A group representing the interests of California’s petroleum industry recently gave a sizable donation to the committee supporting a local City Council candidate, whose husband is the state’s top oil regulator.
Recent campaign finance filings show the California Independent Petroleum Association, which represents 500 petroleum companies in the state, gave $7,000 to an independent expenditure committee supporting Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, who is challenging incumbent Al Austin in a heated race for the 8th District seat in November. The association has not donated to any other Long Beach council candidates in at least eight years, which is as far back as online records go in the City Clerk’s office.
Thrash-Ntuk is married to Uduak-Joe Ntuk, who, as the state oil and gas supervisor, ensures that oil and gas companies are following state law. He was appointed to the post in October 2019.
Austin alleges the donation is a clear conflict of interest.
“I just find it suspicious that a Sacramento oil PAC would show great interest in a local City Council race,” Austin said. “I think it’s pretty clear that Mr. Ntuk is utilizing position to influence money in support for his wife.”
Ntuk originally declined to comment, but later provided a statement, saying, “I had no role in the independent expenditure committee or knowledge of the contribution in question.”
The PAC that received the funds is not legally allowed to collaborate or communicate with Thrash-Ntuk, who said she was unaware of the donation.
“I’m really surprised––I wouldn’t have heard from anyone because that was submitted to a committee that I don’t have anything to do with,” Thrash-Ntuk said. “I don’t know how the funds were used––very interesting.”
The chief executive of the oil organization said in an email that it donates to political campaigns, including local contests, every year. The group did not respond to a question about whether it’s donated in any previous Long Beach elections.
“As local employers, we often partner with the unionized labor community to support campaigns that understand the importance of protecting working families who pay taxes that fund critical local services,” Zierman said in the email.
A PAC supporting Austin and Councilman Dee Andrews in their respective races also received a contribution of $5,000 in February from Signal Hill Petroleum, which has donated to a number of local campaigns.
It’s not unusual for campaigns to receive money from oil interests—committees supporting state Sen. Lena Gonzalez and Councilwoman Mary Zendejas were recent beneficiaries—but it’s typically from local companies.
The oil industry has been one of the biggest contributors to the economy in Southern California, said Cal State Long Beach political science professor Justin Levitt.
“This is about making sure they have someone that’s willing to listen to them,” Levitt said, “so that when these issues come up before the city council they are more considerate to more of the business impacts. It’s not chump change.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Ntuk.