Money flood brings disclosure complaints

We’ve eight days to go until Election Day, and so it’s time for the last big money push – and all the righteous indignation that comes with it.

Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for state attorney general, is miffed that the Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee has sunk $1.3 million into an attack ad that started airing Sunday in Los Angeles:

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., issued a statement today reiterating her support for Harris and urging Californians to vote for her: “Together, we can prove that our elected offices can’t be bought by out-of-state shadow groups like the Republican State Leadership Association, which is funded by big oil and tobacco corporations.”

Harris campaign attorney James Sutton told reporters on a conference call this morning that he’ll write to the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission today asking that the campaign-finance watchdog look into the ad. Although the ad carries the “not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee” disclaimer required of independent expenditure ads, it doesn’t identify the RSLA’s two biggest donors: Altria Group, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Sutton said the RSLA has claimed it’s just an “issue ad” that doesn’t require such disclosure, but the fact that it’s targeting Harris’ San Francisco record and airing only in Los Angeles belies any claim that it’s not related to her statewide candidacy.

(UPDATE @ 11:05 A.M. WEDNESDAY 10/27: The FPPC has dismissed the complaint, finding it didn’t contain enough evidence to allege a violation of the Political Reform Act.)

Sutton also said he has contacted television stations to ask that they pull the ad, and Harris campaign strategist Ace Smith said he’s asking Republican nominee Steve Cooley‘s campaign to denounce the ad and call for its withdrawal.

More campaign finance clashes, after the jump…
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More insurance-industry cash to help Villines

I’d reported last week that the insurance industry seems to be buying into the election for state Insurance Commissioner by dumping money into JobsPAC – a political action committee co-chaired by the California Chamber of Commerce – which in turn is running an independent expenditure campaign for Republican nominee Mike Villines and against Democratic nominee Dave Jones.

That spending continued this weekend. JobsPAC on Saturday reported having received:

  • $450,000 from Allstate Insurance Co. on Thursday;
  • $250,000 from Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph on Thursday;
  • $365,000 from Liberty Mutual Group Inc. on Thursday; and
  • $300,000 from Progressive Insurance on Thursday and Friday.
  • The PAC also reported Saturday a $40,125 ad buy in support of Villines, and the same amount for an ad buy against Jones.

    Villines campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Gibbons on Thursday had said the campaign neither has coordinated with JobsPAC nor has any knowledge of their activities or contributors.

    The San Francisco Chronicle, in endorsing Villines at the start of this month, had noted both Villines and Jones have refused to accept industry-related contributions; apparently Villines has no problem, however, accepting industry-funded help so long as it’s coming through an intermediary. (In fairness, and as the Chronicle noted as well, Jones has taken lots of campaign money from attorneys, who often battle insurers in court and so have a vested interest in this race, too.)


    Who’s funding whom for insurance commissioner?

    Dave JonesThe campaign of Dave Jones, Sacramento Assemblyman and Democratic nominee for state insurance commissioner, today accused the insurance industry of stepping up its funding of his opponent, Republican nominee and Clovis Assemblyman Mike Villines.

    Jones’ campaign issued a news release noting the JobsPAC put another $1,051,956 this week into an independent-expenditure campaign opposing Jones and backing Villines.

    Actually, I think it’s exactly half that mount. JobsPAC’s disclosures in the Secretary of State’s database show an initial report of $525,958.50 in IE spending against Jones, and then an amended report of the exact same amount in IE spending for Villines, so I suspect that’s the real number. (You can see the initial and amended filings here.) Still not chump change, though.

    (UPDATE @ 4:20 P.M.: Parke Skelton, Jones’ campaign consultant, insists the $1,051,956 figure is accurate, and that JobsPAC split it out 50 percent for Villines and 50 percent against Jones. He also says his ad time buyer confirmed almost $1.19 million in total independent expenditure ad buys by JobsPAC so far – in the LA, Sacramento, San Diego and Stockton markets – and he says the difference is probably that between gross and net costs.)

    And either way, that’s atop $280,100 from JobsPAC last week, and a $2 million ad buy by the California Chamber of Commerce (which co-chairs JobsPAC) on Villines’ behalf three weeks ago.

    Jones’ campaign notes the insurance companies have poured almost $1.3 million into JobsPAC since late September, including:

  • Health Net – $100,000 on Oct. 12
  • Allstate – $250,000 on Oct. 7
  • Anthem Blue Cross – $100,000 on Oct. 7
  • Liberty Mutual – $125,000 on Oct. 7
  • Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph – $300,000 on Oct. 7
  • Farmers Employees & Agents PAC – $100,000 on Oct. 6
  • Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph – $225,000 on Sept. 27
  • Progressive – $90,000 on Sept. 27
  • “This is obviously a ruse,” Jones’ consultant Parke Skelton said in the release. “JobsPAC is being used to hide the fact that insurance companies are trying to buy the office of Insurance Commissioner – they want to regulate themselves.”

    But Villines campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Gibbons says the campaign neither has coordinated with JobsPAC nor has any knowledge of their activities or contributors.

    Mike Villines“Dave Jones, on the other hand, has knowingly solicited campaign funds from a range of special interests whose issues and revenues are directly affected by the Department of Insurance,” she said, citing reports of fundraisers with lawyers and others connected to the insurance industry. “He has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from attorneys representing clients before the Commissioner of Insurance, and similarly has taken hundreds of thousands from health care interests he directly affected as Chair of the Assembly Health Committee and who he now wants to bring into the regulatory orbit of the Department of Insurance. Over his political career, Jones has raised over $1 million from attorneys and law firms alone.”

    Jones also has support from independent expenditure committees funded mostly by public employee unions and trade unions, which also have contributed directly to his campaign, Gibbons continued, accusing him of carrying the unions’ water by supporting a single-payer healthcare system.


    A musical primary post-mortem

    When I’m having a good day, or sometimes when I’m down, I sometimes give myself a gift on the limited budget available to me as a reporter: a 99-cent splurge on new iTunes song for my iPod. And so as the primary election winners strut and the losers lick their wounds, here are a few suggestions for songs they might want to add to their playlists:

    Meg Whitman, the billionaire former eBay CEO who spent $71.1 million out of her own pocket to buy the Republican gubernatorial nomination: “Money” by Pink Floyd, or “Killer Queen” by Queen

    Steve Poizner, buried under Whitman’s $71.1 million and a 37-percentage-point deficit in the election results: “Wipeout” by the Surfaris

    Chris Kelly, who spent $12 million out of pocket to lose the Democratic primary for Attorney General to San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris by 17 percentage points; PG&E President and CEO Peter Darbee, whose company spent $46.4 million on the unsuccessful Proposition 16; and Mercury Insurance Group President and CEO Gabriel Tirador, whose company spent $15.9 million on the unsuccessful Proposition 17: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” by the Beatles

    Carly Fiorina, who as the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate has had the last laugh after people snickered at her “demon sheep” ad attacking rival Tom Campbell: “Sheep” by Pink Floyd

    Abel Maldonado, the appointed incumbent who – despite winning the GOP’s nomination to try to keep the lieutenant governor’s office – knows his party wants him and needs him but there ain’t no way it’s ever gonna love him: “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” by Meat Loaf

    Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco mayor who won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor but might have his own words from 2008 on same-sex marriage come back to haunt him in November’s general election: “Like It Or Not,” by Madonna

    Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles District Attorney who broke from California tradition by being a moderate capable of winning a Republican primary: “Middle of the Road,” by the Pretenders

    Tom Torlakson, the Antioch Assemblyman who placed second and so will go to a November runoff – at which time he’s likely to pick up a lot of the Democratic votes that went yesterday to third-place finisher Gloria Romero, along with stronger Democratic turnout overall – against former school district superintendent Larry Aceves for state Superintendent of Public Instruction: “Time Is On My Side,” by the Rolling Stones

    Mike Villines, the Clovis Assemblyman and former Assembly Republican Leader widely berated within the GOP for OKing a budget deal with tax hikes last year, who now is eight-tenths of a percentage point – 11,204 votes – behind political unknown Brian FitzGerald, an Insurance Department attorney from Napa who raised no money, in the GOP primary for Insurance Commissioner: “Living on the Edge” by Aerosmith

    Brian FitzGerald, who might want to ask himself, “Well, how did I get here?” : “Once in a Lifetime,” by the Talking Heads


    Local Assembly members react to GOP shakeup

    So Mike Villines, R-Clovis, has stepped down as Assembly Republican Leader, making way for Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo. How do the Bay Area’s Assembly members feel about that?

    “I have the utmost respect for Mike Villines and think he did a tremendous job in some difficult times,” Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, told me this morning, noting even tougher times are ahead.

    “We are headed into some very difficult economic times here in Sacramento over the next few months, no matter what happens with the initiatives,” he said, facing one of the worst cash crises in California history, even worse than the one we narrowly escaped a few months ago.

    Blakeslee, he said, is “a great choice because he’s a problem-solver and he understands, as many of us do, that the solutions aren’t Democratic or Republican, the decisions have to be tough choices that move California forward, that are largely bipartisan or nonpartisan. I think Mr. Blakeslee brings that to the job.”

    Torrico said he has watched Blakeslee’s work as the Assembly Republican Floor Manager and credits his “demeanor and thoughtfulness in running a very smooth operation over the last year and a half.”

    Conservatives had blasted Villines for agreeing to $12 billion in new taxes as part of the budget deal legislative leaders hammered out in February, but Torrico insists he believes Villines stepped down voluntarily “because he didn’t want to be a distraction for this initiative vote;” to spend more time with his family; and to give Blakeslee a head-start on leadership before budget negotiations start in earnest later this month.

    More (or less) from the Bay Area Assembly delegation, after the jump…
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    Jerry Brown urged to probe GOP vote-trading

    First the state budget was under negotiation, then in litigation, and now in unending confrontation, all the while subject to bloviation and obfuscation. Next up: Prosecution?

    Labor and environmental groups have asked California Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate whether Republican state lawmakers are engaging in illegal vote trading during budget talks.

    “It’s a serious question and we’re reviewing the matter carefully,” Brown responded in a statement issued through a spokesperson.

    The California Labor Federation, the State Building and Construction Trades Council, Sierra Club California and the Planning and Conservation League wrote a letter to Brown on Wednesday – and sent a copy to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, too – citing reports that the Legislature’s GOP leaders are withholding their votes on a state budget while attempting to win votes on unrelated matters.

    “Specifically, they have demanded that legislators vote for proposals to weaken labor and environmental standards as a condition for any ‘aye’ vote from Republican caucus members on the overall budget,” the letter says.

    It claims such horse-trading violates California Penal Code Section 86, which prohibits lawmakers from giving or promising to give “any official vote in consideration that another Member of the Legislature shall give this vote either upon the same or another question.” Violations are punishable by two, three or four years in prison.

    “The budget negotiations, both as reported privately and publicly, clearly violate this anti-bribery statute,” the letter says. “Vote trading is illegal under any circumstance. Vote trading during this deep fiscal crisis is unconscionable. Political gamesmanship threatens the livelihood of millions of California taxpayers, workers, and vendors.”

    See the Republican responses and more context, after the jump… Continue Reading