The independent spending that’s flooding the 7th State Senate District’s special election has taken an odd turn, as a committee known for backing Asian American Democrats spends on behalf of a white Republican who dropped out of the contest weeks ago.
The Asian American Small Business PAC has reported spending $46,380 on research, polling and mailing on behalf of Michaela Hertle. And that’s bad news for the candidate whom Hertle endorsed: Democrat Steve Glazer.
“It’s gutter politics,” Glazer charged Monday. “There’s no Asian-American in the race, and the Republican has withdrawn and endorsed me. It’s clearly an attempt to confuse the voters and smear me.”
Glazer, Orinda’s mayor and a former campaign advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown, has set about courting Republican votes, as he’s more centrist than the contest’s other two prominent Democrats – Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo.
But when Hertle dropped out of the race and endorsed Glazer Feb. 2, it already was too late to remove her name from the ballots. By spending money to tout her now, the PAC effectively is sapping votes from Glazer.
The mailer already is hitting registered Republicans’ mailboxes across the district. On the front, beside a photo of Hertle apparently cribbed from her Twitter profile, it asks, “Why settle for less? Let’s elect a real Republican to stand up for us in the State Senate.” On the back, it says the community “needs a real reformer in the State Senate who can break the partisan gridlock and produce results for us.”
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“Unlike the other candidates, Michaela Hertle is an independent leader who owes no favors to the special interests paralyzing our state government. We can trust Michaela to fight for reform and for us,” the flier says, praising her as fiscally conservative and a government reformer.
Bill Wong, the PAC’s political director, insisted this truly is a pro-Hertle effort and not an attempt to sap votes from Glazer to benefit Bonilla or Buchanan.
“Michaela is still on the ballot and there’s an option for people to vote for her,” Wong said, noting about 41 percent of the district’s voters are Republicans or independents. “She thought she couldn’t raise enough money to run a legitimate campaign, so we figured we’d throw in this money and see how it goes.”
The PAC mostly gives money to Asian American Democrats – it gave only to Democrats in the 2013-2014 cycle, and all but one of the 17 were Asian American. But Wong said it has given to a few Republicans in the past, including Michelle Steele and Alan Nakanishi for the Board of Equalization in 2010, so supporting Hertle isn’t unprecedented.
She’s the candidate most aligned with the PAC’s ideals, he insisted: “Everyone else is kind of a career politician.”
Who’s putting up the money remains an open question.
Despite the PAC’s name, it gets most of its money from big companies and unions. Its biggest contributors in 2013-14 were Comcast Corp. ($46,800); International Union of Operating Engineers, Stationary Engineers Local 39 ($40,000); California State Council of Service Employees ($30,000); AT&T ($27,286); Professional Engineers in California Government ($20,000); Eli Lilly & Co. ($15,000); and the State Building and Construction Trades Council ($15,000).
The PAC had $55,064 cash on hand as of Dec. 31, so either it has mostly cleaned out its coffers with this spending, or it has received more contributions since the start of the year. Any such new contributions won’t have to be reported until well after this March 17 special primary election.
Either way, because it already had more money banked than it spent on this election, its mailer need only identify the PAC and not any new major donors.
Among those listed as officers on the PAC’s filings are California political and public affairs consultants James Santa Maria and Lucy McCoy; also listed is Jadine Nielsen, a longtime Democratic political operative, former Democratic National Committeewoman and former Los Angeles deputy mayor now living in Hawaii. None of them returned phone calls Monday.
Glazer says he’s pretty sure he knows who’s funding this “pro-Hertle” effort.
“It’s all being orchestrated by the BART unions and friends,” he said. “This is a front group for nefarious interests that don’t want to be known.”
It’s no secret the unions hate him. Glazer burned his bridges with labor first by consulting with JOBSPAC, the California Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, to support centrist Democrats like himself beat labor-backed Democrats in 2012’s elections. More recently, he crusaded for legislation to ban transit-worker strikes like the ones that stilled BART in 2013.
Labor unions at the start of this month created Working Families Opposing Glazer for Senate 2015. In the past week, that committee has received $35,000 from the California Teachers Association, $25,000 from the California Federation of Teachers, $25,000 from the Professional Engineers in California Government, and $25,000 from the California Labor Federation AFL-CIO – a total of $110,000. And it has spent almost $64,400 so far on anti-Glazer research, polling, mailing and a website, KnowGlazer.com.