Richmond, Calif. only has about 100,000 people. The racially mixed town just a few miles north of Oakland has no movie theaters and just one railroad station. It shares its Home Depot with neighboring El Cerrito.
Yet Chevron, the second-largest oil company in the world, is set to spend approximately $3 million to ensure candidates unfriendly to the company fail in Richmond's municipal elections tomorrow, according to the Contra Costa Times.
That is as much as California's GOP candidate for governor has spent on TV ads throughout the entire state.
The fruits of the campaign can be found everywhere in Richmond, and online.
The company, through a political action group called Moving Forward, has blanketed the city in billboards and ads warning voters against electing three candidates the oil giant believes will work against their interests if elected: Gayle McLaughlin, who for eight years made Richmond the largest city in the country with a Green Party mayor; Jovanka Beckles, McLaughlin's vice-mayor; and Eduardo Martinez, Richmond's city planner; to city council positions.
Moving Forward bills itself as a "Coalition of Labor Unions, Small Businesses, Public Safety and Firefighters Associations," but acknowledges "major funding" is provided by Chevron.
How much is major? As Harriet Rowan, a journalism student at UC-Berkeley, has documented, Chevron actually provides more than 99 percent of the group's funding.
"Since Jan. 1, 'Moving Forward…' has received $2,933,363.90 in contributions from Chevron. Moving Forward has also received $5,000 each from the Richmond Police Officers Association PAC and the Independent PAC Local 188 International Association of Firefighters," Rowan wrote on RichmondConfidential.org, a site she runs with other Cal students devoted to the situation.
Chevron has some reason to be anxious about Tuesday's outcome. In 2012, a fire at its refinery in the city sent 15,000 Bay Area residents to the hospital for medical attention. Chevron eventually plead no contest to six criminal misdemeanor charges and paid $2 million in fines and restitution. One year after the fire, the city of Richmond sued Chevron. The company could be facing hundreds of millions of dollars in liabilities.
At the same time, the refinery remains the city's largest employer, and the company has had a presence in the town for a century.
Chevron's campaign to expand its footprint in Richmond has extended beyond merely the ballotbox. Earlier this year, the company hired a former San Francisco Examiner reporter to run an online newspaper, the Richmond Standard, that covers city news, from sports to crime.
It's difficult to say whether any of this will pay off. Moving Forward's candidates have been careful to portray themselves as having the support of local unions, not Chevron. Though Chevron's spending dwarfs that of the three candidates they're targeting, the trio has held a series of rallies to mobilize voters.
And residents are themselves working to challenge the campaign with their own set of signs:
And a group called Committee for Accurate and Responsible Posters has been putting Chevron stickers on "Moving Forward"-sponsored signs to show who's actually bankrolling the campaigns.
Rowan, whom the LA Times has said is leading the way on covering Chevron's unrivaled local spending spree, told Fusion that so far only the company itself has conducted a poll of the likely outcome of the race. A representative for Chevron told Fusion the poll's results aren't publicly available.
"I really don't know what to expect," Rowan said.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.