Dialing for dollars

Apr 30, 2012

As independent expenditure committees and PACs ramp up, California political candidates are awash in cash. One interesting factoid: About 80 cents of every dollar being raised is coming from outside the candidates' district.


From the Press-Enterprise's Jim Miller and Ben Goad: "Candidates for Inland Southern California congressional and legislative contests on the June ballot have raised more than $9.4 million, with four-fifths of the money originating from outside the districts they seek to represent."


"Every state is represented in the Inland money rush. The amount eclipses what had been raised at this point two years ago and will continue to swell throughout the election cycle. Independent expenditure groups, which are not covered by candidate contribution limits, will inject millions more into the region’s races in the weeks and months ahead."


"Some donors come from a candidate’s home area and have long relationships. Others share philosophies with their candidates of choice, such as unions giving to Democrats and Republican Party committees giving to Republican candidates. In other cases, particularly for donations from political action committees representing different business interests, there is no obvious ideological link to a contribution. That money is meant to ensure goodwill and access to incumbents or the likely winner in an open seat, say campaign-finance watchdogs."


The cash bonanza is turning California into a critical battleground as partisans battle for control of the House, a fight aggravated by the redrawing of congressional district lines by a voter-approved, independent commission. The Chronicle's Carla Marinucci and Joe Garofoli tell the tale.


"Several of the state's 53 congressional districts are competitive for the first time in years, prompting the parties to turn their attention to the political action committees. The groups are allowed to raise unlimited donations and are likely to fund campaigns that will be nastier than usual in an attempt to sway six to 10 congressional races in the state, party observers told The Chronicle."


"As GOP and Democratic operatives battle over messaging to voters this year, they are surprisingly united in their pitch to deep-pocketed donors..."


"The flood of unlimited donations will also increase the influence of big-money donors, critics say. They worry that the new super PACs, which are not allowed to coordinate with a candidate's campaign, will pay for particularly venomous advertising because a candidate's name and political party will not be associated with the hit piece."


The $120 million settlement between the state and an energy company allows the firm to set up a network of charging stations across the state to handle electric vehicles. Critics are crying foul, however, because they say the company diddles the state during the electricity crisis a decade ago and that the settlement provides an unfair advanatge over other companies.


From the AP's Andrew Dalton: "The agreement between New Jersey-based NRG Energy, Inc. and the state's Public Utilities Commission was finalized and made public Friday, and now awaits the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission."


"The advancement of the settlement angered some industry competitors including California-based ECOtality, which had filed a court motion after it was first announced asking for more public review because of what it called "monopoly-like" benefits granted to NRG."


"We are extremely disappointed that our call for transparency and industry input has been disregarded," Martin Felli, general counsel for ECOtality, said in the statement. "We are convinced that the NRG settlement is a bad deal for California ratepayers."


Speaking of a bad deal, Stockton's financial management is drawing national attention as that city edges toward bankruptcy. 


From Ed Mendel at CalPensions: Stockton has enrolled three mayors and 14 city council members in CalPERS since 1991, despite a provision in the city charter that clearly states no council member shall receive retirement or death benefits, the Stockton Record reported last week.

"The discovery of $276,954 in unlawful city pension contributions comes as Stockton is in the national media spotlight during a last-ditch attempt to avoid bankruptcy, mainly by getting unions to agree to cuts in retirement and other costs."


"It’s the latest quirk in the hodge-podge of laws and practices, drawing the attention of a legislative committee, that gives some elected officials pensions, prohibits pensions for other elected officials and allows some to choose no pension."

Stockton isn't the only city going mano-a-mano with public pensions. In San Jose, the city council is poised to vote on a plan to cut pension benefits for future city employees -- a move that was authorized earlier by voters.


From John Woolfolk in the Contra Costa Times: "The vote on reducing pensions for future hires comes as San Jose has emerged as a key battleground in a nationwide fight over public employee retirement benefits with a controversial June ballot measure.


"While Measure B would set broad limits on retirement benefits for new hires, it would not create a new plan for them. Tuesday's vote would establish a pension benefit for all new hires except police officers and firefighters -- who have arbitration rights over their pay and benefits -- within the parameters of Measure B. It would be in effect for the next budget year, beginning in July, regardless of the Measure B outcome."


"Measure B would not only lower retirement benefits for new hires, but make current employees either pay more for their pensions or switch to a more modest plan. Unions argue the measure is an unlawful breach of their benefit rights and will only deliver a costly court battle."


Meanwhile, up the peninsula in San Francisco, that city's tech heavy hitters are making a push for tax breaks.


From the Chronicle's Matier & Ross: "At issue: the current payroll tax, which taxes businesses based on how many workers they have and how much they pay them, versus a proposed gross receipts levy, which taxes them on their sales."


"New-tech companies such as Salesforce, Zynga, Riverbed, Twitter and Yelp - with their fast-expanding workforces and high-earning initial public offerings - want out of the city payroll tax."


"And it's been tech investor Conway - who stepped up with a $670,000 independent expenditure committee on behalf of Lee's mayoral campaign last year and also picked up the tab at his election-night victory party at the Palace Hotel - who has been beating the drum the loudest."


It's been a tough year for state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, 71, whose wife resigned from the Alameda County board of supervisors amid a sex and drugs scandal, but the veteran politician still plans to run for state controller in a couple of years.


From Josh Richman at the Contra Costa Times: "So now, after months of personal turmoil and four decades as one of the state's most powerful Democrats, is state Treasurer Bill Lockyer preparing to quietly fade away?"


"Not a chance. In fact, he's already squirreled away more than $2.5 million to run for another statewide office when he's 73."


"Asked whether recent events will affect his plans to become California's new controller, the state's top fiscal officer, his spokesman, Tom Dresslar, replied with a firm "no."


"He still plans on running," Dresslar said Friday."


And from our "Chopped Hog" file comes word that the first piece of debris to reach Canada from last year's Japanese tsunami is, believe it or not, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.


"The bike was rusty, particularly on the wheels and handlebars, but the logo on the fuel tank was unmistakable."

"First I thought, this has got to be the craziest thing anyone has ever found," he said."

"Then I looked a little closer and the license had Japanese writing on it. The wall of the trailer had Japanese print on the tags. And the first thing that popped into my head was this is likely from the Tsunami in Japan."

"The motorcycle's licence plate shows it was registered in Miyagi Prefecture, and writing on the container matches photos of a commonly used Japanese moving van."




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