Capitol Alert

Unions have spent more than $100K to elect two men to California pension board

CalPERS headquarters on P Street in downtown Sacramento.
CalPERS headquarters on P Street in downtown Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee

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.

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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WORTH REPEATING: “Please, please, members, be safe. Know your limits.” – Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, ending the Senate floor session Wednesday with a reminder for state lawmakers to be careful at the annual legislative softball game

SAVE THE SANCTUARY: All session long, lawmakers, immigrant rights advocates and law enforcement officers have debated Senate Bill 54, which would prohibit state and local police agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. The controversial proposal got another jolt this week when President Donald Trump announced his plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects undocumented young people who were brought to the country illegally as children. In the wake of Trump’s decision, SB 54 supporters will once again gather in Sacramento, urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the strongest possible version of the measure. Brown has publicly expressed reservations about SB 54, though he has not said what changes he is seeking. Activists will begin their morning with a vigil outside the governor’s mansion on H Street at 7:30 a.m., followed by rally on the north steps of the Capitol at 9:30 a.m., and a march at 10 a.m. to the I Street headquarters of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which opposes the bill.

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WHAT WOULD YOUR KIDNEYS DO?: Does a union-backed measure imposing nurse-to-patient ratios at dialysis clinics elevate the facilities to a higher safety standard or reduce access to treatment for Californians? Senate Bill 349, by Lara, has generated heavy lobbying and advertising from both sides of the debate as it awaits a vote in the Assembly before the end of the legislative session. Patients, clinic employees and their labor allies from SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West will urge support for the bill at a demonstration outside DaVita South Sacramento Dialysis Center on Franklin Boulevard at 10 a.m.

CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN: What would you do to be governor of California? Beg for campaign contributions? Shake thousands of hands? How about climb a mountain? As part of his ongoing 2018 gubernatorial campaign “road trip,” Treasurer John Chiang will be in Riverside today, where he plans to kick off his visit with a 5 a.m. hike up Mount Rubidoux, joined by former Mayor Ron Loveridge and the Riverside Historical Society. At 11 a.m., Chiang will attend a SEIU Local 721 picket outside the Riverside County Hall of Administration. Then he’ll finish with a tour of the California Citrus State Historic Park at 3 p.m.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who turns 53 today.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton

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