66, is a paid lobbyist for at least two entities poised to benefit financially if the project is eventually denied. Tom Fulks’ Sunday column appears in The Tribune twice monthly.

In his Sept. 27 commentary “Local officials should have the courage to comment on Phillips 66 rail project,” Fulks takes a stand against a Phillips 66 oil-by-rail proposal, then rails against public officials who have chosen to refrain from a decision until environmental reports on the project are finished and presented to the public.

The Tribune column also cites what Fulks calls “spectacular” mishaps of oil trains on the East Coast, and he opines, “You’d think those catastrophes would spur timid local officials into asking serious questions about the pending oil-train project.”

“Fulks is an unpaid freelancer for The Tribune,” said Tribune Executive Editor Sandra Duerr. “Under the terms of his contract, he is required to disclose conflicts of interest. I suggest that you contact Fulks directly.”

Fulks did not respond to phone calls and emails from CalCoastNews and Duerr has not said if Fulks disclosed his apparent conflict of interest before submitting his column.

The former New Times columnist promotes Neste Corp., an oil refining and marketing company located in Espoo, Finland, which has become involved in the domestic biofuel business, according to multiple public documents. Neste touts itself as “the world’s leading supplier of renewable diesel” with “a production focus on premium-quality, lower-emission traffic fuels.”

Sandra Duerr

Sandra Duerr

Fulks also is the West Coast representative of the Diesel Technology Forum, based in Washington, D.C., which describes itself as being “engaged in events throughout the year, ranging from technology displays to speaking engagements to Congressional briefings,” according to public documents.

Both are clients of MightyComm, of which Fulks is president. Both clients are heavily involved in research, development, and promotion of renewable diesel fuel. Both Neste and the Diesel Technology Forum stand to gain financially from the denial of the proposed Phillips 66 project.

These so-called “advanced biofuels” — produced from raw materials generally considered waste — are in line to become the next power source for heavy transport and machinery currently utilizing fossil fuel-produced diesel.

Phillips 66 presently refines heavy crude oil at its Bay Area facility, after obtaining semi-refined fossil fuel products from the Nipomo Mesa facility via a 200-mile-long pipeline. The company is seeking permits from the county to build a 1.3 mile rail spur so that crude oil currently delivered by pipeline could be transported to the Nipomo Mesa facility by rail.

John Peschong is the other half of The Tribune’s political pundit duo. Peschong, a Republican, is a paid political consultant who said he does not work as a lobbyist. Fulks is a Democrat.

In its January introduction to the pair, The Tribune described Peschong as a public relations professional, and Fulks as a policy advocate “who considers political consulting a ‘side hobby.’”

While political consultants, advocates, and lobbyists are all paid to promote candidates and issues, there are major differences between them. Political consultants and advocates offer advice on a subjects, while lobbyists offer advice and then actively seek to influence policy and government decisions.

Paid advocates who spend at least one-third of their work time in contact with public officials trying to affect policy are required to register as lobbyists with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Fulks is not registered as a lobbyist in California, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s website.

On his website, Fulks asserts his goal “is to educate California media, policy makers, opinion leaders, environmental groups and others about the rapid progress of advanced automotive and alternative fuels technology, and where this technology fits into the complex matrix of emissions, climate change, goods movement, land use and energy policy.”

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who is likely to have a vote on the proposed spur in the future, pays Fulks for his political consulting advice.  Gibson has referred to Fulks as “my evil genius in the back room.”

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  1. MaryMalone says:

    Go get ’em, Dan.

    Call me “old fashioned,” but I believe conflicts of interest are the banner of corruption.

    (0) 20 Total Votes - 10 up - 10 down
  2. Ron says:

    In his response, Tom writes:

    Blackburn claims I’m paid by county Supervisor Bruce Gibson. I’ve written that the last time I was paid by Gibson was with the election in June 2014.

    What a hilarious take: “I’m not paid by Supervisor Gibson, I’m paid by Supervisor Gibson.”

    MEMO to Tom Fulks: First, Tom, it’s not “Blackburn” that “claims” that you are paid by Supervisor Gibson, it’s Supervisor Gibson’s own campaign finance statements that SHOW you are paid by Gibson, as I first exposed, last year, at this link:

    “$10,000” — ten thousand — in just one filing statement, with thousands more in others, directly to “Tom Fulks.” A full 1/3 of all of Gibson’s campaign contributions go to you… to do his dirty work, or, as Sandra Duerr calls it, “Political Consulting.”

    Uh, Tom, the sole reason Dan knows that Bruce calls you his little “evil genius in the back room,” is because I (re)exposed that excellent quote in my story — an amazing quote that the brilliant local journalist, Kathy Johnston, caught in her excellent piece at this link:

    In her great piece, Kathy writes:

    “… Fulks, a former New Times political columnist and longtime spin doctor who can somehow make even the biggest most gas-guzzling SUVs seem green…

    Absolutely brilliant. SO good.

    (GREAT job, Kathy. And, apparently, Dan’s a big SewerWatch fan. Always good to see another SewerWatch fan. : -)

    Tom “jokes” in his “response”:

    If it didn’t happen that way, it shoulda?

    Uh, dude, it happened that way: Bruce Gibson pays you FAT stacks to be his little “evil genius in the back room,” and the only reason I can think of on why Sandra gives you a drop of ink, is because she doesn’t know how to click on a link.

    Lucky for you, Tom… and Bruce, and Adam, and…

    (5) 13 Total Votes - 9 up - 4 down
  3. The Tribune has allowed Tom Fulks to respond to this article. Here’s the link to his written smokescreen.

    Here is my subsequent response from The Tribune site:

    I refer the lynch mob to the following link, published in 2013 in The Tribune, with a subhead that reads:

    Slabtown Rollers hires Sacramento lobbyist to make their case.

    That “hired” Sacramento lobbyist? Tom Fulks. When we at CalCoastNews first discussed this article, I said that if we published, Tom Fulks would escape behind a cloud of semantics and definitions. For what it’s worth, I was part of the first real lobbyist class in the early 70s when the law was made, an actual lobbyist registered with the FPPC and pictured in a little blue book; I knew the law then, and I know the law now. Fulks and his ilk know how toothless the FPPC has become. This column by Tom Fulks says more about editor Sandy Duerr than anyone else. By giving him this ink to deny the painfully obvious, she proves she’s lost her moral and journalistic compass.”

    (-1) 13 Total Votes - 6 up - 7 down
    • OldNed says:

      You lost. Move on.

      (0) 20 Total Votes - 10 up - 10 down
      • Scarlet says:

        Hahaha, OldNed!

        The Tribune ITSELF names him in their own article as a paid lobbyist.

        Dan won, sir.

        (2) 18 Total Votes - 10 up - 8 down
    • MBwaiter says:

      Two “thumbs up” for “This column by Tom Fulks says more about editor Sandy Duerr than anyone else” Sandy Duerr has absolutely no spine and is also the evil person by the curtail.

      (1) 11 Total Votes - 6 up - 5 down
  4. demiseofslo says:

    The Tribune sucks anyway.

    (4) 10 Total Votes - 7 up - 3 down
  5. kettle says:


    Group organizers, including Tom Fulks of Morro Bay, are urging supporters to send letters to the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG), asking that repaving the road by June be placed on the agency’s Feb. 6 agenda as an action item. It’s currently there as an information item.

    On Thursday, Jan. 31, field reps for Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and Sen. Bill Monning are to meet with representatives of the protest group at the county administrative office

    North Coast bicycle group presses demand for Caltrans to fix Hwy. 1
    On Jan. 22, the Rollers hired Sacramento political consultant Tom Fulks (at $1,500 per month) to help work through the labyrinth of bureaucracies and to ultimately apply pressure on Caltrans.
    “Getting Caltrans to do something is like turning a battleship,” Fulks said. He is also working with state Senator William Monning and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, enlisting them to use their political positions to convince Caltrans the job must be done by June 1.

    Sounds like a lobbyist to me. If you smell smoke and all that.

    Also Ms Duerr, posting a couple of paragraphs with a link is not stealing, no matter how many times someone may say it.

    (-2) 8 Total Votes - 3 up - 5 down

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