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.

Jason McCormick

Jason McCormick is a journalist taking a break from news and now running mcormc corporation, a data driven digital marketing agency in Redding, Calif.