Tribune columnist is a paid lobbyist

September 29, 2015
Tom Fulks

Tom Fulks

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.”

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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SamLouis

Just imagine if CCN, Congalton & Co. were not around…


Ron

I just want to pop back in to clarify one important detail in this story.


Dan writes:


Supervisor Bruce Gibson… pays Fulks for his political consulting advice.


That’s not quite accurate. Calling Tom’s job “political consulting” is WAAAAAY too euphemistic for my taste.


As I first exposed in my story from last year, what Gibson (and his ilk) REALLY pay Tom to do, is to sneak around on the Internet (and elsewhere) and character assassinate (or, at least attempt to character assassinate) anyone (especially media types) that is critical of Tom’s clients.


THAT’s what Bruce (and his ilk [Supervisor Hill? Wink, wink]) pays Tom (FAT stacks) to do… as Dan, Karen, and Dave, I’m sure, can attest.


And the Trib gives him the perfect platform to do just that. Again, an awful situation.


Ron

Dan writes:


“Gibson has referred to Fulks as ‘my evil genius in the back room.'”


Always good to see another SewerWatch fan!


http://sewerwatch.blogspot.com/2014/08/san-luis-obispo-county-supervisor-bruce.html


Of course, my favorite part of the Fulks/Trib arrangement, is, if you think about it, Tom’s not necessarily promoting HIS “opinion” in the Trib, he’s promoting the “opinion” that his sneaky clients, like Bruce Gibson, pay him to promote, and the Trib just sits back and allows it to happen.


An awful situation.


SLOBIRD

I think the Tribune could go away and a very few would miss the news and the other data is earily accessible on the internet. Bye bye mismanagement!


Dave

I’m not sure what Sandra Duerr was thinking, or expecting, when she turned over her Sunday Opinion page to two local political operatives. The key word here is that they’re unpaid. She didn’t have the budget. She wanted controversy. So instead of a Bill Morem or Bob Cuddy, we got two guys who were allowed to pursue their own agenda.


In the case of Tom Fulks, well, that’s pretty clear. He is out to protect, at any cost, the two Democratic incumbents, Gibson and Hill—thus the unrelenting assaults on COLAB and anyone else who gets in the way. It’s no secret that Erik Howell is thinking about running against Hill for supervisor. Suddenly, Howell is singled out for attack by Fulks. Coincidence? Hardly.


So now it’s time to see which Sandra Duerr runs the Tribune. The Duerr of the early days blew into town with high ethical standards at the paper. I remember when she demanded that the late great Richard Palmer step down from the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce board because he was also the editor of the Sun-Bulletin. She wanted no conflict of interest.


If the allegations in this story are true, then Fulks has a clear conflict of interest, but I don’t know if Duerr will do anything. She’s been trying to get a job at Cal Poly for years and I think she’s burned out from trying to keep a newspaper afloat. She may be willing to overlook this. Hope not.


It’s great to give Fulks and Peschong a guest shot in the paper, but you play with fire when you give non-journalists such regular access and assumed credibility. The Tribune is supposed to be a watchdog of local government–not a platform by which The Powers That Be get to stay in office.


Very sad.


slojustice

thumbs up!


SLOBIRD

double up!


panflash

NOTE TO MODERATOR:


For about a week now, the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” icons in the CCN postings have been missing on my screen.


Apparently this is happening to at least some other regular readers as well.


What is going on? You owe us an explanation.


SamLouis

Thumbs up!


Moderator

” You owe us an explanation”


Yes, as I have said in other threads, the thumbs did not like last weeks upgrade to the hosting environment and stopped working. Revised code for the thumbs is being worked on and we will have it soon ™.


Perspicacious

They switched servers last week and that is when the bug popped up. They are working on it. Be patient. :)


AmericaBeautiful

Excellent and right on target!


hijinks

“I remember when she demanded that the late great Richard Palmer step down from the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce board because he was also the editor of the Sun-Bulletin. She wanted no conflict of interest.”


Well, those days are long gone. The lately departed publisher of the Tribune sat on the boards of the SLO and Paso Chambers and also the Economic Vitality Corporation. Now, that’s a real breach of journalistic ethics, but that’s what corporate journalism has brought to SLO. The paper has lost all right to claim it is anything more than a Chamber newsletter.


achillesheal

The days of the objective journalist are long gone. News stories or lack of coverage are often agenda driven. It’s become the norm. Good job following the money, it always leads to the right conclusion.


slojustice

Thumbs up!


AmericaBeautiful

Agreed!


SamLouis

The sad part is that the Tribune is dying not because of the change in which people get their news, the cost of newsprint, etc. but ultimately because of horrible management.


When news sources become as politically skewed (in either direction) as the Tribune has become, it’s no longer a reliable news source and people stop buying it.


Shame on those who have run the Tribune into the ground…


slojustice

Thumbs up!


FairAndBalanced

Newspapers across the country are in trouble, what with everything digital and so many papers being free to view. The Trib is no different, it was hit with these problems just like every other paper.


SamLouis

Yes, and even in today’s hyper-competitive news environment, some newspapers are still going strong because they offer a good product.


There are local, newsworthy items that don’t even make it into the Tribune because they don’t fit the Trib’s agenda. Nor do they please their advertisers. That absolutely stinks.


What needs to happen is for an entity to launch a local on-line news service, paid for by advertisers. If that ever happened, the Tribune would die for sure.


IronHub

Hey, I have an idea! Let’s call it CalCoastNews.com. And just like that, as sure as hell… The Tribune is dying.


SamLouis

CCN would need to add daily local and national news, sports, weather, vital statistics and a few other things to give the Trib a real run.


I would love to see it happen. I have no doubt that an excellent digital newspaper could prosper on the Central Coast. It would take a great deal of skill, dedication and resources.


Perspicacious

Where did they get the picture that accompanies the article? Sheesh! So many captions…”Get the children away from him”…”I am catching tonight, who’s pitching?”… etc.


JTKirk

“I’m a shill for Adam Hill.”


slojustice

Thumbs down!


SLOBIRD

Boo


ToHellinaHandBasket

The Trib went to hell a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. It’s not even good enough to wrap fish in anymore. Or use as TP. It’s toxic.


No surprise here. Nothing to see. Now move along folks.


Good reporting Dan. CCN.


slojustice

Thumbs up!