By Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Environmentalists and city officials in Richmond, California, on Thursday voiced support for a shareholder resolution that would prevent Chevron Corp from spending on elections, a move that comes after the oil giant spent more than $3 million last year to influence elections in the Bay Area city.
Despite the spending, the Chevron-backed candidates lost their bids for mayor and city council in Richmond, which is home to the company’s second-largest oil refinery in the state.
"Chevron flooded our democracy with millions of dollars in 2014, but Richmond voters saw through their attempt to buy our elections and the progressives candidates triumphed,” said Richmond councilmember Gayle Mclaughlin.
“Chevron should refrain from its oversized influence on our local democracy if it has any desire to repair its profoundly damaged reputation among our community.”
Critics argue the Richmond refinery has a history of health and safety problems, including a 2012 fire that sent some residents to hospitals with respiratory complaints. They say the company's money would be better spent making the facility safer and less polluting.
Chevron defended its election spending, calling it a part of its long-term, ongoing engagement with community leaders.
“We play an important role in the success of the City of Richmond as we are the largest employer and the largest taxpayer in the city,” said Braden Reddall, a company spokesman.
“After more than a century of operating here, it’s natural for us to be involved in the political sphere, as we are in many other aspects of the community.”
Reddall said the company's participation in the election needs to be viewed in the context of the $580 million the company has invested in the community over the past five years. The refinery is also preparing to restart its $1 billion modernization project, which includes building a new hydrogen plant to increase plant flexibility and energy efficiency.
The resolution itself stands little chance of passing. A similarly worded effort in 2013 that would have stopped Chevron from using corporate funds for political purposes was opposed by nearly 97 percent of shareholders.
The resolution, which will be voted on at the company’s May meeting, was brought by Green Century Capital Management, a “fossil fuel free” mutual fund that bought $2,000 worth of Chevron stock for the purpose of putting the resolution forward.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Bernard Orr)