SD7: IE group denies Koch ties, ethics claims

7th State Senate District candidate Susan Bonilla’s campaign has filed a complaint with the state’s political watchdog agency claiming a Koch-brothers-related group has broken state laws in part by violating its nonprofit status by spending money against her.

But the group – Washington, D.C.-based Independent Women’s Voice – says it didn’t do anything wrong, and hasn’t received any money from Charles and David Koch’s network of conservative organizations.

Tuesday’s actually is the second complaint Bonilla’s campaign has made to the Fair Political Practices Commission about IWV. Bonilla, a Democratic assemblywoman from Concord, faces fellow Democrat and Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer in next Tuesday’s election.

The initial complaint, filed last week, claimed IWV had failed to timely disclose its spending on a video ad it had produced attacking Bonilla. IWV since has reported spending $8,600 to produce the ad, promote it online, and do some phone surveys.

The new complaint reiterates the timeliness charge, but also claims IWV incorrectly reported the anti-Bonilla ad as being pro-Glazer and – because it’s not spending on other races – didn’t properly identify itself under California law as a single-purpose committee. The complaint also claims IWV is abusing its nonprofit status by getting involved in this race.

“IRS tax filings show that Washington, DC-based Independent Women’s Voice is prohibited from making political expenditures, but that isn’t stopping this right-wing group from dumping thousands of dollars so far into the 7th Senate District,” Bonilla campaign spokesman Josh Pulliam said in a news release. “It is imperative that the FPPC step in to require out-of-state billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Los Angeles mega developers like Bill Bloomfield to play by the same rules as everyone else.”

Pulliam noted IWV received $250,000 in 2009 from the Center to Protect Patient Rights. That center and Americans for Responsible Leadership, both based in Arizona, agreed in 2013 to pay California a $1 million settlement for failing to disclose independent spending they’d done to oppose one 2012 ballot measure and support another.

But IWV issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that although “CPPR eventually seems to have become a vehicle for Koch funding,” that didn’t happen until 2010 “when its director started working for the Kochs, well after IWV’s work was done and complete.”

Thus, IWV “has never received any funding from the Koch’s or from any Koch-related entities,” the group said in its statement. “We wouldn’t mind receiving same, but we don’t seem to be their cup of tea.”

As for the FPPC complaint, IWV said it’s a 501(c)(4) advocacy group and as such is allowed to spend on politics.

“We are not a single-purpose committee, much as the Bonilla campaign might wish we were,” the group said in its statement. “We care about ethics and about fiscal sanity, and so are working, independent of any campaign, to educate people both for Steve Glazer and against Susan Bonilla and the special interests she represents – all while accurately and scrupulously following the laws as established by the Fair Political Practices Commission.”

“It is sad that the Bonilla campaign is so desperate for sympathy and attention, and so short of an appealing track record, that they would manufacture wholesale charges to throw at Independent Women’s Voice,” the group said. “Really, isn’t it time politics got out of that gutter?

As reported, IWV’s role in this race is an infinitesimal drop in the vast, $7-million-plus ocean of independent spending that has drowned local voters in mailers, broadcast ads and other annoyances. A union-backed group has spent tremendously to benefit Bonilla, while Glazer’s big spenders include Southern California businessman Bill Bloomfield and JobsPAC, the California Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee. IWV’s spending inspired hedge fund billionaire turned environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco to give $150,000 last week to the union PAC backing Bonilla.


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…


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.


Who won Charles Koch’s ‘Liberty Hackathon?’

I wrote an item about a month ago about a “Liberty Hackathon” that was to be held in San Francisco, sponsored by billionaire conservative benefactor Charles Koch and aiming to produce new apps “that help to advance individual and economic liberty.”

Cam UrbanThe event was held June 21-22, and the outcome might not be what many expected. Though Koch and his brother, David, are well-known partisans, “the apps built at the hackathon were not what the Koch brothers hoped or paid for,” said Cam Urban, 24, of San Francisco, who won the competition with colleague Breck Yunits.

“The majority of apps were apolitical, and certainly did not promote small government,” said Urban, a nonpartisan voter who originally hails from Vermont. “The product we built, CheckBox, is a perfect example. Only about 55 percent of eligible voters actually vote so we built the first secure and easy online voting platform. Now anyone can vote from home, regardless of whether the person is immobile, busy working, or living in a remote area.”

The Koch brothers, though the entities and political campaigns they fund, have been instrumental in advancing voter ID laws in several states over recent years.

“Unlike the partisan objectives of the Koch brothers, we hope this will change the world by providing a true representational democracy,” Urban said.

NPR’s Morning Edition offered an interesting segment on the Liberty Hackathon as well.


Charles Koch sponsoring ‘Liberty Hackathon’ in SF

One of the Koch brothers – billionaire benefactors of conservative causes near and far – is sponsoring a “Liberty Hackathon” later this month in San Francisco.

Democrats have clearly had an edge in attracting young tech-sector workers to volunteer campaign services, but the June 21-22 event at StumbleUpon’s headquarters looks like an attempt to engage and develop some of that talent on the right.

“Are you an entrepreneur or engineer with an interest in promoting economic freedom? Do you have ideas for market-based solutions that address big social problems?” the event’s website asks. “This hackathon will provide a diverse group of innovators the opportunity to build creative products that help to advance individual and economic liberty.”

This less-taxes, small-government-oriented event will be a competition among teams formed on-site to develop a web or mobile application in a weekend; cash prizes will be awarded, and top ideas will be considered for future investment. The judges will be entrepreneur and investor Scott Banister, formerly of IronPort, and Caplinked cofounder and CEO Eric Jackson, author of “The PayPal Wars.”

It’s being bankrolled by Charles G. Koch, the co-owner, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries. He and his brother, David Koch, have funded a variety of libertarian and conservative organizations and campaigns.

Oddly enough, it’ll coincide with the much bigger Netroots Nation gathering of liberal techies that same weekend in San Jose. Perhaps one group will ditch its hacking long enough to go t-p the other?


Courage Campaign’s Koch/cokehead ad draws fire

The Courage Campaign’s new ad taking on the billionaire Koch brothers, who’ve sank money into the campaign for Proposition 32, is being panned by fellow progressives who are offended by the ad’s mocking and stereotyping of drug addicts.

Many of the comments on this ad’s YouTube page and on the Courage Campaign’s Facebook page are scathing – not in defense of the Koch brothers, but against the Courage Campaign’s characterization of “cokeheads.” Some examples:

“Please admit you’re in the wrong and take this video down. Not only is this extremely offensive to those of us who have experienced drug-addiction personally or know people who have, it’s effective in alienating a usually supportive demographic. This isn’t behavior I’d expect from a progressive org, do the right thing and take it down.”


Having had a brother who passed away from a drug addiction and living his stigmatization I am saddened by the destructive nature of this ad. I can joke with the best of folks, but as I taught my child it’s only funny when you are laughing with people, not at them.

The Courage Campaign responded last night:

Hey folks, thanks for your interest in our ad and your concern. Our goal in creating the Koch Brothers ad was (and is) to educate the public about who is behind Prop 32. To do that, we chose satire, and we stand by our ad as a piece of political satire. We pride ourselves on creating messages that cut through the noise and reach people who might not be aware of the critical issues at stake. We did know that some might have concerns about the use of the word “cokehead,” which is why we specifically included the text “Problems with drug or alcohol abuse? Visit AA.org.” in the ad.

We appreciate your feedback, and actually see it as an opportunity to educate the public about two important issues, Prop 32 and media portrayals of those struggling with drug abuse. We are not going to take down the ad, but we think this is a great opportunity to publicize studies, articles or other revealing investigations into the stigmatizing of addiction and recovery. Can you please share anything like that with us? You can post it here or email it to us at info@couragecampaign.org. Also, is there an organization that makes sense for us to collaborate with on this effort? Many of those who commented are connected to Students for A Sensible Drug Policy. The Courage community would appreciate learning more about your organization, and we’d love to partner with you in posting information in the coming weeks. Thanks again for your feedback. We’re always learning.

But the critics aren’t placated, and topday started a change.org petition urging the Courage Campaign to take down the video.

What do you think?