Capitol Alert

Rendon fumes as construction unions move to take out Cristina Garcia

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, watches as the votes are posted for a measure before the Assembly on Aug. 18, 2016.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, watches as the votes are posted for a measure before the Assembly on Aug. 18, 2016. The Associated Press

Though it previously contributed to her 2014 and 2016 re-election campaigns, the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California on Friday opened an independent expenditure committee to defeat Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia.

The influential labor organization and the Bell Gardens Democrat faced off last year in the legislative push to extend California's cap-and-trade program. Construction trades unions favored a more business-friendly approach backed by the oil industry and worked to defeat a Garcia bill that would have mandated stricter air pollution regulations.

Now, with Garcia sidelined by an ongoing investigation into allegations that she drunkenly groped a former legislative staffer, the council may be sensing an opportunity to pounce. Two of the candidates that jumped into the race to challenge Garcia after the accusations against her surfaced, Commerce City Councilman Ivan Altamirano and Bell Gardens City Councilman Pedro Aceituno, are raising real money — more than $76,000 and more than $90,000 so far, respectively.

Erin Lehane, a spokeswoman for the committee, said the independent expenditure is about supporting Garcia's alleged victim and has nothing to do with their disagreement about cap-and-trade. She said the council is seeking to elect a new Democrat in the seat that "better represents the values of the working families of the building trades."

"She's tried very hard to make this about her being some sort of a political target," Lehane said. "It wasn't politics that forced her to do the things of which she's been accused."

Earlier in the day, the council published a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times slamming legislative efforts to promote a greener energy sector for chasing "thousands of jobs associated without traditional oil and gas industry" out of Southern California.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in a statement that the ad indicated the independent expenditure committee is "a thinly veiled attempt by Big Oil and polluters to intimidate me and my members."

"It is an affront to my speakership," he said. "We are proud of the work that the Assembly has done to increase jobs and wage while defending our environment. We will vigorously defend the members of our caucus from any ill-advised political attack."

A representative for Garcia declined to comment "out of respect" for Rendon's statement.

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AD WATCH: You know an election is approaching in California when campaigns bring out the lawyers to argue about normally obscure parts of state law.

On Friday, the gubernatorial contest erupted over just what constitutes coordination between a candidate's campaign and a well-heeled independent committee formed to support the candidate.

Attorneys for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are alleging that fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa crossed the line.

Video segments used in a recent advertisement promoting Villaraigosa, funded by an independent campaign run by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, appear to be identical to video clips used in ads promoting Villaraigosa, produced for his campaign and posted on his campaign website.

The video ad, titled "Ahead," is the first big advertising buy from the association's independent campaign committee, backed by wealthy charter schools advocates, who are donating millions to the independent committee working on Villaraigosa's behalf.

Attorneys for Newsom's campaign are formally asking television stations to not run the ad.

"The advertisement contains a five second disclaimer that tells viewers that the 'advertisement was not authorized by a candidate.' That statement, however, is false and misleading as a matter of law ... because the advertisement was coordinated with Mr. Villaraigosa," wrote Sacramento attorney Thomas Willis in a letter addressed to television station managers.

Under California law, independent campaign committees are forbidden from coordinating their activities, such as ad campaigns, with the campaigns and candidates that benefit. It's unclear whether the sharing of video clips by Villaraigosa's campaign would constitute a campaign violation, but regulations adopted by the Fair Political Practices Commission indicate it could.

Under the law, the sharing of videos between campaigns and independent committees is presumed to be coordinated, unless a candidate or committee can prove otherwise, said Jay Wierenga, a spokesman for the agency, speaking generally about the regulations and not specifically regarding allegations against Villaraigosa.

"It's a red flag," Wierenga said. "It doesn't necessarily mean it's coordinated, but it's a red flag. There's a way to get rid of the flag if there's evidence and information to show otherwise."

Attorneys for Villaraigosa's campaign sent a response letter to the television stations, saying "there is no merit" to the Newsom campaign's allegations, in part because the independent committee used only six seconds of video footage in a 30-second ad.

State regulations say there is a violation only if the paid advertisement uses a "whole" or "substantial part" of the footage from Villaraigosa's campaign videos.

If a complaint is filed, the political watchdog agency will have to investigate the allegations to determine whether six seconds constitutes "substantial" republication of the Villaraigosa campaign video.

BACK TO WORK: Legislators took a significant step last year to help former convicts find employment after prison when they passed a measure expanding California's "ban the box" law to private industry. It prohibits companies from asking about a job applicant's criminal history until after they make an initial offer. The work continues this session with a trio of bills that would prevent many state agencies from denying someone a professional license simply because they have a non-violent offense on their record. Democratic Assemblymembers David Chiu of San Francisco, Evan Low of Campbell, Eloise Reyes of Grand Terrace and Chris Holden of Pasadena will introduce the package at 10:15 a.m. in Room 317 of the Capitol.

TRY AGAIN: The "Calexit" campaign that wants California to form its own country has a received title and summary from the Secretary of State's Office for an initiative to establish a 2021 independence referendum. Yes California will hold a news conference at noon on the west steps of the Capitol to launch its signature-gathering drive.

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