Capitol Alert

Moderate California Democrats will face new election challenge

Highlighting a rift among Democratic voters, a political action committee will seek to boost liberal California legislative candidates over more business-friendly Democrats in state legislative races.

The ascendance of a bloc of moderate Democrats has angered some on the left, particularly given the legislators’ role in weakening climate legislation last year.

Labor and environmental groups have backed a Democrat challenging Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, a rare attack on an incumbent Democrat by liberal interests. An incipient challenge to Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, fizzled after Democratic challenger Marta Segura failed to qualify for the ballot.

Now an Oakland-based political action committee called Progressive Kick has committed money to back liberal Democrats. Joshua Grossman, president of Progressive Kick, said the organization plans to spend “in the six figures at a minimum.” He declined to say where the group would make independent expenditures beyond races where they see “an alternative besides a Republican” to centrist Democrats, which could include targeting incumbents and open seats.

“You basically have three parties (in Sacramento): you have progressive Democrats, you have corporate Democrats and you have Republicans,” Grossman said, arguing the “corporate Democrats” are those who back “anything that involves giving companies carte blanche to do business as they wish.”

Progressive Kick deployed around $250,000 worth of independent expenditures in congressional races last cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, more against Democratic incumbents than on their behalf. Grossman said the group spent on 2014 gubernatorial races and state ballot initiatives but has not yet played a role in California state legislative races.

The move mirrors an increasingly popular tactic of California business groups. Taking advantage of an election change that allows the top two vote-getters in a primary election to advance regardless of party status, corporate groups have poured millions into political action committees that spend to propel more centrist Democrats past their liberal election rivals. There are several open seats in sturdily Democratic districts this year.

“These special interests have a tremendous tool at their disposal to get people to do what they want them to do in California state government, and that’s money,” Grossman said.

On Tuesday, Progressive Kick plans to join liberal organizations like Courage Campaign and in publicly releasing a “Hall of Shame” of moderate California Democrats.

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