Big Ag Billionaires Donate $250,000 to Newsom’s Campaign Against Recall

Stewart and Lynda Resnick, billionaire agribusiness tycoons and major promoters of the Delta Tunnel and increased water pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, have donated a total of $366,800 to Governor Gavin Newsom since 2018, including $250,000 to the campaign to fight the Governor’s recall.

Lynda Resnick, the Vice Chairman of the Wonderful Company, donated $125,000 to the “Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom” campaign on March 22, according to California Form 497.

On the same day, Stewart Resnick, the Chairman and President of the Wonderful Company, also donated $125,000 to the campaign.

In an email from Gavin Newsom urging opposition to the recall effort, the Resnicks’ names appear at the bottom:

“PAID FOR BY STOP THE REPUBLICAN RECALL OF GOVERNOR NEWSOM. Committee major funding from: California Democratic Party, Lynda Resnick, Stewart Resnick.”

The email states: “Please add your name to say you oppose the far-right Republican recall effort in California. It is critical you make your voice heard from the start of this effort.”  

Personally, I oppose the recall effort. The last time we had a successful recall campaign in California, we ended up with a governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a disaster for fish, water and environmental justice — and revived the Peripheral Canal project that was voted down decisively in 1982.

At the same time, I fear that the billionaires’ contributions to “Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom” will only bolster Newsom’s support of projects that corporate agribusiness promotes, including the Delta Tunnel, Sites Reservoir and the voluntary water agreements.

These latest donations are not the only donations given to Newsom’s campaigns by the Resnicks since 2018. Newsom received a total of $755,198 in donations from agribusiness in the 2018 election cycle, based on the data from That figure includes a combined $116,800 from Stewart and Lynda Resnick and $58,400 from E.J. Gallo, combined with $579,998 in the agriculture donations category.

The Koch Brothers of California

The Resnicks, nicknamed “the Koch Brothers of California” by activists, have contributed many millions of dollars to candidates from both sides of the political aisle and to proposition campaigns so they can continue selling back public water to the public at a huge profit while promoting legislation and other efforts to weaken laws protecting fish, wildlife and water. The Resnicks are considered the largest tree fruit growers in the world.

The Resnicks have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to not only Newsom, but to Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other governors in California.

In November 2018, the Resnicks’ Wonderful Orchards LLC donated $100,000 to Jerry Meral’s unsuccessful Proposition 3 water bond campaign that would have funded projects to benefit the Resnicks and other growers.

The Resnicks also contributed $150,000 to Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 1 water bond campaign in the fall of 2014. To read about how Brown broke his Prop 1 “promise” to not spend any water bond money on the Delta Tunnels.

The Resnicks have also donated many hundreds of millions of dollars throughout their Resnick Family Foundation to the University of California system and the arts in California.

In September of 2019, the Resnicks announced a $750 million pledge to Caltech to “support cutting-edge research into the most pressing challenges in environmental sustainability.”

“In order to comprehensively manage the climate crisis, we need breakthrough innovations, the kind that will only be possible through significant investment in university research,” said Stewart Resnick, a senior member of the Caltech Board of Trustees, in a Caltech press release. “Science and bold creativity must unite to address the most pressing challenges facing energy, water, and sustainability.”

The couple own the POM Wonderful and Fiji Water brands, Wonderful Halos, Wonderful Pistachios and Almonds, JUSTIN Wines, Landmark Wines, JNSQ Wines, Suterra Pest Control and the Teleflora floral wire service company.

The Resnicks became notorious for buying water for as little as $28 per acre-foot from the State of California and then selling it for as much as $196 per acre-foot back to the state, according to an article by the late Mike Taugher in the Contra Costa Times on May 23, 2009. The state then used this water to supply other irrigators whose Delta water supply had been previously curtailed.

“As the West Coast’s largest estuary plunged to the brink of collapse from 2000 to 2007, state water officials pumped unprecedented amounts of water out of the Delta only to effectively buy some of it back at taxpayer expense for a failed environmental protection plan, a MediaNews investigation has found,” according to Taugher.

The couple’s huge agricultural operations, based in Kern County, use more water annually than every home in Los Angeles combined, according to an article by Josh Harkinson in Mother Jones magazine on August 9, 2016:

The consequences of Big Ag Regulatory Capture: Ecosystem Collapse

The latest donations from the Resnicks come in the wake of the news that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife found zero Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus), once the most abundant fish species in the estuary, in its 2020 Fall Midwater Trawl Survey throughout the Delta. This was the third year in a row that zero smelt were found in the survey.

“All signs point to the Delta smelt as disappearing from the wild this year, or, perhaps, 2022,” according to a California Water Blog post by Peter Moyle, Karrigan Börk, John Durand, T-C Hung and Andrew L. Rypel.

Not only did the survey catch zero Delta Smelt, but it also found zero Sacramento Splittail, a native minnow that was removed from the Endangered Species list by the Bush administration.

The zero Delta Smelt and Sacramento Splittail found in the survey reflect an ongoing collapse of pelagic (open water) fish species in the Delta that also includes Longfin Smelt, Striped Bass, Threadfin shad and American Shad. While there are several factors that scientists pinpoint for the ecosystem collapse, including toxic chemicals, decreasing water quality and invasive species, no factor figures greater in the collapse than the export of massive quantities of state and federal project water from the Delta to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests like the Resnicks and the Westlands Water District.

As the Delta smelt and other fish species move closer and closer to extinction in the wild, Governor Newsom, like California governors before him, has done little to stop the smelt’s slide towards extinction but has instead promoted water policies that will only hasten the extinction of the Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Central Valley steelhead, spring and winter-run Chinook salmon and other fish species.

The Delta Tunnel, Sites Reservoir and voluntary agreements that Newsom backs not only threaten Central Valley and Delta species, but the salmon and steelhead populations that have been an integral part of the culture of the Yurok, Hoopa Valley, Karuk and other Tribes for thousands of years.

Could Newsom’s support of Big Ag-promoted projects be because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars Newsom has received from corporate agribusiness interests like the Resnicks that support increasing water exports from the Delta rather than decreasing them?

By fast-tracking the Delta Tunnel, supporting the Big Ag-backed voluntary water agreements, overseeing the issuing of a draft EIR that increases water exports for the state and federal projects rather than reducing them and releasing a controversial water portfolio that includes fast-tracking the Sites Reservoir, it appears that Newsom is bending to the will of his agribusiness donors and sending Delta smelt, longfin smelt, Sacramento winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead and other fish species to the scaffold.

The dramatic decline of Delta smelt and other species, when viewed over the period of 53 years since 1967 when the State Water Project went into operation, is simply chilling.

Between 1967 and 2020, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Fall Midwater Trawl (FMWT) abundance indices (combined September, October, November and December surveys) for striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad have declined by 99.7, 100, 99.96, 67.9, 100, and 95 percent, respectively, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

“Taken as five-year averages (1967-1971 vs. 2016-2020), the declines for striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad are 98.1, 99.8, 99.8, 26.2, 99.3 and 94.3 percent, respectively,” said Jennings.

How my article about the Resnicks got me monitored by the UC Davis Chancellor

An investigative piece focusing on the relationship between Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoons Stewart and Lynda Resnick and the UC system that I wrote in March 2016 definitely got UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi’s attention.

Stewart Resnick served on the Board of Advisors of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, made famous for serving as Chancellor when UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike pepper-sprayed students during the Occupy protests in the fall of 2011. After her resignation from the position in 2016, Resnick continues to sit on the Board of Advisors.

According to an investigation by the Sacramento Bee, I was one of the journalists being monitored by a private firm, Idmloco, hired by Katehi and funded by our tax dollars.

The documents released to the Bee “illustrate the efforts the university undertook to monitor its reputation nationwide, including analysis of Twitter accounts of journalists and lawmakers.”

“The online reputation management companies were paid at least $175,000 to bury and counterbalance negative online references about the university and Katehi following a November 2011 incident in which campus police pepper-sprayed students during a peaceful demonstration,” the Bee stated.

The firm was monitoring posts from Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, “who called on Katehi to resign and held an oversight hearing on outside compensation for university leaders.”

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher