The event on the Capitol's west steps seemed like a public employee union rally: provocative speakers whipping up an audience of hundreds sympathetic to the cause.
But the 23rd annual Victims March on the Capitol on Tuesday wasn't a labor protest. Instead, it displayed how union money and grim sorrow mingle powerfully in California to shape politics and policy.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association sponsored the event organized by its proxy, the nonprofit Crime Victims United of California.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who benefited from $1.8 million CCPOA spent supporting his 2010 candidacy, headlined a long list of speakers.
The union and the victims group formed a powerful bond, starting when then-CCPOA President Don Novey met Harriet Salarno at a 1990 parole hearing for the man who murdered her daughter. The tragedy drove Salarno to become a passionate advocate, lobbying lawmakers and organizing support groups.
CCPOA soon bankrolled Crime Victims United. Salarno, now 79, still heads the nonprofit organization.
In 2010, the group's political arm reported assets of $332,000, including $100,000 in contributions. Its charity, which provides support to crime victims, claimed $295,000, roughly $62,000 from contributions.
The federal filings don't disclose sources of the money, but Salarno said Wednesday that CCPOA and a number of other groups inside and outside of public safety contribute.
There's no doubt that Crime Victims United lends moral authority to policies that benefit CCPOA, said Joshua Page, a University of Minnesota sociologist who studies the union.
"It's very difficult to oppose crime victims," Page said. "CCPOA knows its message is much more powerful with them."
Their interests have dovetailed with tough-on-crime laws such as "three strikes." Both have opposed shipping inmates out of state to ease overcrowding.
At Tuesday's rally, speakers bashed a death penalty measure on the November ballot. Others hammered "realignment," which sentences more convicts to local jails to ease state prison overcrowding. Crime Victims United says that will put more criminals on the streets sooner. CCPOA hasn't taken a position.
Some speakers broke down, remembering loved ones cruelly murdered, some depicted on posters that ringed the event.
Then, after the tough talk and tears, it was Brown's turn. Here was the governor with personal qualms about capital punishment, who once vetoed a bill to restore it (the Legislature overrode him). Realignment? Well, that's Brown's policy.
What would he say? How could he walk the line between his politics and their passion?
"When I see these pictures and I hear these stories, what can your reaction be?" he asked moments into his speech.
Exactly the question CCPOA and Crime Victims United hoped he'd ask.