Tribune columnist is a paid lobbyist
September 29, 2015
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
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.”
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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