In November, voters in Berkeley and the rest of the historically progressive 15thAssembly District will decide between two dramatically different candidates: Buffy Wicks, a newcomer to the district, with no local track record, but with record amounts of outside money, and Jovanka Beckles, a locally based candidate with a strong record of progressive activism.
Follow the Money
Through May 19, Assembly District candidate Buffy Wicks, who finished first in a 12 candidate race in the June 5 primary, received contributions totaling $656,597.91, a record amount for this district, according to campaign filings with the California Secretary of State.
On top of that, an independent expenditure committee of Govern for California, a group of wealthy “philanthropists” who support charter schools, spent $493,332.70 to support her candidacy, while the California Dental Association Independent Expenditure PAC spent $99,481.46 to support her.
The money her campaign raised added to the money spent to support her by outside groups totals $1,249,414, a record amount for a candidate in our local Assembly District and far more than in previous elections. Govern for California’s heavy spending for Wicks makes this election very different from previous 15th District races.
The Out of State Candidate
Buffy Wicks, who has never held any elected office, managed Hilary Clinton’s 2016 California Primary campaign against Bernie Sanders and also worked in Barack Obama’s campaigns and in the Obama White House. She has only been registered to vote in the 15th Assembly since 2016 and between 2008 and 2016 lived out of state or in Los Angeles.
She has no track record working on local issues in the district and, for that reason, it may not be surprising that only 14% of those who have contributed money to her campaign so far live in the district.
48% of contributors to Wicks’ campaign committee live out of state. 20% are residents of Washington D.C. and its suburbs. She has more contributors not only in DC and its suburbs, but in Chicago and its suburbs, and in New York City and its suburbs, than she does in either Berkeley or Oakland.
There has never been a such an expensive local Assembly race or a candidate who has relied so heavily on outside money. It’s not unusual for candidates to receive some contributions from family members and friends in other parts of the country, but it is unusual for a local East Bay candidate to rely so heavily on out of state money.
The Locally Based Candidates
In sharp contrast, Jovanka Beckles, Vice Mayor of Richmond, in her second term as a member of the Richmond City Council, who came in second behind Wicks, raised a more modest $157,844.25 in the same period, less than a quarter of what Wicks raised. Beckles spent less per vote received than any of the other six major candidates. Spending for Wicks per vote received was more than three and a half times spending for Beckles as of the end of the latest filing period, with total spending not yet reported.
67% of Beckles’ contributors live in the District; only 4% of her contributors live out of state. No outside money from independent expenditure committees run by wealthy investors or special interests was spent to support her. Not surprisingly, she has the most contributors from Richmond.
Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, who finished third behind Beckles, raised $279,21739 in the same period; 3% from out of state; 48% from inside the District. Much of the rest of his money came from parts of Oakland not in the District and from other Bay Area Cities.
Berkeley school board member Judy Appel, who finished fourth, raised $288,791; 7% of her contributors reside out of state; 59% reside in the district. Appel had the largest number of contributors from Berkeley and was endorsed by four current Berkeley councilmembers.
Two Berkeley-based candidates, East Bay MUD director Andy Katz and Berkeley City Councimember Ben Bartlett also raised very little money from out of state and got most of their contributions from AD-15 and the larger Bay Area.
Big Increase Over 2014
In the 2014 Assembly District 15 primary, Elizabeth Echols received 31.1% of the vote in the June primary, running ahead of Tony Thurmond who received 24.4%.
In the same reporting periods that year, Echols, the best financed candidate, received contributions totaling $358,528.05, while Thurmond’s contributions totaled $242,014.90. Thurmond went on to win the November election.
Wicks this year raised about $300,000 more than Echols did in 2014 for the same campaign filing periods.
Who is “Govern for California”?
So who the outsiders who are pouring so much money into our local Assembly race? Harriet Steele’s June 1 post on 48hills.org helps to answer the question and is worth reading. You can find it here: https://48hills.org/2018/06/big-right-wing-money-east-bay/
Steele reports that Govern for California’s founders are David Crane, a former advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; David Penner, currently chairman of the board of Wal-Mart, and Ron Conway, a wealthy tech investor.
One of Govern for California’s committees takes the money it receives from wealthy donors and gives it as PAC contributions to candidates they like. Wicks received two $4400 PAC contributions (one for the primary; one for the general election) from this committee, the maximum that can be given in a state race. Another Govern for California Committee acts as an intermediary for wealthy donors, with the majority giving the maximum $4400 to Wicks. Over $76,000 was raised for Wicks’ campaign committee by Govern for California. This money from wealthy donors is equal to almost half of the money Beckles raised, most of it from local donors.
More significant is the Govern for California Action Committee, which is the committee that expended to date $493,332.70 in support of Buffy Wicks. This paid for mailers supporting Wicks as well as for research and consulting work in support of her candidacy. A little over $120,000 was donated to this committee by David Crane. Over $36,000 was donated by a pro-charter schools PAC. Crane is a charter school supporter and critic of teachers’ unions.
While per pupil spending in in California ranks 41st in the nation, these wealthy donors to Govern for California are not advocating for reform of Prop 13 to generate more money for education. Nor will you find them calling for a higher minimum wage, single payer health care, funding for affordable housing or advocating other progressive positions. This is not a group that is addressing the growing economic inequality in this country.
The Govern for California Action Committee seems to exist largely to support Buffy Wicks. While two other candidates have received some support, over 95% of the expenditures to support candidates, in the current election cycle, have been spent to support Wicks, apparently the favorite of Govern for California and its founder David Crane. It seems fair to assume that they think she will advance their agenda if elected and would prevent election of a progressive Assembly member who would challenge that agenda.
Other candidates receiving support from Govern for California, via its Network Committee, include Marshall Tuck, who is running against Tony Thurmond for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, with over $175,000 in contributions channeled to Tuck, the second highest amount of support from Govern for California committees.
Catherine Baker, the Republican candidate in Assembly District 16, which includes Eastern Alameda County, Lamorinda and part of Walnut Creek, is also backed by Govern for California, which was an intermediary for over $88,000 in donations. The group also backs some moderate Democrats like Scott Weiner, author of SB 827.
The CNA-backed Candidate
Buffy Wicks was not the only candidate to benefit from independent expenditures, though far more outside money was spent for her than for any other candidate. Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, Mayor Pro Tem of El Cerrito and a neonatal nurse at Alta Bates Hospital, who finished fifth in the primary, benefited from $137,715.40 of independent expenditure by a committee affiliated with her union, the California Nurses Association, and from $56,114.30 spend by the California African American PAC. Pardue-Okimoto was endorsed by current AD-15 Assembly member Tony Thurmond.
Rochelle Pardue Okimoto was not the only candidate backed by her union. Jovanka Beckles, who makes her living as a mental health specialist working with children, was supported by the PAC affiliated with her own union, Teamsters Local 856 and by other Teamsters PACs, and by PACS affiliated with unions representing healthcare workers and other workers. Other candidates, including Dan Kalb, Andy Katz and Judy Appel had some union PAC support, with Appel winning support of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and other unions representing educators. Both Appel and Beckles received contributions from the Equality California PAC.
Dan Kalb, supported by the Sierra Club, received a contribution from the Club’s PAC and one from a solar industry PAC. Union PAC money and the few other PAC contributions, though, played a relatively small role in the race, being totally dwarfed by all the outside money flowing to Buffy Wicks and spent in support of her candidacy by wealthy donors from outside the district.
What’s at Stake
It’s not just on charter schools and education that the candidates differ. Buffy Wicks is the only Democratic candidate in the primary who does not support repeal of Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Under Costa Hawkins, cities like Berkeley that passed rent control before 1995 cannot extend rent control to housing built since rent control was adopted (1980 in Berkeley). And no city can apply rent control to any housing built after 1995. Costa Hawkins prevents cities from taking steps, if they choose to do so, to protect tenants from soaring rents. There will be an initiative on the fall ballot to repeal Costa Hawkins.
This fall’s election will determine whether outside money will prevail and whether a candidate with few ties to the East Bay and no track record, will end up representing one of the country’s more progressive districts. Her wealthy financial backers are not spending huge sums of money supporting her candidacy because they want to see progressive policy initiatives from AD-15’s representative.
Technical note: contributions received is the sum of those reported on the form 460 for calendar year 2017 and those reported on Form 460 for 2018 through May 19. Money received after May 19 is not included, nor are expenditures made after May 19, which will be included in later campaign filings. Percent contributors from inside the District and from out of state is calculated from the spreadsheets for contributions on the Secretary of State’s Web site for AD-15. People whose contributions were returned for some reason are not included in my count. Some contributors made more than one contribution. Data based on percent of contributions, which is easier to calculate, would differ somewhat from date based on contributors, where each contributor is counted only once. Not all of Oakland falls within AD-15. Six zip codes made up entirely or partly of parts of Oakland fall wholly or partly in AD-15. Any person or group with one of these six zip codes is considered to be a resident of AD-15, though in a few cases they aren’t since district boundaries do not conform exactly to zip code boundaries. Street addresses are not given, so sorting by zip code is the best that can be done. Average contribution per contributor is calculated by dividing the total amount of contributions as found in the spreadsheets on the Secretary of State Web site by the number of contributors.