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Oil industry helps fund group that paid for De Leon's inauguration

Oil industry helps fund group that paid for De Leon's inauguration
Kevin De Leon is the new Senate leader in California. (David Butow / For The Times)

The $50,000 inauguration of Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) sparked some controversy because it was paid for by the California Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation, which raises its money from a who's who of special interests that lobby the Legislature.

Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, chairman of the caucus, solicited $126,000 received by the foundation during the last 12 months, including $25,000 each from AT&T and Chevron, according to documents he filed with the state ethics agency.

ExxonMobil, which gave $4,000 to the foundation, joined Chevron in a coalition this year that killed legislation that would have put a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in California. The bill failed by five votes in the Senate after nine Democrats voted no or abstained. Three of the four Democrats who voted against the bill and two senators who abstained, including Lara, were members of the 24-person Latino Caucus.

De Leon was one of two caucus members who voted for the moratorium. Chevron made its donation to the foundation a month before the vote that killed the moratorium bill.

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"The fact that the oil industry tries to use its enormous profits to buy influence around our state is a huge problem for California communities threatened by fracking pollution," said Kassie Siegel, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, when asked about the donations.

Foundation spokesman Roger Salazar said the public had no reason to be concerned about donations to the group.

"The Foundation has a broad cross-section of supporters, many with differing viewpoints and interests," he said. "The one thing it seems they all have in common is a desire to improve California's Latino community."

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