In an era of contribution limits, independent committees can spend unlimited amounts. Eighty outside spending groups spent more than $28 million in 50 California legislative districts on this week’s ballot.
As Democrats have come to dominate the Legislature, groups that used to focus on electing Republicans are seeking to elect more business-friendly Democrats. The state’s top-two primary system has expanded the playing field – candidates of the same party can advance to November runoffs.
Charter school advocates, oil companies, dentists and unions were among the interests behind the money, some of it supporting specific candidates, some of it opposing them. A few groups and their donors got creative, seeking to boost or hinder the prospects of second-tier candidates with the goal of shaping a top-two finish to their liking.
Of the 10 districts with the most outside spending, eight will have Democrat-vs.-Democrat runoffs in November. Was it all worth it? Here’s a rundown of what happened:
SD-3: $2.8 million total spending
Biggest beneficiary: Bill Dodd, D-Napa (97%)
Did it work? Pro-Dodd groups got him into the runoff, but he was a familiar name in much of the district to begin with. Interestingly, they didn’t report spending a penny against Dodd’s main Democratic rival, former lawmaker Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, who will face him in the runoff.
AD-4: $2.7 million
Biggest beneficiary: Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters (94%)
Did it work? History repeats itself. As in 2014, when business-backed groups spent heavily to elect Dodd, they got their desired outcome: Aguiar-Curry topped the more liberal Democrat, Davis Mayor Dan Wolk, and should have an easy fall run against Republican Charlie Schaupp in the heavily Democratic district.
AD-27 $2.7 million
Biggest beneficiary: Madison Nguyen, D-San Jose (83%)
Did it work? Nguyen, heavily backed by charter school advocates, finished first. Fellow Democrat Ash Kalra still finished second, despite taking a pounding from pro-Nguyen groups.
AD-14 $2.6 million
Biggest beneficiary: Tim Grayson, D-Concord (72%)
Did it work? Business groups and EdVoice, which wants changes in California schools, got Grayson into the runoff with Mae Torlakson, D-Antioch.
AD-47: $2.3 million
Biggest beneficiary: Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino (76%)
Did it work? Brown, a two-term incumbent, made the runoff, but her oil company supporters failed to keep out Eloise Gomez Reyes, D-Grand Terrace, who received significant outside help from labor unions.
AD-43: $2.1 million
Biggest beneficiary: Laura Friedman, D-Glendale (75%)
Did it work? Charter school advocates helped lift Friedman into the runoff, but their heavy spending against Ardy Kassakhian, D-Glendale, was for naught.
SD-15: $1.7 million
Biggest beneficiary: Jim Beall, D-San Jose (79%)
Did it work? Beall finished strong, but he will face fellow lawmaker Nora Campos, D-San Jose. Look for the proxy war between environmentalists (backing Beall) and oil interests (backing Campos) to continue here.
AD-24: $1.4 million
Biggest beneficiary: Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto (96%)
Did it work? EdVoice and business interests got Berman into the runoff. While second place has yet to be called, Democrat Vicki Veenker was leading over Republican Peter Ohtaki, despite some late efforts by doctors and apartment-owners groups to lift the Republican candidate into the general election.
AD-30: $1.2 million
Biggest beneficiary: Anna Caballero, D-Salinas (88%)
Did it work? Backed significantly by charter school advocates, Caballero will be back on the November ballot six years after her last run for the Legislature. Her opponent will be Democrat Karina Cervantez Alejo, the wife of Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas.
SD-27: $1.1 million
Biggest beneficiary: Janice Kamenir-Reznik, D-Encino (49%) and Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles (44%)
Did it work? For Stern, whose outside money came from the California Labor Federation, yes. For Kamenir-Reznik, whose outside support came from dentists, Realtors and apartment owners, no. The district remains what it was expected to be: a partisan battleground in November. Stern will face Steve Fazio, R-Encino.