Dan Morain

Opinion: An orgy of spending

Democrat Steve Glazer, the outsider, has raised about $700,000.
Democrat Steve Glazer, the outsider, has raised about $700,000. Bee file

The California Chamber of Commerce doesn’t often walk arm in arm with the Sierra Club.

And billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, a warrior against climate change who is urging that Californians reduce gasoline use by 50 percent, doesn’t regularly side with Chevron, Valero and other oil companies.

But there aren’t many campaigns like the uncivil war for a Senate seat in Contra Costa and Alameda counties between Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and Democrat Steve Glazer, a Jerry Brown loyalist.

There is, however, one point of agreement: The campaign for Senate District 7 has become a grotesque example of the impact of the unlimited outside spending.

Glazer, the outsider, has raised about $700,000. Bonilla has raised $1.4 million, drawing from lobby groups, corporations and unions that care about legislation and could use her vote.

Those same interests, plus others, are funding independent campaigns unfettered by contribution caps that apply to donations to candidates. They’ve spent $5.5 million in a free-for-all for and against Glazer and Bonilla. Combined with primary spending, the race for Senate District 7 will cost $10 million. This, for a job that will pay $100,112 a year. And there are five days left before Election Day.

“I feel so bad for voters of this district,” said Josh Pulliam, Bonilla’s consultant.

“Nothing is very sane about it,” said Marty Wilson, who oversees the Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, Jobs PAC, which is backing Glazer.

Jobs PAC contributed to the silliness with a mailer denouncing Bonilla for siding against Sierra Club and animal rights groups. She had broken from enviros by opposing a 2013 bill to ban lead bullets. The chamber didn’t get involved in the issue when it was in the Legislature. But anything is fair game in a campaign.

Glazer and I met when he was helping liberal Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, a Brown appointee, try to maintain her seat in 1986, a lonely job. Democrats distanced themselves from Bird, rightly figuring her retention was a lost cause.

Glazer, ever loyal to Brown, managed his 2010 election campaign, and later worked for him in the Capitol. He also consulted for the Chamber of Commerce and briefly worked on behalf of two Democratic challengers who unseated incumbent Assembly Democrats in 2012.

That offended then-Speaker John A. Pérez and his labor allies. Glazer further antagonized labor by opposing BART strikes. Democrats, including Brown, are distancing themselves from Glazer. Not a profile in courage, Guv.

Glazer relies on wealthy individuals for much of his support. William Bloomfield Jr., a Southern Californian who made his money by supplying laundry machines to apartment buildings, has spent $1.8 million to elect Glazer, which has resulted in attacks on Bloomfield.

“The lies about my wife and me are awful,” said Bloomfield, an independent who has no particular business in Sacramento but hopes to better public schools.

There is some question about whether all the outside spending helps or hurts the candidates. Independent Women’s Voices, a D.C.-based campaign group that fails to disclose its donors, has come to Glazer’s aid, or so it thinks.

No Democrat worth a capital D would want its support. The group opposes the Affordable Care Act and signed a letter lauding Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s defense of coal. It laments “alarmism” about chemicals in the environment, fast food and the “cult of organics.”

Independent Women’s Voices produced an ad for the Web in which it whacks Bonilla for traveling to Italy on a trip funded by the “oil and energy industry.” Hypocritical given the group’s other stands, but it’s politics.

Which brings me to Steyer. The billionaire environmentalist regularly challenges the oil industry. The oil industry regularly attacks Steyer. But they find common ground with Bonilla. Chevron and other oil companies have donated $26,000 to elect Bonilla. Steyer gave $150,000 to an outside group helping Bonilla.

Bonilla, a moderate, was among 16 Democratic legislators who last year signed a letter – inspired by the oil industry – urging that the California Air Resources Board delay extending the cap-and-trade program to gasoline, warning it would drive up prices, hurt working people and weaken the economy. The board didn’t delay; the economy hasn’t crashed.

Steyer supports cap and trade, and opposed the delay. In campaigns, however, consistency matters far less than pummeling the other guy, and winning.