Tom Fulks

CalCoastNews got it wrong: I'm not a paid lobbyist

Tom Fulks
Tom Fulks

There’s an old joke we used to tell in the newsroom back in the day when print ruled journalism:

“If it didn’t happen that way, it shoulda.”

This joke seems to be the operating mantra of a local online gossip site, CalCoastNews.

What this site’s contributors clearly don’t understand is that just because they want something to be true, that doesn’t make it so — no matter how much time they’ve spent connecting random dots from superficial Google searches.

One of its writers, Dan Blackburn, tried to disparage my recent column about the Phillips 66 oil supertrain project by accusing me of having conflicts of interest. In a piece titled “Tribune columnist is a paid lobbyist,” he flogged his opinion disguised as “news” both online and on local radio.

Blackburn complained I should have disclosed three things:

  • That my company, Mightycomm, represents the diesel industry trade group known as the Diesel Technology Forum.
  • That my company represents Neste, the world’s largest maker of renewable diesel fuel based in Finland.
  • That my company is allegedly lobbying on behalf of Phillips 66’s competitors.
  • “Both Neste and the Diesel Technology Forum stand to gain financially from the denial of the proposed Phillips 66 project,” wrote Blackburn, offering no source or reference for this unfounded assertion. In other words, he made it up, based on a wishful and incorrect leap of logic.

    Yes, DTF and Neste are my company’s clients, but neither will be at all affected by the approval or denial of the rail project. Blackburn is the only source for that claim and offers no evidence — because there isn’t any. It’s not true.

    The DTF is a trade group of diesel vehicle makers, components manufacturers and various associate members including the Western States Petroleum Association and Neste. The DTF does not make fuel. It does promote the use of both petroleum- and bio-based diesel fuel for increased fuel efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

    So the DTF has no interest in the Phillips 66 project because it doesn’t matter who makes diesel fuel or what kind it is.

    Neste makes renewable diesel fuel in Singapore and sells nearly all of it to big oil companies in California like Phillips 66, which are required to buy it under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The LCFS mandates all transportation fuels contain at least 10 percent low-carbon content by 2020.

    In short, Neste doesn’t compete with any large oil company in California because it doesn’t have to. It’s got a captive market. Any intern working for an energy industry economist would know that.

    Blackburn’s third accusation is that I’m an illegal, unregistered “lobbyist.”

    “Fulks is not registered as a lobbyist in California, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s website,” Blackburn advised ominously.

    That’s because I don’t work as a lobbyist. My mug shot doesn’t appear on the wall at the post office, either. That doesn’t make me an unregistered bank robber.

    My company has been in the advanced automotive technology and fuels public relations and public policy business since 2003. That’s not lobbying. When we do choose to lobby someone, we use our own registered contract lobbyist.

    We know the law, no thanks to the legal analysis offered by Dan Blackburn, Esq., who also apparently moonlights as an ill-informed energy industry economist, online sleuth and all-purpose expert on everyone’s business.

    Incidentally, Blackburn also stated that I failed to return “phone calls” and emails. He didn’t call me, not once.

    I got his emails, though, and didn’t respond because CalCoastNews doesn’t adhere to any professional standards of journalism. I have no confidence facts mean anything to his story. Proving this point, Blackburn went ahead and published a fictitious conclusion without getting any information from anyone.

    Blackburn has made up “news” before about me and people I know, regardless of being told it wasn’t true.

    A minor example: Unnamed “sources” once accused me of attending a certain meeting — when I was in fact out of town. While I informed Blackburn of that, the truth was inconvenient to his narrative, so my denial was left out.

    Another example: Blackburn claims I’m paid by county Supervisor Bruce Gibson. I’ve written that the last time I was paid by Gibson was with the election in June 2014. Blackburn and his conspiracy-addled radio pals may want it to be true that I work for Gibson and Supervisor Adam Hill, and that they control my column content, but that doesn’t make their continual false accusations true.

    CalCoastNews runs conjecture it calls “stories,” like Blackburn’s latest: inaccurate, un-sourced, unsubstantiated, rumor- and innuendo-riddled opinions pretending to be news.

    A news outlet getting a couple of stories right now and then isn’t a license to get so many stories so consistently wrong.

    Just because they want fiction to be true doesn’t make it so, in spite of their philosophy that “If it didn’t happen that way, it shoulda.”