Dave Rice 7:17 a.m., May 20
After backing industry-favored timber tax, Fletcher reaped big contributions
Republican-turned-independent Assemblyman was one of two crucial votes needed for passage of tax bill favored by Sierra Pacific Industries and other timber interests
It was August 2012 and one of the most heated tax battles of the year was unfolding.
California's Democratic governor was pushing an industry-favored timber bill through the legislature, imposing a tax on California consumers for the lumber they buy. Because the tax hike needed a supermajority to clear the Assembly, there was nary a vote to spare.
Wrote the Sacramento Bee on August 9:
Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to impose a 1 percent lumber tax and limit wildfire liability awards formally surfaced in the Legislature this week amid heavy lobbying from the timber industry.
The wide-ranging forestry package that has drawn mixed reviews from environmentalists was amended Tuesday into Assembly Bill 1492.
The bill is no slam dunk because as a tax it requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Republicans were opposed to the bill earlier this year, but they are facing new pressure from high-powered lobbyists in the Capitol representing forestry interests.
California timber firms support the tax because it relieves them of regulatory fees they must currently pay – and additional fees that Democrats have long wanted to impose on them to fund state forestry oversight. Shifting the tax to consumers means that wood from outside California would also face the new 1 percent charge.
Earlier this year, the Sacramento-based U.S. attorney's office and Obama administration officials lobbied legislative leaders to douse the bill, which Brown initially wanted as part of the budget he signed in June. They specifically opposed the limit on wildfire liability damages after winning a string of awards against timber companies for past fires.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner was concerned that legislation could interfere with a case against Sierra Pacific Industries and other major landowners over the 2007 Moonlight fire.
Wagner settled with defendants in July for more than $100 million in cash and land. AB 1492 has language specifying that it would apply only to lawsuits filed after its enactment.
Enter San Diego Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, the former Republican who left the party in the spring, becoming a self-proclaimed independent after failing to get the county GOP's endorsement of his ultimately losing campaign for mayor. Fletcher had given up the opportunity to run for re-election to make his mayoral bid, and hence would depart the Assembly at year's end.
On September 1, in a story headlined "Lumber tax approved by Assembly in early morning nailbiter," the Bee reported that the lumber tax deal had barely made it into law, with Fletcher among only two non-Democrats voting in favor:
Assembly Bill 1492 was sent to the governor's desk when the Assembly concurred in amendments by a vote of 54-20, the bare minimum needed for the required supermajority.
The bill by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, passed on its second attempt in the lower house, at nearly 1:30 a.m. today. It lacked four votes in an earlier roll call. All but one Republican voted no.
Democrats were joined in supporting AB 1492 by two Assembly members who will be termed out (sic) of the Legislature in December - Republican Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita and Independent Nathan Fletcher of San Diego.
To all outward appearances, that was the end of the story. But campaign disclosure filings made this month by Fletcher have revealed that several advocates in the late night battle for the timber bill made subsequent contributions to both Fletcher’s failed mayoral campaign fund and his so-called legislative officeholder account, typically used by legislators for various personal political expenses, such as trips and meals while on the road, as well as polling and phone banking.
On October 18, the Redding, California-based Sierra Pacific, a key mover in the tax effort, gave $1500 to Fletcher's officeholder fund. On November 5, Humboldt Redwood Company LLC of Calpella, California kicked in $3200.
In addition, as previously reported here, on October 8, Sierra Pacific president and CEO A.A. "Red" Emmerson gave $500 to Fletcher's 2012 San Diego mayoral campaign fund, as did George and Mark Emmerson, also executives of the logging firm.
Another donor to the Fletcher mayoral fund also has timber ties. San Francisco billionaire John J. Fisher is a member of the Fisher family that founded the GAP and currently owns Humboldt Redwood Company. He also gave $500.
In all, Fletcher raised a total of $28,800 for his state office holder fund in 2012 and finished the year $22,631 in debt, much of it owed to San Francisco's Sutton Law Firm.
$6731 was used to pay off a previous debt to Influential Data of Santa Monica for a phone bank, according to the filing. Chase Card Services was paid $2694.44 on a debt for expenses, which were not itemized on the disclosure report. Chase was also paid $5619 on a current balance. No details regarding those expenses were disclosed by the filing.
In addition to the timber interests, donors included Chevron ($3200); Cox Communications ($2500); NBC Universal Media ($2500); and NRG Energy ($2000).
Fletcher did not respond to a request for comment left with his assistant at Qualcomm, Inc., where he is now employed as senior director of corporate development.