7

SD7: First the Kochs, now Tom Steyer

Where the Koch brothers go, Tom Steyer can’t be far behind – and the independent-spending maelstrom surrounding the East Bay’s 7th State Senate District special election is no exception.

Days after a Koch-related group launched an ad attacking Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord – and so benefiting her rival, Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer – the San Francisco hedge fund billionaire turned environmentalist gave $150,000 Friday to Working Families Opposing Glazer, a committee created by labor unions to help Bonilla win.

Tom Steyer“We need to elect leaders willing to stand up and do what’s right to protect the health and financial security of hardworking East Bay residents, no matter the political consequences,” Steyer said in a statement issued Friday afternoon. “Susan Bonilla has stood up to Big Oil and opposed the $2 billion tax loophole that benefits oil companies at the expense of California families. That’s the kind of thoughtful leadership we need in Sacramento.”

No mention of the campaign contributions Bonilla has taken for this race from oil and gas companies including Chevron, Phillips 66 and Tesoro.

Glazer said Friday he thinks voters “are fed up with all the negative campaigning. Steyer’s money goes to the group that is the biggest contributor to the garbage pile of slick mailers filling voter’s mailboxes.”

“Voters should read our ballot statements, access newspaper editorials and other neutral sources for factual information, and ignore the power plays and smear tactics by all the special interests,” said Glazer, who has had plenty of such power plays and smear tactics deployed on his behalf as well. “When I declared for this office, I promised that I would be a thoughtful and independent representative who would work across party lines as a problem solver not a partisan. It doesn’t surprise me that the interests who want to maintain a dysfunctional status quo are campaigning so hard against me.”

Steyer, who hosted a fundraiser for 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at his home on Wednesday, spent around $76 million last year to influence elections across the nation. His group, NextGen Climate, already is working hard to hold Republican presidential candidates’ feet to the fire on climate-change issues. He flirted with but later ruled out a run for California’s U.S. Senate seat in 2016, but many believe he has his eye on the governor’s office in 2018.

The independent spending in this race now totals somewhere between $6 million and $7 million, roughly evenly split between support for Bonilla and support for Glazer.

But it seems the Koch brothers aren’t nearly as involved in the race as it first seemed.

In a memo to reporters Tuesday, Working Families spokesman Steve Maviglio had written that “a new TV ad went up on cable television last night” from Independent Women’s Voice, a Washington, D.C.-based group with ties to the Koch brothers. But in papers filed Wednesday with the Secretary of State’s office, IWV reported spending only $5,700 to produce the ad and buy online advertising – no mention of any TV airtime.

In an email to Democrats sent Wednesday, Contra Costa County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Koertzen urged support and contributions for Bonilla because “the KOCH BROTHERS have contributed several hundred thousand dollars to support her opponent.”

Koertzen said Friday that “he was told by someone else that they saw it on TV,” and “we know from experience” that producing and airing a television ad “is at least $100,000, so we’re basing it on that.” Asked about IWV’s $5,700 filing, he said, “They’re hiding something.”

But Maviglio said just a few minutes later that it appears the ad has not aired on television at all; he said they checked with Comcast, who reported there’d been an inquiry but no ad buy.

So $5,700 indirectly from the Koch brothers seems to have leveraged $150,000 from Steyer and God knows how much more from other anti-Koch donors. Nice leverage if you can get it…

3

The East Bay’s next big intra-Democratic battle

Sick and tired of the Democrat-on-Democrat showdown that’s drawing an obscene amount of special-interest spending and burying voters beneath an avalanche of sleazy mailers in the 7th State Senate District special election? Well, the East Bay might have another Democrat-on-Democrat fight right around the corner.

Actually, make that Democrat-on-Democrat-on-Democrat. Former assembly members Wilma Chan, Nancy Skinner and Sandre Swanson all seem primed to run for the 9th State Senate District seat, from which Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, will be term-limited out in 2016.

Wilma ChanChan, 65, of Alameda, served in the Assembly from 2000 to 2006, including a two-year stint as majority leader. She ran unsuccessfully against Hancock for this seat in 2008’s Democratic primary. An Alameda County supervisor from 1994 to 2000, she returned to the board in 2010.

Chan’s 2016 Senate committee hasn’t filed any reports yet, but wrote in a recent fundraising email that she has “had a busy Spring meeting friends old and new, and introducing my campaign for California State Senate representing the communities of the East Bay.” Her next campaign event, hosted by fellow supervisors Scott Haggerty and Richard Valle, is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27 at the Spin-A-Yarn Steakhouse in Fremont; tickets start at $125, but co-hosts are paying up to $8,500 each.

Skinner, 60, of Berkeley, was a Berkeley City Councilwoman from 1984 to 1992 and was elected to the Assembly in 2008; she was term-limited out of the 15th Assembly District seat last year, succeeded by Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond. She’s now a part-time senior policy fellow at UC Davis’ Energy Efficiency Center, Institute of Transportation Studies, and the Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy.

Skinner’s 2016 Senate campaign reported having $395,816.39 banked as of Dec. 31, and her old Assembly campaign committee shut down in March after transferring $435,278.05 to the Senate committee – so that’s a little more than $831,000 ready for deployment.

Swanson, 66, of Alameda, was a top aide to Rep. Ron Dellums and Rep. Barbara Lee for 30 years before serving in the Assembly from 2006 to 2012, and then serving as Oakland’s deputy mayor through the end of last year. He considered challenging Hancock in 2012, but withdrew – and she responded by endorsing him for 2016.

Swanson’s 2016 Senate committee started the year with $13,461.93 cash on hand but $25,659.86 in debts; in April, it reported $8,500 in contributions from the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. He has a fundraiser scheduled for Sunday, June 7 at a home in the Oakland Hills, with Barbara Lee as a headliner; tickets start at $250, but campaign sponsors can pay $4,200 to bring up to eight guests.

This race probably will have a very different dynamic from the current 7th District contest, where Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, is the labor favorite, while big business is spending money on centrist Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer’s behalf. Chan, Skinner and Swanson are all dyed-in-the-wool East Bay labor liberals – you’re not likely to see the California Chamber of Commerce’s JobsPAC anointing any of them as it has Glazer – and will be fighting over many of the same endorsements, contributors and voters.

5

Dublin Republican’s BART strike bill still alive

An East Bay lawmaker’s bill to limit BART labor strikes surprisingly wasn’t killed outright Wednesday by Assembly Democrats.

The Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee heard Assemblywoman Catharine Baker’s AB 528 but didn’t vote on it, instead making it a two-year bill. Chairman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, agreed to work with Baker’s office to “facilitate discussions… on how to address the issue,” a staffer said.

Catharine Baker“I was pleased with the outcome today, I’m pleased with the progress this bill has made so far – it’s the first time the Legislature has even heard a bill regarding BART strikes,” Baker, R-Dublin, said later Wednesday. “The road continues to be a rocky one, but I’m going to be tireless in finding a solution to BART strikes.”

Bonta couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. (See update at bottom.)

A bill to impose a statewide ban on transit strikes, authored by state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, quickly died in committee early last year. Baker’s AB 528 instead would bar BART workers from striking as long as they continue to get wages and benefits – in other words, if an existing contract has a no-strike clause and management keeps honoring the pact’s financial terms after it expires, unions couldn’t strike.

Baker campaigned last year on pursuing a bill like this after two 2013 strikes brought BART to grinding halts, snarling Bay Area traffic and costing the local economy $73 million per day by one business group’s estimate.

Baker said Wednesday she believes Assembly Democrats had little choice but to give the bill a hearing, because “BART strikes are a significant issue affecting the state’s economy, not just the Bay area, and it would be irresponsible to ignore that.” Her bill might’ve had an easier time because it “is a little bit different from approaches in the past… and I think that gave it a better chance of being heard.”

UPDATE @ 5:30 P.M.: Bonta’s office just emailed me this statement, which indicates this bill’s supporters shouldn’t get their hopes up:

Rob Bonta“During the Committee hearing today, Assemblymember Baker agreed to make AB 528 a two-year bill. As a result, there was no need for any members to vote on it today. I, as Committee Chair, and my Committee staff offered to help convene a meeting between all the impacted parties.The right to strike is the cornerstone of workers’ rights. And I believe this bill, as written, would further shift the balance of power in labor negotiations even more in favor of employers. Instead of looking for ways to eliminate or reduce the rights of BART employees, we should be using this time to heal and repair the relationship between employees and management so that going forward the labor negotiation process is improved for all parties.”

6

SD7: Enter the Koch Brothers

The latest salvo in 7th State Senate District special election’s independent-spending war – which now totals at least about $6.23 million – comes from an out-of-state group with ties to the Koch brothers, America’s favorite/most-despised conservative money men.

The only good thing left to say about this East Bay Democrat-on-Democrat showdown between Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer might be that it’ll be over on May 19, two weeks from today.

Independent Women’s Voice, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative nonprofit, started airing a television ad Monday night on cable channels in the district, (see update below) attacking Bonilla for accepting gifts and travel from special interests:

As noted by the Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch, Independent Women’s Voice has received funding from the Koch-bankrolled Center to Protect Patient Rights, and has several staffers who’ve worked for other Koch-affiliated groups.

“So why are the Koch Brothers trying to come to Steve Glazer’s rescue?” asked Steve Maviglio, who runs a union-funded independent expenditure group that’s backing Bonilla. “That’s a good question. Maybe Steve Glazer can answer it – or denounce the special interests that are working overtime to get him elected for airing it.”

Glazer “dislikes the independent expenditure activity by all sides,” spokesman Jason Bezis replied Tuesday. “He said at the recent League of Women Voters debate that voters should immediately throw away and recycle all of the flyers in the mail. Similarly, he feels that voters should ignore all of the misleading media advertising.”

Bezis said Glazer would rather that voters consult “trusted sources of analysis such as newspaper editorials and local leaders who have knowledge of these candidates.” Judge their respective endorsements for yourself: Bonilla here, and Glazer here.

By my count, about $3.2 million has been independently spend on Glazer’s behalf, mostly by Bill Bloomfield – a Republican-turned-independent businessman from southern California – and by JobsPAC, the California Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee.

And about $3.03 million has been spent independently on Bonilla’s behalf, mostly by Maviglio’s labor-funded group, Working Families Opposing Glazer; Putting the East Bay First, another union-funded group; and the California Dental Association.

Please note that these figures are changing by the hour, as more TV ads are aired and district voters’ mailboxes are increasingly choked with several mailers per day. Everyone on both sides is convinced they’re doing the right thing; I’m coming to believe that practically none of them are.

Glazer later Tuesday agreed the “campaign spending and special interest involvement in this race is over the top.” He said this underscores the importance of requiring more integrity and transparency of campaigns and elected officials, per a “clean government code of conduct” he rolled out several weeks ago.

Glazer’s plan would require lawmakers to refuse all gifts, food and drink from those trying to influence the legislative process, and would ban campaign contributions during the “crunch times” when most laws are being passed. It also would require candidates to make public any questionnaires they complete while seeking endorsements, ban any per-diem payments to lawmakers for weekends and holidays when the Legislature isn’t in session, and ban use of campaign funds to pay family members for services.

Not a blessed one of which would change anything about how this ugly this contest has become.

UPDATE SATURDAY 5/9 8:50 A.M.: It now appears this Koch-related ad has NOT aired on television as pro-Bonilla people said, only online – yet it has inspired a $150,000 contribution from Tom Steyer to the labor group supporting Bonilla. More details here.

4

Rep. Ted Lieu on GOP, climate change, LGBT rights

Rep. Ted Lieu, in Silicon Valley on Monday and Tuesday to tour tech companies and pay homage to his alma mater, says the key to Democratic victories in 2016 lies on the other side of the aisle.

Ted Lieu“We want to see lots of Ted Cruz on television,” Lieu, D-Torrance, said Monday during an interview at a Starbucks in San Jose. “I want him to win the nomination on the Republican side.”

Even if that doesn’t happen, having such sharply conservative voices on the other side makes it easier for Democrats to underscore how large segments of the GOP are increasingly out of step with a changing national electorate, Lieu said.

“The rest of America, with every passing day, looks more and more like California” in its demographics and policies, he said. “The current path of the GOP is not sustainable.”

Already the shifting demographics in key Electoral College states make it hard to see how Republicans can win the White House, Lieu said, and while Republicans might control Congress for a few more cycles, “you can only redistrict so much” before the sheer weight of a changing electorate catches up.

Lieu – who in January succeeded 40-year incumbent Democrat Henry Waxman in a coastal district that runs from San Pedro up past Malibu – is in the Bay Area this week to meet with tech leaders, including a dinner Monday night with Silicon Valley Leadership Group members, and visits to companies including Oracle, SunPower and Intuitive Surgical. A self-described “recovering computer science major,” he’ll also speak at Tuesday’s event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stanford’s computer science program, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1991.

Lieu said he sees the tech sector as “one of America’s and California’s competitive advantages,” but sees a need to build diversity in its boardrooms and workspaces just as in the rest of corporate America and government. “Government operates better if it looks like the people it represents, and I think that’s also true for the private sector.”

Lots more from Lieu, after the jump…
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