SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— In the days before next Tuesday’s California primary election, voters are being buried in direct mail, and bombarded in radio and television ads, but much of the campaign propaganda isn’t paid for by the candidates themselves. So-called “independent committees” are footing the bill in many cases, especially in one high-profile Bay Area Assembly race and another in a statewide campaign.
You wouldn’t think the race to succeed termed-out East Bay Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan would get so much attention, or that the usually sleepy, down-ballot fight for state Superintendent of Public Instruction would spark a media blitz, but with business and labor groups spending millions of dollars on the campaign, the mud and the money are flying.
The committees have confusing names. Even the one called “Torlakson For Superintendent” has no official connection to candidate Tom Torlakson.
A KCBS review of campaign finance records reveals it’s bankrolled by almost $3 million from the California Teachers Association and other unions. Torlakson’s primary opponent, Marshall Tuck, is backed by $1.4 million from Los Angeles businessmen and education activists.
The California Association of Realtors and Chamber of Commerce have poured more than a million dollars into those ads for Assembly candidate Steve Glazer, while the California Teachers Association and other labor groups spend almost as much on behalf of rival Democrat Tim Sbranti.
“It’s really a legal fiction. I mean, it’s these quote-independent committees that are run by close associates of the candidates; sometimes former campaign staff and they’re just an extension of the candidate,” said Daniel Newman, head of Maplight.org.
Newman, whose organization tracks campaign contributions and influence, said the ads add the benefit for the campaign of having deniability about being able to run more negative advertising and that the candidates don’t have to stand by their words.
With the top-two primary, many of these same labor-versus-business battles will be fought all over again in November when it could very well be Torlakson against Tuck and possibly even Glazer versus Sbranti again.