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Lucie Gikovich, a longtime friend and former member of California Governor Jerry Brown’s staff, repeatedly lobbied his office on behalf of a group of oil and gas companies that won major concessions from the governor on important state legislation, according to a report released today by a New York-based nonprofit organization.
Gikovich’s decades-long friendship with Brown has previously been reported by the Sacramento Bee, including the fact that he stays at her home while on official business in Washington, D.C. But her oil and gas industry ties have not received attention prior to this report, according to report author Derek Seidman, a research analyst with the Public Accountability Initiative, which is funded by foundations and the American Federation of Teachers.
“She’s someone that Brown clearly completely trusts and yet is being extremely well-paid by her clients to lobby on behalf of their interests,” said Seidman, whose report is titled, “The California Oil Veto: The Lobbyist Behind Governor Jerry Brown’s Concessions to Big Oil.” Gikovich, who works with the D.C.-based Crane Group, has lobbied Brown’s office on behalf of corporate clients for a range of industries since 2011. Gikovich, her business partner, and her firm have donated $114,500 to Brown’s campaigns over the years.
For her part, Gikovich denies having an outsized influence on Brown and minimizes her role in legislation that the report says she influenced. “Governor Brown, more than anyone I know, makes up his own mind after hearing from all sides and carefully analyzing all aspects of the issues,” she wrote in an email. “He makes his decisions on the merits, regardless of his relationships with those involved.”
Evan Westrup, a spokesperson for the governor, added a few choice words about the then unpublished report, when it was described to him in an email. “This report is about as factual–and substantive–as a tweet from Donald Trump,” said Westrup. “The governor had no knowledge that any of these companies were her clients, but even if he did, it would’ve made no difference. On these bills–and the thousands of others that have crossed his desk–the focus has always been on what’s best for California, which is why the state’s record of climate action is unmatched in the Western world.”
The Public Accountability Initiative’s report builds on a longstanding critique of the California governor who, many environmentalists claim, has been too cozy with Big Oil interests in spite of his reputation as a national leader in combating global climate change and reducing demand for fossil fuels in the state. The report also calls on incoming governor Gavin Newsom to investigate Gikovich’s lobbying efforts in California and to “sever the state’s ties to Gikovich.”
One of Gikovich’s clients, the oil refinery operator Phillips 66, has paid her $937,500 in fees and retainers to lobby the governor’s office and various state regulatory boards since 2012. She was the Houston-based firm’s highest paid lobbyist in California, according to the report.
Gikovich served as a top aide to Brown during his first two terms as governor, and he hired her as his federal lobbyist when he was mayor of Oakland, a job that earned her $780,000 from 2001 to 2007, according to the report. She also served as Brown’s press secretary during his failed 1982 run for the U.S. Senate. As governor, Brown has included her in trade delegations to China and Mexico.
Brown reportedly stayed with Gikovich in her Washington, D.C., home in 2013, at the time she was lobbying on behalf of Phillips 66 and Halliburton, and other corporate clients. Such hospitality might not violate ethics laws if the stay “is related to another purpose unconnected with the lobbyist’s professional activities,” according to the state’s ethics rules at the time.
“I find it hard to believe that they would’ve not talked about any official business but no one can know for certain, of course,” says Seidman, whose report says those visits may constitute a “possible violation of ethics rules.”
The visits were “all personal, not business” and evidence of Brown’s frugality as well as his desire to visit with friends, according to Gikovich’s email.
Gikovich’s client during the battle over two bills to extend California’s landmark climate program, known as cap-and-trade, was Phillips 66, which operates oil refineries in Santa Maria and Rodeo. The package that the governor signed last year included major concessions to the oil industry and split the environmental community, with mainstream environmentalists supporting the compromise and environmental justice groups turning against it.
Gikovich said that her work on the cap-and-trade program—for which she reportedly was paid $105,000 in 2017—was mostly confined to monitoring the legislation. “There was no contact with the governor personally on these issues,” she wrote.
In 2013, Gikovich also reported lobbying Brown’s office on behalf of Houston-based Halliburton, the oilfield services giant, on a proposed Senate bill sponsored by then State Senator Fran Pavley (D-CA) that regulated hydraulic fracturing—”fracking”—an oil extraction method that brings with it the risks of drinking water contamination and of inducing earthquakes, as well as air pollution.
That bill lost the support of environmentalists after the oil industry lobbied to amend it to allow fracking to continue while the process was being studied, as High Country News reported at the time. Westrup countered via email that “prior to this bill, there was no integrated, comprehensive regulatory oversight of this production stimulation method, which has been used in California for more than 30 years.”
Gikovich wrote that the Crane Group “had a small subcontract” to provide strategic advice to Halliburton, and that she “never spoke even once to the governor or staff on their issues, including fracking.”
The report also credits Gikovich with playing a key role in advocating for the Southern California Gas Company after its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility sprung a massive methane leak in 2015, causing the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents. She lobbied Brown’s office on behalf of the utility in opposition of a bill that would have granted disaster victims more latitude in litigation against the company. In an email, she said that she submitted a lengthy policy memo, but did not speak to Brown or his staff.
Brown nixed the bill, writing that “nothing has been shown to indicate that current law is insufficient to holding polluters accountable.”
“It seems pretty clear that Gikovich’s lobbying of his office correlated really closely with his veto of this,” said Seidman.
This story has been updated.