Cadiz campaign donations likely impacted San Bernardino County groundwater ordinance

Posted on | October 1, 2012 | No Comments

Click to enlarge this sample from the campaign donation filings for San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.

UPDATED 10/3/2012: Monday October 1st, gathering in special session, San Bernardino County Supervisors voted 4-1 to in effect waive the county’s groundwater ordinance in favor of allowing private water speculator Cadiz, Inc to self-monitor massive water exports from the Mojave.

Why would San Bernardino County, in the words of Cadiz opponent and former assistant county administrator John Goss, “bind itself to the terms of the memorandum of understanding without approving the very management plan it is then bound to adopt and implement”?

In a word, money. After the jump are excerpts from 16 years of newspaper reports on how Cadiz has paid to play, a tactic that in one of its wilder moments landed Cadiz chief executive officer Keith Brackpool and former California governor Gray Davis in the Middle East with the (now deposed) Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

For those following Monday’s vote, click here to be taken to San Bernardino County records of supervisor 460 forms. While surfing, do note that the declarations of Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, recipient of almost $50,000 in donations, have been prepared not in San Bernardino County, but in Orange County, by Betty Presley & Associates in Rancho Santa Margarita, where the local water district is acting as a quasi-municpal front for the Cadiz bid to export San Bernardino County’s groundwater to Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Looking at what the Riverside Press-Enterprise gives as the total of the stated donations to supervisors, $107,000 since 2007, you have to hand it to British-born Cadiz CEO Keith Brackpool. The scion of London’s “gin-and-jag” belt has made one of the best deals since Manhattan was supposedly traded for beads. Not that the Mojave groundwater doesn’t more than earn its keep left in the desert aquifer, but the market value of the supply targeted by Cadiz over the next 50 years is estimated in excess of $1.8bn. San Bernardino County supervisors have sold out the health and prosperity of the land around the Mojave National Preserve for an amount that might not even cover a down payment on a doublewide.

Keith Brackpool. Source: State of California

“The real long-term play is water.” — Cadiz CEO Keith Brackpool on agriculture as a transition business to tap San Bernardino County groundwater, Gauging a Grand Plan to Sell Water From the Mojave, New York Times, August 11, 1996

Cadiz is the corporate successor to a failed venture to grow jojoba plants in the Arizona desert. Brackpool, who was part of the earlier venture, bought the company, renamed it, bought agricultural holdings in California and began making political contributions and involving himself in California water issues. — Desert Water Entrepreneur Closely Tied to Governor, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2000

Records of the California secretary of state show Brackpool as an active or inactive director of seven separate companies. One deal that went sour in the spring of 1991 forced Brackpool to resign as the North American head of Albert Fisher Ltd., a British food distributor. Brackpool had to leave Fisher after it became known that he played a part in a deal involving a Fisher competitor. —  Water Buoys Wmx Foe In Fierce Desert Battle, Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1997

During 1997 and 1998, the company [Cadiz] contributed at least $320,000 to various candidates, according to the Secretary of State and StateNet, a private campaign-finance database. The biggest single recipient, not surprisingly, was Gov.-elect Davis. Cadiz gave his campaign $132,913 in monetary and nonmonetary contributions, including the use of company aircraft, according to Secretary of State records. Meantime, the company contributed at least $27,000 to Attorney General-elect Bill Lockyer; $20,000 to his unsuccessful Democratic primary opponent, Charles Calderon; $10,000 to Mr. Katz’s failed Senate campaign; $40,000 to Speaker Villaraigosa; and $20,000 to top Republican Sen. Jim Brulte. — How Cadiz Inc.’s CEO Became a Key Advisor to Davis on Water, Wall Street Journal, December 9, 1998

According to the [US Geological Survey’s] Feb. 23 comments, the partnership’s draft environmental review — developed by the project’s proponents, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Santa Monica-based Cadiz Inc., an agriculture- and water-marketing concern — contains “unreasonable predictions of water levels and fluxes” and overestimates “the natural recharge to the basin by five to 25 times.” Indeed, groundwater-flow models cited by Metropolitan “are not defensible,” the Geological Survey says. — Scientists Criticize Water Plan, Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2000, via ProQuest database

Last fall, [California Governor Gray] Davis invited Brackpool on a business development trip to the Middle East, where the two met privately with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The occasion afforded Brackpool his first opportunity to confer with the leader of a country where his firm is participating in a massive public works project. — Desert Water Entrepreneur Closely Tied to Governor, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2000

“…  if [treating Cadiz water for Chromium VI ] is going to cost us as much as Ft. Knox, we’ll look for another project.” — Ron Gastelum, general manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, High Chromium VI levels found in Mojave Aquifer, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2000

Click on the Polly Peck share price graphic for a Guardian story looking back at the failure of Polly Peck


[Cadiz CEO Keith] Brackpool, 43, who still has family in England, arrived in the United States in his 20s as an investment banker. He was head of the American division of Albert Fisher, the food distribution company, until 1991 when it emerged that he had a $10m controlling stake in a subsidiary of Polly Peck, the Asil Nadir-owned company which had collapsed dramatically. Mr Brackpool resigned from Albert Fisher. — The British Businessman who aims to make $1bn taking water from the desert, The [UK] Guardian, February 1, 2001

Mr Brackpool’s company has several agricultural schemes on the go, including one with the Saudi royal family in Egypt, which Cadiz Inc says could become the largest single agricultural project in the world. It is also one of the biggest financial backers of the governor of California, Gray Davis, the man who hopes to take the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. Cadiz Inc contributed $133,000 to Mr Davis’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign and a total of $445,000 to all politicians. The British Businessman who aims to make $1bn taking water from the desert, The [UK] Guardian, February 1, 2001
Cadiz’s ability to meet its financial obligations also is open to question. The company, whose chairman and chief executive, Keith Brackpool, once pleaded guilty to criminal charges relating to securities trading and later was forced to resign an executive post because of his outside business dealings, has never turned an annual profit. Its total losses from 1993 through 2001 come to more than $105 million. — Critics Raising Concerns About Cadiz Water Project, Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2002

During his first run for governor four years ago, [California Governor Gray] Davis relied heavily on a jet provided by Cadiz Inc., a Santa Monica-based firm that is seeking to build a water storage project in the desert. The Davis campaign reported the total value of those flights as nonmonetary contributions worth almost $50,000. — Davis flies friendly skies on Private Jets, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2002
The motion to cancel the program passed with 50.25% of the board’s weighted votes in favor, a razor-thin margin over the 50% needed, with the largest bloc coming from Los Angeles County board members. Cast in opposition were 44.22% of the votes, including votes from San Diego and Orange County members. The balance of the votes were held by board members not in attendance. Under the MWD system, the 37 board members are entitled to weighted votes based on the size and valuation of the 26 local and municipal water districts they represent. — MWD Cancels Desert Storage Project, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2002
Brackpool did, however, collect Democratic politicians like a navel collects lint. Tony Coelho, a former California congressman and chairman of the party‘s congressional campaign committee, served on the Cadiz board from 1999 to 2003. Former Arizona governor and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt joined to work on international deals. (Nothing came of his efforts.) Villaraigosa signed on as a consultant for two years before becoming mayor; Cadiz, Brackpool and others connected with the company contributed a total of $43,650 to his political campaigns from 1999 through 2005. Another consultant was former state Assemblyman Richard Katz, who last week came within a hair’s breadth of being named chief executive of the MWD. — Water Firm Awash in Political Influence, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2006

The company run by Keith Brackpool, 52, of Los Angeles paid Schwarzenegger Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy $120,000 as a consultant in 2005 … [Republican] Schwarzenegger, who is negotiating with lawmakers on a water deal that could fund billions of dollars in new projects, endorsed Cadiz’s proposal earlier this year. — California Briefing, Los Angeles Times, September 26, 2009

A key vote in its [the Cadiz project’s] support was that of First District [San Bernardino County Republican] Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, in whose district the Cadiz Valley lies. Mitzelfelt, who is now running for Congress, has received $48,100 in political donations from Cadiz, Inc. since 2007. — Four First District Candidates Weigh in Against Cadiz, San Bernardino Sentinel, June 2, 2012

From 2007 to June 30, 2012, Cadiz has donated more than $107,000 to supervisors and candidates for the office, according to county records. Among them: [Brad] Mitzelfelt received $48,100; Gary Ovitt, $11,745; Josie Gonzales, $8,450; Janice Rutherford, $5,999; and [Neil] Derry, $5,250. Supervisors did not respond to calls from the public to address how much money they have received from the company. — County supervisors approve Cadiz desert water pumping plan, Riverside Press Enterprise, October 2, 2012


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