Capitol Alert

Creativity by outside campaign groups didn’t start with East Bay race

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, listens to an Assembly discussion in 2013.
Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, listens to an Assembly discussion in 2013.

Steve Glazer had the last laugh Tuesday over a union-funded outside spending group that spent $68,000 trying to peel off Republican support for the Orinda Democrat, who nevertheless finished first in Tuesday’s special election in the East Bay’s 7th Senate District. Glazer and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, will face off May 19.

Much of the attention in the weeks before Tuesday’s vote was on the actions of an outside spending group called the Asian American Small Business PAC. The PAC sent mailers touting the sole Republican in the race, Michaela Hertle, even though Hertle dropped out weeks ago and endorsed Glazer, who unions opposed.

It wasn’t the first time an independent committee seemingly took a sneaky/creative approach to shaping the general election runoff to their liking. And it likely won’t be the last in California’s top-two primary landscape.

Here's a rundown of a couple other races last year that also featured some curious outside spending by well-funded special interests:

▪ 10th Assembly District: (San Rafael, Petaluma): Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, faced a challenge from a pair of union-supported Democrats, including community college trustee Diana M. Conti. Gregory Allen of Novato was the only Republican in the five-person race for the safely Democratic seat.

A trio of outside spending groups funded by large corporations and charter schools spent almost $50,000 to support Allen in the weeks before the primary. He edged Conti for second place and faced Levine in the runoff. The pro-Allen money before the primary set up Levine for an easy re-election in November. He defeated Allen by almost 50 percentage points.

▪ 70th Assembly District (Long Beach): Democrats have a 28-percentage point registration advantage in the 70th. Two well-funded Democrats, Patrick O’Donnell and Suja Lowenthal (the daughter-in-law of former Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal) were the leading candidates.

An outside spending committee funded by Chevron Corp., the California Dental Association, Realtors and other business interests spent more than $48,000 backing O’Donnell. Shortly before the election, the committee – Keeping Californians Working – took another tack seemingly meant to help O’Donnell’s prospects: it sent out more than $40,000 in mailers backing the sole Republican in the race, John C. Goya of Long Beach.

On Election Day, O’Donnell received 40.6 percent of the vote and Goya 32.2 percent, five percentage points ahead of third-place finisher Lowenthal. Goya got no outside help after the primary and lost to O’Donnell by almost 28 percentage points in November.

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.