Politics & Government

Pombo has had mixed success in business since leaving Congress

WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley voters pushed Richard Pombo through the revolving door four years ago.

The veteran congressman needed a job after losing his 2006 re-election bid. So Pombo, who's currently running for a different House seat representing parts of Fresno and Modesto, took up private consulting. It's been challenging work, at which he's had middling success.

Pombo has combined work at his family's Tracy ranch with consulting gigs and volunteer projects, some with entities that have since fizzled or gone dormant. Pombo's first post-Congress position, as a senior adviser with the Oregon-based Pac/West Communications, lasted only about a year.

"We just decided to go our separate ways," Pombo said in an interview. "It just wasn't the best fit for me."

Now, after four years in the private sector, this 49-year-old former chairman of the House Resources Committee wants to reboot his public career. He's running for the seat currently held by the retiring Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. It's a job for which some of Pombo's fellow Republicans, unhappy with Radanovich, had previously tried to recruit him.

"The first time somebody approached me about running against George was several years ago," Pombo said. "I told them I wasn't going to run against him."

Pombo said he rejected another covert recruiting effort several months ago and agreed to run only after Radanovich announced his retirement in late December.

Other Republicans also covet the 19th Congressional District. State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund and former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson have all announced their candidacies or their intentions to run.

For every candidate, biography matters. Jobs define them.

Pombo was fundamentally a rancher when he made his first congressional run in 1992 at age 31. Eighteen years later, Pombo's latest campaign Web site still casts him in cowboy hat, framed by a stark ranching landscape.

Pombo is a participant in two San Joaquin County ranching partnerships, according to his 2007 personal financial disclosure statement. Though Pombo never registered as a lobbyist after leaving office, politics have certainly expanded the off-ranch opportunities.

Pombo's wife, Annette, for instance, was on the payroll of Republican Tom McClintock's 2006 campaign for lieutenant governor, Pombo's 2007 disclosure statement shows. McClintock lost that race but subsequently won election to Congress and has recently endorsed Pombo.

In February 2007, after having been defeated by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, Pombo announced he was joining Pac/West Communications as a senior adviser.

"He's had 14 years in Congress, dealing with some of the country's toughest issues," Pac/West President Paul Phillips noted at the time, adding that Pombo's hiring "will certainly give us more visibility; it upgrades us on the national level."

The company promoted private property, oil and gas development and other policies aligned with Pombo's ideology. Before Pombo joined the firm, for instance, Pac/West had won a $3 million contract from Alaska to rally public support for oil drilling. Pac/West did so, in part, by funding a group called Americans for American Energy, a self-described grassroots group.

Then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin canceled the contract in mid-2007, saying the no-bid award "was not part of an open and transparent process." Pombo said the Alaska work had mostly subsided by the time he joined Pac/West.

Pombo's former top congressional aide, Steve Ding, who had joined Pombo on the Pac/West payroll in early 2007, said that most of their time was spent "chasing new business" for the firm's California venture. It could be an uphill race.

In mid-2007, Pombo helped create the Central Valley Resources Agency. The "public-private partnership" was designed to collect money from developers and state and federal governments for flood control improvements.

The city of Stockton committed $100,000 to Pac/West for the project. Pombo's hometown of Tracy, though, declined to join, and eventually economic circumstances dried up potential funding.

"The real estate market went into the tank, and there was no more building going on," Ding said.

In 2007, as well, Pombo was named chair of Partnership for America, a private property advocacy group. Partnership for America shared manpower and a Colorado address with Americans for American Energy and another organization that Pac/West Communications used to promote Alaska oil drilling.

Pombo said he gave speeches and attended meetings as the national chairman for Partnership for America, which opposed wilderness bills and endangered species regulations. Pombo indicated that "they're inactive right now."

Ding subsequently started his own consulting firm and said he sometimes hires Pombo for specific projects, such as help for a Tracy company that handles on-site treatment of medical waste. Pombo added that he's worked with some "very, very small companies" trying to promote alternative energy sources in California.

Ding is now serving as the general consultant for Pombo's latest political bid.