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Google chairman's charity backs legal defense fund of Measure J

The Schmidt Family Foundation has backed a legal defense fund of a voter-approved ban of high-intensity petroleum operations.

The family foundation of Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google Inc., has contributed funding to a $25,000 grant for the legal defense of Measure J, a ban of high-intensity petroleum operations at the center of concern related to constitutional rules.

The money follows an election in which voters across the county approved ending some of the methods of oil extraction and well stimulation, including hydraulic fracturing and steam injection. Citadel Exploration Inc., a California oil producer, sued the county Feb. 27 in Superior Court, a stone's throw from the administrative building where local officials regularly hold public meetings.

In that building on behalf of San Benito Rising, Mary Hsia-Coron told the Board of Supervisors that the environmental group, a core organizer of Measure J's campaign, had secured a grant of $25,000, raising its support for the initiative's legal defense to nearly $30,000.

"I want to share with you as a member of San Benito Rising some good news," said Hsia-Coron. "One major donor to our campaign assured me in a meeting that substantial donations were going to be made toward a legal defense fund."

Hsia-Coron confirmed in a statement to BenitoLink on March 5 that the donor is The Schmidt Family Foundation, one of potentially several donors in defense of Measure J.

"The major donor is The Schmidt Family Foundation that was started by Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google," said Hsia-Coron with San Benito Rising, which generated a fraction of the pre-election money injected by the opposition, including several supporters of the energy industry. "I believe that the grant was from an anti-fracking fund."

The Schmidt Family Foundation, according to a tax filing Nov. 14, 2014, is managed by both Wendy Schmidt and her husband, Eric, who has long remained the executive chairman of Google.

The private foundation, a charitable organization, did not respond to numerous queries by BenitoLink, seeking detail on the nonprofit's contributions.

County Counsel Matt Granger told BenitoLink March 5 that historically, the Board of Supervisors approves all donations in open session.

"I would expect, at a minimum, that any donation in regards to Measure J's defense would also be approved by the Board at a regularly scheduled meeting," said the county's counsel. "I have no personal knowledge of any legal defense fund other than what was stated by Ms. Hsia-Coron at the Board meeting, so I have no comment on that issue."

In person on March 2, BenitoLink interviewed San Benito Rising co-founder Andy Hsia-Coron.

"At some point, we are going to live in a post-petroleum society," said Hsia-Coron. "In the meantime, what oil we produce should be done in areas where there is the least amount of impact as possible on both the environment and people. The people of San Benito County have decided that this is not the place."

The Schmidts' foundation reported last year to the Internal Revenue Service that in 2013, the organization had a book value of assets of more than $400 million, including more than $60 million in shares of Google. Since 2012, according to a report last year by the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, The Schmidts' charity has funded "organizations focusing on climate change, fracking and other environmental causes."

In San Benito County, regulation now outlaws hydraulic fracturing, among some of the other forms of oil extraction. Critics of Measure J have said that the initiative and its ordinance for implementation expose the county to legal risk, including claims over allegedly unconstitutional regulation, according to a previous report by BenitoLink. Legal protection against regulatory takings, which violate the Fifth Amendment, extends to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Citadel, a Newport Beach company, seeks judicial determination over whether the county as a regulator has acquired too much power over local oil production.

Google since 2010 has invested more than $1.5 billion in wind and solar projects, including $145 million in a solar farm in Kern County — the centrifuge of California oil production.

"Our investment in the Regulus solar project will give new life to a long-valued piece of land," said Google in a statement last year on its blog. "There's something a little poetic about creating a renewable resource on land that once creaked with oil wells."

In Santa Clara County, the home of Google, officials last month considered a potential proposal for a ban of fracking across Silicon Valley.

A spokesperson with the Mountain View company told BenitoLink March 5 that the technology firm at the moment was not in a place where it could provide a comment on renewable energy, including the aforementioned solar-power plant.

Last year, Southern California Edison Co. — one of the nation's largest electric utilities and the owner of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, a plant shuttered since 2012 as a result of a radioactive leak — agreed to buy power over the next decades from the solar facility backed in Kern County by SunEdison Inc., plus Google.

Comments by Google, San Benito County and San Benito Rising were added March 5. Detail on The Schmidt Family Foundation's classification for tax purposes was added March 7.

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mcormc's picture
Jason McCormick (mcormc)

Jason McCormick remains committed to fair efforts toward a fully informed and engaged community—a powerful and beautiful thing. His background in hard news includes years of experience with both local and national outlets, ranging from community newspapers to multinational corporations, such as the Silicon Valley Business Journal and CBS Interactive Inc. Currently based in the Bay Area, Jason often is on the go far from home.—@mcormc on Twitter


Submitted by (Rich Morris) on

I applaud both the Schmidt's and the Hsia-Coron's for their forward thinking and generous giving of their time and funds. Rich Morris, SJB

Indeed, the greatest con artists must be forward thinking and perceived as generous. Utilizing these artifices, con artists are capable of duplicity and subterfuge all the while proclaiming egalitarian and altruistic principles for society.

Conversely, Google was built on cutting edge computer software science and masterful sales and marketing. It is impossible to think that Google would be as successful as it has become if it ran its business the way that the anti-fracking movement peddles its fear-mongering and unscientific crusade against the fossil fuel industry, all the while exploiting cheap energy as a consumer commodity. 

Google and Apple are both investing heavily in renewable, utility-scale solar power plants in California. San Benito Rising is conspicuoulsy silent with respect to the proposed PV2 Solar Power plant being built in San Benito County. But they did manage to become the recipients of the largess of the Google/Schmidt Family Foundation. 

The State of California is taking the lead with respect to real forward-thinking scientific data on the fossil fuel industry; it is actually conducting studies commissioned to third party environmental scientists and engineers pursuant to Senate Bill 4 signed into law by Governor Brown. The results thus far indicate that the anti-fossil fuel lobbyists and environmentalists cling religiously to their faith of fear-mongering contrary to real science with respect to potable water quality and environmental risks. 

Let's hold the applause until the real truth is exposed about domestic energy production in the U.S. 

Submitted by (Tod duBois) on

Let's hope it is "smart" money and can actually help us be knowledgeable rather than bickering over pseudo science and fear mongering.. Most Silicon Valley is smart though I don't know about the charity side of things - who knows. The good news is Silicon Valley is taking political clout away from New York and DC and we are not far from the where the acorn falls. So maybe we can leverage real smarts and real money. Would be better than the old land holders do nothing until they pay me to do something motto and the fear mongering for the commuter vote that seems to sway things here in SBC.

As a libertarian on these matters, I believe people should be allowed to spend their money - all their money - in support or in opposition of any position they like.

While I  am perfectly happy to get the financial aid, just for accuracy's sake I seriously doubt that the Schmidt Family Foundation qualifies as a "charity" as stated in the headline.

It is more likely a private non-profit foundation; there is a legal and technical difference - but the money still spends just fine.

Marty Richman

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Submitted by Jason McCormick (mcormc) on

Mr. Richman, thanks for your comment, indeed—the Schmidts' foundation, a charitable organization classified as exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, in 2013 was private, according to the foundation's 990-T form. The IRS states on its website that "section 501(c)(3) organizations (charities) must make available for public inspection Forms 990-T, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return. (sic)" The legal difference under that section, which covers "charitable" organizations according to the feds, concerns whether an organization is "public," specifically based on its "level of public involvement," regardless of its level of charity. Good call—I see that an update was made to the story, now specifying that The Schmidt Family Foundation is private.

Submitted by (Kim Williams) on

Many thanks to San Benito Rising, and specifically the Hsia-Coron's, in their continued efforts to protect San Benito's natural resources and uphold Measure J. I also very much appreciate the thoughtful, intelligent comments from some of the other commenters.

To Michael Smith's convoluted, inaccurate statements I would say this:

1) San Benito Rising is wise to learn all of the facts before decided to support or oppose the proposed Panoche Valley solar project. It would be negligent of them to do otherwise and I appreciate that they are taking the time to become informed before deciding. I wish more people would follow their example.

2) As time passes and society sees the tremendous downside of industrial solar developments in remote wilderness areas and on productive agricultural lands, more and more research and articles are being published. Case in point:

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