Sometime after polls close Nov. 8, the member-elect in the San Francisco East Bay’s 14th Assembly District will be a Democrat.
But just who that Democrat will be – Tim Grayson, a Concord councilman, or Mae Torlakson, an educator and wife of state schools chief Tom Torlakson – has turned into a high-dollar battle between outside spending groups.
Fifteen outside spending committees funded by unions, businesses and wealthy individuals who want to change California’s school system had spent $5.4 million on the race, the most of any state legislative contest through Wednesday. Torlakson and Grayson have raised less than one-third that amount for their own campaigns.
The district is among 10 Assembly and state Senate seats on the Nov. 8 ballot that have featured at least $1 million in so-called independent expenditures, out of more than $29.2 million in 46 races statewide.
The money pays for TV ads, mailers, phone banks and other campaign efforts. More than two-thirds of the money, meanwhile, has gone into same-party runoffs, such as the Torlakson-Grayson race, a legacy of voters’ approval of California’s top-two primary system four years ago.
Outside spending in Democrat-vs.-Democrat contests this fall follows a similar pattern: a mix of business groups, the charter school industry, and EdVoice lined up behind one candidate while teachers unions, allied unions and a smattering of other interests are trying to elect another. And in the high-spending all-Republican contest to replace former Assembly GOP Leader Kristin Olsen, unions representing police, firefighters and the building trades have weighed in heavily to elect their preferred candidate.
Outside groups also have been deeply engaged in several traditional Republican-vs-Democrat races, on top of the pile of money already being spent by political parties as Democrats try to recapture the two-thirds supermajorities they achieved in the 2012 election.
Businesses, oil companies, dentists and others have spent more than $2.1 million on behalf of Republican Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, who is seeking Southern California’s open 29th Senate District. And in coastal Los Angeles County’s 66th Assembly District, 13 groups have put almost $2 million on both sides of the rematch between Assemblyman David Hadley, R-Manhattan Beach, and former Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance.
On top of that, federal Super PACs have spent almost $26 million in the Golden State, including Sacramento County’s 7th Congressional District slugfest between Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a Republican.
Democratic and Republican campaign committees, unions, and Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife have bankrolled much of the $7.4 million spent by Super PACs on Sacramento-area TV ads and mailers in recent weeks.
Data Tracker is a regular feature that breaks down the numbers behind today’s news. Explore more trends at sacbee.com/datatracker.