With five weeks to go until Election Day, the decision over Proposition 23, the “California Jobs Initiative,” will go down to the wire. Poll indicate that the electorate is evenly split. Proponents of Proposition 23 want to suspend AB 32, onerous legislation in their view, until California’s unemployment rate dips 5.5%; opponents claim Prop 23′s passage will kill jobs, worsen public health and pollution, and cement dependence on oil.
It is easy to assume that big business is behind the push to pass Prop 23, and to an extent, that is true—big businesses outside the state are largely funding the initiative. But within California, large corporations in various industries are lining up against Prop 23′s passage. Some companies’ opposition to Prop 23 is intuitive—others appear to take a stand on the issue that goes against their vested interests.
The most prominent leaders fighting Proposition 23 include Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager of Farallon Capital Management, who is contributing $5 million of his money to support AB 32′s survival. His partner is George Schultz, Secretary of State to Ronald Reagan—the president who described his political opponents as “so far left they left the country.” Schultz sums up his support of AB 32 and disdain for Prop 23 by describing a future in California:
We have plenty of problems in California, not least the huge unfunded liabilities confronting the taxpayer. But we will only compound our problems if we abandon our aspirations for the quality of our environment. Our future is with a knowledge economy, and there is one thing we know for sure: Knowledge workers have lots of choices where to live, and they like to live in environments with clean air and green spaces. “Silicon Valley” did not sprout in Silicon Valley by accident.
Schultz and Steyer are joined by other large firms either based or conducting business in California, including Blue Shield of California, Meg Whitman’s eBay , Google, Kaiser Permanente, Levi Strauss, Pacific Gas & Electric, Patagonia, Sempra Energy, Virgin America, and Warner Brothers. Why are many of these companies joining the fight against Prop 23?
Adam Werbach summarizes the shift in thinking among large corporations, bringing up three points: employees are gravitating to forward-looking organizations, large multinationals like General Electric see the clean technology boom as a business opportunity, and many CEOs are taking a personal stake in climate change regulation. But this dynamic is not only occurring in California: companies around the globe, including those in the extractive industries, call for carbon taxes, demand greater energy efficiency and transparency within their supply chains, or work with NGOs to develop voluntary guidelines in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
Some will dismiss large corporations’ opposition to Proposition 23 as not doing enough. But remember the BP oil spill saga: as Webach reminded us, we did not see many Fortune 500 company executives going out of their way to defend BP’s actions. The next five weeks will be an exciting time for political junkies; if Prop 23 fails, it could be an exciting decade for clean tech companies, the sector receiving the most venture capital funding the past few years.
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