California public employee unions aren’t taking any chances with an obscure statewide election this fall that could have some serious consequences for their members. With control of the state’s $333 billion public pension fund at stake, they’re throwing their weight behind two candidates vying for seats on the CalPERS Board of Administration.
Drive around Sacramento and it’s easy to tell which candidates have labor’s support. Yard signs are up in the capital favoring senior state scientist David Miller and incumbent CalPERS board member Michael Bilbrey. Another suite of ads backing the pair are popping up on Facebook and news websites.
Miller, a four-time candidate, is competing for an open seat being vacated by J.J. Jelincic. He faces Michael Flaherman, a former CalPERS board member who made a career in private equity after leaving civil service.
Bilbrey has three challengers: retired legislative staff member Bruce Jennings, Garden Grove Unified School District business services director Margaret Brown and retired Redondo Beach engineer Wisam Altowaiji.
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Recent campaign finance reports show that Miller has collected more than $70,000 from public employee unions, about seven times what Flaherman has in his war chest from Jelincic and a state retirees organization. Bilbrey has raised about $40,000 from similar labor sources, more than double the contributions to his three rivals combined. But Brown also has the endorsement of Jelincic, and she has been buying online ads to tout her campaign, too.
All of the candidates are expected to appear today at an election forum that kicks off at 11:30 a.m. at the CalPERS headquarters on P Street. The forum will be broadcast online.
It’s not unusual for public employee unions to put big money into CalPERS races, which determine six of the 13 board members that steer the pension fund’s investments. In 2014, SEIU Local 1000 backed Theresa Taylor with a $225,000 independent campaign committee. Taylor won her race.
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