Campaign Contributions Raise Troubling Questions for Assembly Speaker Perez & Sacramento Democrats

Posted on 07 February 2012

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By Marty Evry

Democratic activists hoping for big gains in the California legislature this year were dealt a serious blow after campaign finance reports released last Thursday raised troubling questions about Assembly Speaker John Perez's strategic priorities and the California Democratic Party's ability to achieve a two-thirds majority in the State Senate and Assembly.

Democrats currently enjoy a majority in both the Assembly and the State Senate, but would have to pick up at least two more seats in each chamber to achieve the super-majority needed to pass revenue increases over the objections of a Republican minority.

Yet campaign finance reports reveal that Speaker Perez, Sacramento Democratic lawmakers and PACs donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to safe Democratic Assembly districts while virtually ignoring new "swing" districts or defending others against possible Republican pickups.

In the 10th Assembly District (Marin, D+35) Sacramento Democrats gave $80,600 to Mike Allen, an incumbent Assemblymember who moved into the open district when his existing district was carved up and reapportioned. This, even though Mr. Allen is running against two other Democratic candidates and no Republican opposition.

In the 50th Assembly district (Santa Monica, D+33), Perez and Sacramento Democrats donated $88,750 to Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, who moved north to the Democratic stronghold after redistricting meant she'd have to run in the new, more conservative 66th Assembly district (Torrance, D+3). Butler is running against Democratic candidates Torie Osborn and Richard Bloom, both long-time residents of the district. The lone Republican in the race, Brad Torgen, is not considered a viable candidate.

Records also show that most of these donations were given to Allen and Butler during a three-week period last December, and that many Democratic Assemblymembers who donated did not give money to any other Assembly campaigns. The timing suggests a coordinated and conscious effort from leadership to funnel money to these candidates at the expense of other candidates running in more competitive districts.

Perez is also using his considerable energy and influence to secure endorsements for Allen and Butler, including endorsements from the state Democratic Party (which can mean substantial institutional support and resources).  In what party insiders are calling an unprecedented move, Perez is using a controversial technique known as "delegate stacking" to pull dozens of delegate appointments from Assembly members state-wide to  vote for Allen and Butler in local endorsement caucuses. Perez's intervention has already secured a state party endorsement for Allen, and virtually guarantees an endorsement for Butler.

But as Butler and Allen enjoy the largess of their colleagues in Sacramento while running in districts so safe a Democratic corpse could win, two other candidates running in swing districts which could potentially lead to Democratic super-majorities enjoy no such protection.

In the South Bay, Torrance School Board member Al Muratsuchi became the Democratic candidate for AD66 after Betsy Butler left the district. Election experts consider the race highly competitive for Republicans, giving them the best opportunity in two decades to pick up a seat in that area.
However, not a single Sacramento Democrat, including both John Perez and Betsy Butler have yet to make any financial contributions to his campaign.

Additionally, while PACs - including the Professional Engineers in California Government, the State Building & Construction Trades Council and the California State Council of Laborers - gave over $300,000 to Butler and Allen, many of them presumably at Perez's direction, Muratsuchi received only $11,900 in PAC money, including $1,000 from the California League of Conservation Voters - $6,800 less than they gave to Betsy Butler.

Sacramento's indifference means Muratsuchi has had to loan his campaign $45,000 to defend the new South Bay Assembly seat against two Tea Party candidates, Nathan Mintz, who ran and lost a close race against Butler in 2010, and Craig Huey, who ran an unsuccessful $500,000 self-financed congressional campaign against Congresswoman Janice Hahn last year.

And in the Central Valley, where termed-out Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani is running for Senate District 5 (Stockton, D+4), only one Sacramento lawmaker, fellow Democratic Assemblymember Kevin De Leon, contributed to Galgiani's campaign.

Galgiani has $140,000 in cash on hand while her two Republican opponents, Assemblymember Bill Berryhill and former County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, each have twice that amount.

Galgiani represents much of the district now and is considered a popular moderate. reports the race is "likely the bellwether Senate district for 2012....Galgiani came out as gay to the Stockton Record on November 1, and will be running in a district that voted 64% in favor of prohibiting same-sex marriages. If elected, Galgiani would be the first openly gay legislator elected from a Central Valley district."

Political insiders dispute Perez and Sacramento Democrats are are prioritizing incumbents over gaining a two-thirds majority in the legislature in 2012, claiming the strategy will change after the June primaries, focusing less on incumbents and more on flipping swing districts like AD66 and SD05.

However some believe this a deeply flawed strategy in light of California's new "top-two" primary election rules.

In the case of both AD66 and SD05, there's no guarantee Muratrsuchi and Galgiani will survive a June primary and make it to November. And even if they do, their well-funded opponents will have already had a six-month head start to rip the Democrats to shreds with negative mailers and media spots.

When the California Citizens Redistricting Commission upended the political landscape in 2012, it opened up a unique opportunity for Democrats, but only if we have the foresight and political will to take advantage of that opportunity. Until that happens, we're just kidding ourselves that we can fix what's really wrong with California. The best we can hope for is triage. These issues are more important than any single election or candidate, they go to the very heart of what it means to be a Democrat in California in 2012.


Marta Evry is an Emmy-nominated film editor who has worked in Hollywood for 25 years. Her credits include "House" and "The Pacific." Currently she is working on the ABC-TV show "Castle."

Perez is making little effort to get a super majority. The only explanations are as follows:

Perez doesn't know what he is doing - I reject this out of hand. Perez is plenty smart. He knows exactly what he is doing and he knows what the consequences are.

Perez doesn't believe that the democrats can win in marginal districts - possible, but I don't believe this. The number of seats the democrats need is small and with enough money it should be doable. The democrats have certainly wasted more money on dumber things.

Perez doesn't want a super majority - the thinking here is that Perez knows that the taxbase has been eroding and eroding fast. He knows that increasing taxes is really a dumb idea but his base demands it and he has no way of stopping that demand and staying speaker. So, he needs just enough republicans to stop the tax increases. Thus, he can say "I tried, but those rascally republicans stopped me. Not my fault." Thus, he keeps his position, keeps the money flowing in, but uses the republicans to prevent his own side's excesses.

Which of the above is true? I think the last one.

He knows, as do all economists, that new revenue is desperately needed, and the super rich and corporations absolutely need to be taxed more. Vast majorities of Californians understand this too:

The Washington Post and ABC News are out with a new poll today showing that Americans recognize that our tax code is broken and want to fix it by making the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share:

72 percent favor raising taxes on millionaires, including 59 percent who strongly favor doing so — this includes a majority of Republicans.
68 percent believe that our tax code is rigged for the benefit of the wealthy, including 56 percent who strongly believe that to be the case.

So, clearly its right wing delusion that Perez's actions are because he thinks taxes shouldn't be raised on those that have it all and are paying less than they ever have.

Those of us that live in the real world, and work on public policy and deal in math however, are puzzled by his moves. Rather than speculate too much, I think this is a story to there must be some interpersonal and power jockeying going on that makes it more important for him (in his mind anyway) to get the people he wants in, than to achieve a super majority - which is so desperately needed.

I certainly want answers. Time will tell...

You are spot on. The last scenario is more likely, we'll see what happens after the primaries, but the fact remains that a super majority in these times of fiscal deficit, can only mean bad news for Dems.

Levine is a DINO. Check out his campaign filings. He should register with the Repugs

If money is an issue for Ms. Evry.

Why hasn't she raised the issue that Torie purchased all of her club endorsements with $1000 checks??

I deeply enjoy Marta's abundant use of anonymous and unfounded names and sources. Using comments like "Some people say," "political insiders," and "presumably at Perez's direction" without any actual proof or backup is same type of strategy that would make Karl Rove proud. Who are these "people"? Torie supporters? Who are the "political insiders"? Clearly, they're made out to sound foolish. What actual proof do you have that Perez somehow got all of these PACs to contribute to anyone? An honest progressive would have proof, not just accusations. This is a sad and unfortunate technique that has always plagued Marta's blogging -and this is not the first time this cycle I've called her out on it. It's a shame that a "progressive" blogger would actual employ this kinds of writing tactic. It's irresponsible and makes a mockery of people trying to do honest writing. Marta, please stop.

It should also be noted that Galgiani is running for Senate, and she is getting the backing of the Senate Democrats and pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. If she were running for re-election in the Assembly, that would be a different story. Speaker Perez is in the Assembly. Perez's job is to use his resources to help Assembly Democrats get elected like how he invested in a gambit voter registration strategy that nobody thought would work to elect Richard Pan and take a red seat in 2010 despite the terrible year for Democrats countrywide. He is also authoring a bold bill this year to cut tuition costs for students from middle-class income families that needs two Republican votes to pass. He's also our party's leader in the Assembly on the budget negotiations. Nobody knows better than him what's at stake. It seems rather audacious to me that you act like he doesn't.

With all due respect, Marta, I think your criticisms are more about your support for candidates (or really just one candidate) not getting Perez's backing than any concern about candidates like Al Muratsuchi. You post many pictures of all of Torie's events on your facebook page, but if you were really that concerned about Al you would be all over Torrance campaigning for him rather than supporting a progressive running against other progressives in a safe Democratic seat, so your criticisms run a little hollow.

....but color me skeptical when someone who refuses to identify themselves criticizes the use of anonymous sources in a story.

The numbers don't lie. Included in the above story are numerous links to original sourcing and reporting that can be evaluated by anyone willing to take the time. I stand by the accuracy of my reporting.

Someone who refuses to ID themselves? I'm happy to ID myself, my name is Mike Young, and I happily support Betsy Butler. I make a point to let people know where I stand so people understand my biases and can make a fair assessment from that. But more importantly, I support progressives acting like progressives. This isn't about Torie or Betsy, this is about your style of blogging.

Marta, we have gone over this multiple times already. You can stand by your reporting, but the folks at Fox News stand by their reporting, too. That really doesn't mean much -especially when you've been lying. I question your anonymous sources and you dodge the topic entirely -again. Now, the last time this happened, you stood by your sources when you said people felt betrayed by Betsy and that one of the sources, Tony Salvaggio, didn't know Torie at all. But I seriously, seriously doubt that. Why? Because he was part of your email during the second lines being drawn in redistricting (where Betsy's district overlapped the current district by about 20%) asking him to tell the redistricting commission to move the lines:

From: Marta Evry
Date: June 28, 2011 12:03:34 PM PDT
To: diane wallace , Varo Asorian , Jim Kennedy , Tony Salvaggio , Mike Bonin , Sean Arian , Scott Houston , Dante Atkins , David Atkins , Dave Dayen , Mary Jack , Kelley Willis

Subject: PLEASE READ! We need your help TODAY!


Sheila Keuhl asked me to reach out to a number of you asking that we write emails to the redistricting commission TODAY (today is the deadline) and comment on the new 53D AD. At issue is their dividing line in the north (see attached map), which cleaves not only the Ballona wetlands in half, but separates Betsy Butler from her constituents (she lives just north of the dividing line). The goal here is to incorporate all of Marina del Rey in the 53d.

Here is the email address:

Here is some sample language to use. Please make it your own.

Concerning the beach areas from Marina del Rey down through Playa del Rey, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, etc. Marina del Rey has always been connected in terms of water quality concerns with the areas to the south, not to the north. The Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant, directly to the south, affects the water quality in the Marina. The main swimming beach in the Marina has long term pollution problems and the outfall from Ballona Creek also contributes to water quality problems. It is critical that our Assemblymember and our Senator in Sacramento understand and represent the water quality issues involved in these connections.
Marta Evry
Community Organizer

What's the actual likelihood that you sent this to him via Sheila Kuehl and didn't even tell him who Torie Osborn was? I'd say about 0%.

If you spent as much time trying to actually help candidates like Al Muratsuchi than you do trying to bash John Perez and Betsy Butler like they're some kind of monsters, you would have more credibility.

Your website is called Venice for Change, but Venice isn't even in AD 50; meanwhile, you're joining clubs paid for by the Osborn campaign across the district just to vote for her. It only takes a minute to look up your endorsement of Torie Osborn, which is displayed on her site, but for someone so concerned about Al Muratsuchi I don't see your endorsement of him displayed at all. I don't see you going out to his district to campaign for him. Honestly, do you even know Al? Because I do. Because Betsy does. Because John does. Because we've all talked strategy with him, but for a person so concerned about him, it's very notable that you really haven't lifted a finger at all.

The reality is that this is all about trying to help your progressive candidate in a progressive district. There's a good way to support your candidate and a bad way. You choose the latter. Rather than running on issues, you're taking a play from the Rove playbook and focusing on distractions because you don't want to talk about Betsy's record of accomplishments. If you want to support Torie, then that's your right. But don't try to act like some sort of authority when you have little experience in campaign work and don't walk your own talk.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm sure you'd like readers to know you work for CLCV, and that your former boss is Lindsay Bubar, Betsy Butler's campaign manager.

Care to explain why CLCV gave $7,800 to Butler and only $1,000 to Muratsuchi?

Sure. I'm happy to disclose that I work for CLCV. Lindsay was my colleague but not my boss when she worked here. I guess you're trying to shame me or something. I'm proud of that. Lindsay's great and so is Betsy, and I can say that because I know them both very well. I remember talking to Betsy years before she ever ran for Assembly in 2010, and I asked her when was she going to run for office. Her answer? She told me it was when she felt like she knew enough that when I get to Sacramento she could get stuff done from the beginning." She did, and she mentored many young minds, especially young women like Lindsay to get involved -the right way. See, I'm not ashamed to admit my biases (integrity counts) while you like to sound impartial when you're anything but. You supported Torie even before she announced her run for office. That's fine, but it's deplorable that you never disclose your enormous bias. But hey, whatever helps your candidate, right?

CLCV endorsed both Betsy Butler and Al Muratsuchi early. It's not in the interest of our candidates to discuss our political strategy in a public forum, but we have a solid track record of supplying the necessary resources to ensure environmental candidates win. The candidates we support in the 2012 primary and general elections will be no different.

What's really sad is that for someone so concerned about reaching two-thirds you're backing a candidate who decided to challenge an incumbent, even after saying publicly she wouldn't. Torie is just as culpable, if not more so, of making it more difficult to reach a two-thirds majority. She and her supporters need to own up to that.

Now, I noticed that you have been silent about anything I said. You've spun the issue twice now in this thread instead of addressing it. And why not? It's easier than admitting fault. But be careful, if you keep spinning, you'll just make yourself dizzy.

You wrote, "What's really sad is that for someone so concerned about reaching two-thirds you're backing a candidate who decided to challenge an incumbent, even after saying publicly she wouldn't. "

Two things - I'd love to see the links for this claim, and there is no incumbent in this race. Butler was the last to announce for AD50, so I think it's fair to say Butler is the challenger to Bloom and Osborn. If Butler had stayed in AD66 that would be a different story.

And your answer: spin again. It's really quite sad.

Please don’t use my race to question Speaker Perez’s strategic priorities. I am very grateful the Speaker took the unusual step of endorsing me more than a year before the election, and his early endorsement has helped me raise money and secure endorsements that will be critical in defeating Tea Party candidates like Mintz and Huey. And I fully believe that the Speaker will help our campaign raise the funds to make me a member of the state Assembly this November.

Al Muratsuchi
Democratic Candidate, Assembly District 66