Dan Morain

Dan Morain: Steve Glazer learns what it means to be blackballed by organized labor

Steve Glazer is learning what it means to be blackballed by organized labor. It’s a lesson for any Democratic politician who dares challenge this state’s dominant Democratic interest group.

A labor-funded campaign committee called Californians for Economic Prosperity, is pummeling Glazer, a Democrat who is running for an Assembly seat in Contra Costa County.

This faux group with the vacuous name is using slick mailers, Facebook and Twitter to smear Glazer, telling voters he is “pretending to be something he’s not.”

He was, this group’s consultants claim, a “top political consultant to a political action committee funded by tobacco, oil, pharmaceutical and insurance companies.”

As if that weren’t enough, the political action committee “took money from a utility company that wants to cut down hundreds of mature oak trees over the objection of the community.” The utility, evidently, was PG&E. Having conspired to fell mature oak trees, Glazer clearly is no Californian for Economic Prosperity.

It’s a campaign steeped in hypocrisy. His opponent takes some of the same money as did one of the consultants for Californians for Economic Prosperity. Glazer has taken no money from the tobacco industry, unlike one of the insiders he ran afoul of, Speaker John A. Pérez, who has taken $95,000 from tobacco during his time in office.

“They needed to demonize me as a terrible person,” the culprit told me. “That is the nature of these campaigns. The opponents want to make the other choice completely unacceptable. … The challenge they have is that I have a progressive record.”

Glazer, an Orinda city councilman, has worked on and off since he was in college for Gov. Jerry Brown. He managed Brown’s 2010 election and helped oversee Brown’s 2012 initiative campaign to raise taxes by $6 billion, a measure that helped secure funding for public schools.

Decades ago, Glazer had the unhappy task of defending Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, a liberal Brown appointee. Some of the interests for which Glazer supposedly does evil helped unseat Bird and two other Brown appointees in 1986, giving control of the court to Republican appointees.

As Californians for Economic Prosperity sees it, Glazer sullied himself in 2012 by working for the California Chamber of Commerce, which took aim at Pérez-backed incumbents Betsy Butler and Michael Allen.

In 2012, Pérez demanded that Glazer and the chamber stand down. They did, but the chamber also gave campaign fodder to another group which attacked Butler and Allen, and helped elect the challengers, Richard Bloom of Santa Monica and Marc Levine of Marin County.

The California Labor Federation-AFL-CIO responded in 2013 by placing Glazer on its do-not-hire list. Evidently, he’s also on the do-crush-into-dust list.

Labor has provided $935,000 and counting to Californians for Economic Prosperity’s campaign, including $500,000 from the California Teachers Association. The teachers’ union will spend whatever it takes to defeat Glazer, and elect his foe, Tim Sbranti.

Sbranti, the mayor of Dublin, teaches civics at Dublin High School and seems like a decent guy. More to the point, he oversaw the California Teachers Association’s political action committee.

Sbranti has raised $351,000 for the Assembly race. Nearly 60 percent has come from labor. He also has accepted a smattering of what Californians for Economic Prosperity might consider special-interest money. Chevron has given him $1,800; PG&E chipped in with $1,500. Home builders, which have been known to chop down oak trees, have given him $6,000.

Glazer has raised $605,000 for his Assembly race, including $10,100 from oil companies, drug makers and utilities, and zero from tobacco companies.

Glazer will get help from independent expenditure groups. Realtors and the Chamber of Commerce are coming to Glazer’s aid, so far.

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m in a proxy war,” Sbranti said. “It’s way beyond me.”

Think of Californians for Economic Prosperity and groups like it in coming days and weeks as the June primary approaches and lawyers tout measures they claim will help fix Sacramento’s corruption.

None of those bills seek to deal in any significant way with the biggest money in politics, independent expenditure campaigns such as Californians for Economic Prosperity.

Even though attacks are flying, California’s antiquated disclosure laws allow the unions behind Californians for Economic Prosperity to keep confidential how they’re spending their money.

One out-front consultant, Steve Maviglio, has been hectoring Glazer on Twitter. Another is Chris Lehman, who, as it happens, recently raised money in anticipation that he would run for a legislative seat. In that campaign, Lehman tapped a major drug maker, the Personal Insurance Federation and PG&E.

Lehman and Maviglio can justify their claims about Glazer, sort of. The chamber takes money from its members, including tobacco, oil, insurance, drug makers and utilities.

“It is perfectly legitimate to point out his direct ties to those special interests as a paid political consultant, primarily because he has made his so-called independence from special interests the centerpiece of his campaign,” Maviglio said in an email.

Perhaps he is right. But consider the result. Upon taking office last year, Assemblyman Levine introduced a bill to ban smoking in apartment buildings, not the sort of step a tobacco shill would take. The measure died in its first Assembly committee, when three Democrats voted against it.

After carrying failed legislation last year to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Levine this year sent a letter to Brown calling for a moratorium on fracking, hardly something an oil industry supporter would do. Bloom signed the anti-fracking letter. He also wants to ban smoking on Santa Monica beaches.

But this story has little to do with policy. It’s all about lessons, settling scores and the perils of confronting power in this town.