Capitol Alert

Unions pour cash into CalPERS election, use mailer to highlight sexual harassment complaint

One of California’s largest unions is spending big money to prevent one of its former leaders from winning a seat on the CalPERS Board of Administration, and it’s starting with a political mailer that arrives in a misleading envelope.

The mailer draws attention to a sexual harassment complaint that was substantiated eight years ago against JJ Jelincic, a former state union leader who is challenging incumbent CalPERS President Henry Jones for a seat on the $380 billion pension fund’s board.

It comes in an envelope made to look like it was sent by the office Treasurer Fiona Ma. Ma has called for Jelincic to quit the election but says the political mailer did not come from her. A spokesman for her office said no taxpayer money was spent on it.

The letter was sent by a newly registered political action committee named Concerned Retirees for Pension and Healthcare Security. The committee’s registered address matches that of SEIU, and a campaign finance filing lists “SEIU CA State Council” as a sponsor of the organization. The group formed on Aug. 26.

The mailer has been arriving at the doorsteps of retired California public employees, who have until Sept. 30 to vote for a candidate to represent them on the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s Board of Administration.

Ma is encouraging people with concerns to file a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission — the nonpartisan body that regulates campaign finance, lobbying, conflicts of interest and governmental ethics.

Jay Wierenga, a spokesman for the FPPC, said the commission’s enforcement division “is aware of this and is looking into it,” although it hasn’t launched a formal investigation.

The mailer represents an escalation in the heated fight over a political seat that doesn’t typically garner much public attention. Jelincic served two terms on the CalPERS board in addition to his time as an employee of the organization. Jones, the board’s president, is a former chief financial officer of Los Angeles Unified School District.

Jelincic received endorsements early in his campaign from two influential retiree groups: the Retired Public Employees’ Association and California State Retirees. The groups have long mailing lists of members whom they can easily reach.

So do state unions, who supported Jones before forming the new political action committee responsible for the mailer. The committee has reported a $50,000 contribution from SEIU Local 721.

The union mailer includes a copy of a letter that Ma, who is a CalPERS board member, recently sent to Jelincic urging him to drop out of the race based on a judge’s 2011 finding there was merit to claims Jelincic had harassed three women when he was a CalPERS investment officer.

The letter was co-signed by Democratic state Sen. Connie Leyva and by Theresa Taylor, a CalPERS board member and former vice president of SEIU Local 1000.

Unions formed a separate political action committee to support Jones called Firefighters, School Employees and Health Care Providers for Retirement Security Supporting Henry Jones. That committee is funded in part through a $100,000 contribution from SEIU Local 1000, according to campaign finance records.

Jelincic is a former president of the California State Employees Association, a union that later became SEIU Local 1000.

Jelincic called the mailer from SEIU a “smear job” and said the letter doesn’t help his candidacy. He said he was unsure whether he’d file an FPPC complaint, adding he doesn’t know if Ma had anything to do with the campaign mailer.

“I really don’t like being smeared by dark money,” Jelincic said.

In an emailed statement, SEIU California spokesman Mike Roth focused on the allegations against Jelincic, and did not address specifics of the mailer.

“CalPERS board members have sweeping responsibilities over a large state agency and hundreds of billions of dollars in savings workers and retirees earned over their lifetimes,” Roth said in the statement. “SEIU members — who are two-thirds women — will hold these leaders to a high standard of professional conduct. We stand with the fearless women who have come forward to demand justice.”

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
Wes Venteicher anchors The Bee’s popular State Worker coverage in the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau. He covers taxes, pensions, unions, state spending and California government. A Montana native, he reported on health care and politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh before joining The Bee in 2018.