15th Assembly District candidate Elizabeth Echols is complaining that political committees “funded by oil and tobacco interests” are spending generously on independent-expenditure mailers in support of her opponent, Tony Thurmond.
And that’s true, although many other interests are behind the spending as well.
Elizabeth Echols, 54, of Oakland, is former regional administrator for the Small Business Administration; Thurmond, 46, is a former Richmond councilman and former West Contra Costa County School Board member. The two Democrats are vying to succeed Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who is term-limited out of office at this year’s end.
The “Alliance for California’s Tomorrow, a California business coalition” has reported spending $68,722 in the past week on mailers, research and polling to support Thurmond.
Records show the Alliance raised $713,980.69 in the first half of this year, and has reported no large contributions since. Among the money it collected this year was $125,000 in May from the California Independent Petroleum Association PAC, $90,000 in May from Philip Morris USA, and $25,000 in January from the Occidental Oil & Gas Corp. So, oil and gas accounted for about a third of the committee’s income; the rest came from a wide array of companies, unions and Indian tribes.
Another committee, Keep CA Strong, has reported spending $29,848 on Thurmond’s behalf in the past week.
It reported no cash on hand at mid-year, but reports having received $75,000 on Sept. 19 from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America Independent Expenditure Committee; $200,000 on Sept. 22 from the California Independent Petroleum Association PAC, $25,000 on Sept. 26 from the California Apartment Association Independent Expenditure Committee; and $2,450 on Sept. 27 from the aforementioned Alliance for California’s Tomorrow. Here, then, the oil industry’s share is bigger.
“It’s very unusual for this district for this kind of money to come in – these are big corporate interests that don’t spend money idly” especially in so solidly progressive a district, Echols said Tuesday. “I believe they know I will be an effective champion for the environment, for funding our schools and for economic opportunity.”
She acknowledged the Alliance has a “broad mix” of backers, but she said she finds “more telling” the Keep CA Strong committee’s limited donor base and money-in, money-out model.
The independent spending notwithstanding, Echols said her campaign has “good, strong resources and a message that is resonating well with voters.” She might not be able to match the outside spending dollar for dollar, she said, “but I believe we will be the stronger campaign in the end.”
Thurmond said Tuesday he “was really caught off-guard” by the spending: “I don’t even know who these groups are.”
“The irony is, I’m the candidate who’s taken a pledge not to take money from cigarette companies – I’m a social worker, I work with youth,” he said, noting he also voted against oil interests while on Richmond City Council. “Whatever they’re doing, they’ve done independently. My record is clear, my entire campaign is based on progressive values.”
Thurmond said the spending “really speaks to the need for reforming how politics works and overturning Citizens United so we have less special interest money in politics.”