Rocky journey through this local election

By Roger Straw, October 28, 2018

Almost five months ago, I received an invitation to take part in the great democratic tradition of promoting a neighbor for local city governance.  Along with others, I spent limited funds and as much time as I could to talk to folks, organize and campaign.  Some of my friends came to join me and others got behind other good neighbors, and the race was on.  Two of our neighbors would be elected to our Benicia City Council in November.

News broke in late September that a major worldwide corporate power had bullied its way into our local democratic process.  Valero Services Inc., based in Texas but with 115 subsidiaries in Delaware, Michigan, Canada and several wealthy Caribbean nations, decided it wanted to buy a seat on the Benicia City Council.

Their first strategy was to spend an unknown amount of money to employ two national firms, EMC Research and Research America, to conduct a nasty telephone “push poll,” blatantly mischaracterizing and demeaning one candidate for Council and painting rosy pictures of two others.  When our City Attorney challenged the polling firms, Valero Refinery executive Don Wilson admitted that Valero paid for the poll, but neither he nor the polling firms would comply with our demands for more information.

Valero went about scaring its workers – those employed by Valero and others who contract for work at the refinery – into believing that my candidate wants to close down the refinery and take away the workers’ livelihood, their jobs.  This is far from true, but the tactic resulted in the amassing of a small fortune by Benicia standards, $155,000 in an “Independent Expenditure” fund known as a political action committee (PAC).  Unfortunately, this PAC is free to use its massive resources to damage a candidate and to promote other candidates.  Under U.S. law, corporations are considered “people” and have been given rights like you and me, to participate with voice – but not with a vote – in our tiny local elections.

Fortunately, Benicia enacted a fair campaign ordinance in 2008, which requires everyone, real people like you and me, and these monstrous shadow “people” like Valero Services Inc., to detail their campaign contributions and expenditures.  So in September we were shocked to discover not only how much money the PAC had gathered up, but also detailed descriptions of their new telephone poll and negative digital ads.

  • Complying fully with Benicia’s law, the PAC submitted names of its contributors (Valero Services at $14,200 and various contracting trade unions at $30,000 each, now totaling $155,000).
  • Complying fully with Benicia’s law, the PAC submitted a telephone caller script that showed a blatant false attack on my candidate.
  • Complying fully with Benicia’s law, the PAC submitted a photocopy of a mean digital ad showing my candidate in an unflattering pose.
  • And as required by law, the City of Benicia posted all of this on its website, and the news went wild.

Incensed letters went to the newspapers and lengthy hot conversations blossomed on social media.  ALL of the candidates spoke out against the PAC’s tactics and two candidates returned contributions they’d received from parties to the fund.

In the ensuing month, more money was contributed to the PAC and more was spent.  Despite the public criticism, the misleading phone calls and attack ads continue.  Going into the final week before the election, the PAC has spent over $58,800 to attack and promote candidates.  They have an additional $96,000 which can be spent in the final push this week!

Benicia candidates are required by law to spend less than $30,000 on their campaign.  The PAC has five times that amount to buy a seat on Council.

So I’m back to sharing about my recent sojourn in local democracy.  I don’t mind competing with neighbors.  I’ve participated in local elections before.  I enjoy the behind-the-scenes organizing, the competition, the excitement at the end of the race to learn the public’s choices.  But it is simply not fair to have to go up against Valero Services Inc.  Our local absentee Texas/Caribbean giant has mobilized our unions into a sickening fight to openly tear down one candidate and to champion two others.

The only good news in all this, the only antidote to this illness, is that we, the people, the REAL people, still reserve the right to vote.  I don’t care if you are for my candidate, Kari Birdseye, or any of our other Benicia neighbors.  EVERYONE who is a real breathing human being needs to ignore the elephant in our room and send in their ballot or show up at the polls on Tuesday, November 6.  Everyone needs to vote!

Roger Straw

New totals for $ spent by Valero/labor’s Anti-Birdseye PAC

By Roger Straw, October 27, 2018

Reports reveal cumulative totals for Largaespada and Strawbridge, and against Birdseye

The Anti-Birdseye committee filed three separate reports with the City of Benicia on October 25, showing its expenditures through October 20, 2018.

TOTAL OF $58,857

Seems the PAC favors Largaespada as its top priority.  Buying a seat, placating Strawbridge, dumping on Birdseye.

Most interesting: all three reports show expenditures of $4,733.33 (or $4,733.34) for “USE OF POLL, Received from Valero Services, Inc. and its affiliated entities, 3400 East Second St., Benicia.”  The total of the three is $14,200 – the exact amount previously reported donated by Valero Services.  The BIG QUESTION: is this referring to data gathered in the secret and possibly illegal “push poll” conducted by EMC and Research America?  Background, see

Times-Herald: Benicia candidates’ campaign finance reports

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor: For links to the individual reports, see Details: Benicia candidates file new campaign finance-reports.  – R.S.]

Benicia council candidates raise $13,780 since Sept. 23

By JOHN GLIDDEN, October 26, 2018 at 3:19 pm

BENICIA — Three of the four Benicia City Council candidates have raised a combined $13,780 in campaign cash since Sept. 23, financial records submitted to the Benicia City Clerk’s Office show.

The records turned in Thursday are the last campaign statements required to be submitted prior to the Nov. 6 election.

Political newcomer Kari Birdseye’s campaign led the group with $6,020 in cash contributions received between Sept. 23 to Oct. 20.

Notable donations include, $250 from the Solano County Orderly Growth Committee, $200 from Benicia Vice Mayor Steve Young, while Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson donated $35 during the current period – increasing her donation total to the Birdseye campaign, which is now $145 for the calendar year, records show.

Additional notable contributions include $500 from Nancy Serrurier, $500 from Greg Serrurier, $580 from Paula Schnese, and $300 from Kathleen Dylina, Birdseye campaign reported.

The campaign spent $5,804 during the same period with $1,000 going towards media buys, $575 to Polygon Publishing for printed material, and $400 to Marc Garman’s Lab Rat Pictures for production of an advertisement.

Birdseye’s campaign also gave cash refunds of $500 each to Brian Mitchell, Jill Wilson, Tom Wilson, records show.

The campaign had $3,378 left in its coffers as of Oct. 20.

Former Councilwoman Christina Strawbridge’s campaign picked up $5,812 during the same month.

Notable donations included: $250 from the Solano County Orderly Growth Committee, former Vallejo Mayor Terry Curtola gave $100, $201 from Benicia Councilman Alan Schwartzman, $580 from the California Real Estate PAC, and $200 from Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan.

Major donations to the campaign also came from Jack Bethards, who donated $500, Richard Bortolazzo gave $300, Shari Bortolazzo donated $300, $540 came from Jim Ponder, $250 was donated from Donald Zampa, and $400 from Erin Gizzi, records show.

Strawbridge gave her campaign a $4,000 loan, it was reported. The campaign spent $10,333 with $3,579 going to Assistance Plus for direct mail, $1,175 to Polygon Publishing for advertising, and $3,000 for a media buy, the campaign reported.

The campaign stated it had $5,463 in the bank on Oct. 20.

Finally, Lionel Largaespada, chair of the city’s Economic Development Board, raised $1,948 in cash from Sept. 23, his campaign reported.

Heather Graves donated $250, while Jack Bethard gave $500, and $250 from Donald Zampa, Largaespada’s campaign stated.

The campaign spent $6,733 during that period with a bulk, $4,367,paid to Strong & Associates for a mail piece, records show.

Largaespada had $5,569 left in its coffers on Oct. 20.

Birdseye, Largaespada, Strawbridge, and Will Emes are all running for two open seats on the five-person Benicia City Council this fall. The two incumbents, Alan Schwartzman and Mark Hughes, have both declined to seek re-election to the council.

The election is Nov. 6.

Details: Benicia candidates file new campaign finance reports

By Roger Straw, October 26, 2018

New income sources and campaign expenses revealed on City of Benicia website

Details & highlights

Total cash raised Sept 23 – Oct 22
Birdseye $6,020 (Total $20,454)
Largaespada $1,948 (Total $20,984)
Strawbridge $5,812 + self loan of $4,000 (Total $23,797)

Total expenses Sept 23 – Oct 22
Birdseye $5,804 (Total $17,075)
Largaespada $6,733 (Total $14,348)
Strawbridge $10,333 (Total $24,354)

Cash on hand
Birdseye $3,378
Largaespada $5,569
Strawbridge $5,463

Interesting details
Benicia contributions: Birdseye 32 (avg. $140), Largaespada 5 (avg. $270), Strawbridge 15, (avg. $305)
Non-Benicia contributions: Birdseye 6 (avg $258), Largaespada 2 (avg. $300), Strawbridge 5 (avg. $246)
Contributions $500 or more: Birdseye 3 ($1,580), Largaespada 1 (500), Strawbridge 3 ($1,620)

Campaign Finance Reports, from the City’s website
(bold = new as of 10/25/2018):