Capitol Alert

What do interest groups want? California candidates get some tips

From left to right: Janus Norman of the California Medical Association, Chris Patterson of California Professional Firefighters, Laiza Garcia of the California Association of Realtors, Carlos Marquez of the California Charter Schools Association and Alma Hernandez of the Service Employees International Union address legislative candidates in Sacramento on Tuesday, Oct 20, 2015.
From left to right: Janus Norman of the California Medical Association, Chris Patterson of California Professional Firefighters, Laiza Garcia of the California Association of Realtors, Carlos Marquez of the California Charter Schools Association and Alma Hernandez of the Service Employees International Union address legislative candidates in Sacramento on Tuesday, Oct 20, 2015. The Sacramento Bee

Do your homework and know your district; beware the policy position that inescapably cements your reputation; and we'll pay for the attack ads.

These were some of the crucial pointers and warnings state legislative candidates received on Tuesday from representatives of five interest groups whose money and endorsements can swing elections. The candidates had paid $75 each for a nonprofit’s boot camp on how to win election and succeed in office.

Rule number one: Tell us the truth, because “we all talk to each other” and we’ll find out otherwise, warned Service Employees International Union California political director Alma Hernandez.

Rule number two: Know how many votes you need to win, California Medical Association lobbyist and political adviser Janus Norman said, because if not “you don’t know how much money you need to raise.” Bluffing won't work, because interest groups are often more knowledgeable than campaigns themselves.

“These five people politically know your district not only better than you – they know it better than your own consultant,” emcee and Republican operative Mike Madrid said of the panelists, “and I say that because all of your consultants are desperately trying to curry favor with these folks.”

And while operatives enjoined candidates to just be themselves, in part because they've done the background checks already (”we know why you got divorced, when, if you got a traffic violation when you were 16,” Hernandez said), they acknowledged that the stances candidates take on key issues can swiftly and irreversibly determine how the entire political universe sees a person.

“There are probably five or six core issues where... you get put in boxes really fast,” said California Professional Firefighters political director Chris Patterson, citing collective bargaining, pensions and the perpetual fight over medical malpractice lawsuits, a crucial litmus test for the medical association.

Success or failure guides the all-important money game. It’s not just a matter of winning approval and the financial support it brings. Equally important is not incurring a group’s wrath, because “if you simply take the time and the courtesy to have a conversation with us...you might avoid a multi-million dollar (independent expenditure) against you,” said California Charter Schools Association political director Carlos Marquez .

“I love approving hit pieces,” Hernandez said. “Sometimes if you talk to us you can at least keep us out,” and “sometimes it’s a big win to just keep SEIU out of your district.”

And don’t go negative: it suggests weakness. Better to let your friends handle it.

“We will probably take care of the negative if the research tells us it will work,” said California Association of Realtors PAC director Laiza Garcia, “so why not let other people do it for you?

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

  Comments