Join the movement to oppose Valero’s big money effort to control the Benicia City Council
By Roger Straw, September 29, 2022
I’ve added my name to a growing group of Benicia residents who are asking Valero to play fair in our elections Benicians For Clean Elections. Their website is packed with information, and you can get involved here.
For too long, the Texas-based Valero Energy Corporation has used the “Working Families” VALERO PAC to spend massive amounts of money, and often used unfair campaign tactics, to get its preferred City Council and mayoral candidates elected. The PAC has refused to sign on to Benicia’s voluntary campaign pledge that limits how much it can spend and that require certain standards of honesty, decency and fairness in political ads, calls and mailers. Go to BeniciansforCleanElections.org for more information.
We’ve had enough of Valero’s toxic tactics and are taking a stand. Join us by adding your name, getting a yard sign, volunteering, and more at beniciansforcleanelections.org.
Check out the numbers – The Valero PAC spent nearly a half-million dollars in 2018-2020 – what’s next for this year?
By Roger Straw, September 28, 2022
The Valero Political Action Committee (“Working Families” PAC) has amassed nearly a quarter-million dollars this year to influence Benicia’s November election. A new report, due on September 29 and likely to be made public sometime next week, will surely add to the $232,387 the PAC reported earlier this year.
The new report will also give some ideas as to how the Big Oil and Valero-based labor groups are spending their fortune this year. Stay tuned.
A friend asked me how much the PAC spent to buy seats on Benicia’s City Council in our 2018 and 2020 elections, so I went back over the City of Benicia’s archive of mandatory campaign finance reports.
As you read these massive Big Oil numbers, keep in mind that individual real-live Benicia candidates for election – our neighbors and community leaders – have all signed onto the City’s voluntary spending limit of $34,790.
2018 – the Valero PAC spent $192,347
2020 – the Valero PAC spent $253,878
2022 – the Valero PAC has on hand $232,387
Total in these 3 small town elections $678,612
I think this stinks. A Texas corporation has no business exercising a vise grip and invasive control over its host village.
As of today, it’s too soon to know if and how Valero will spend its campaign cash. We can be sure they will back the same candidates they backed in 2018 and 2020: Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada. Whether the PAC has learned to play nice is still a question. Either way, it is simply not right that they stick their noses into our local election.
I have endorsed and spent time and finances this summer and fall supporting the following candidates – I hope you will, too!
To: Valero Energy Corporation
Cc: Valero Benicia Refinery, Working Families for a Strong Benicia Political Action Committee
In the interest of clean elections and clean air, residents of Benicia and surrounding communities ask you, a Texas-based Fortune 50 company, to stop using your “Working Families” political action committee and tremendous resources to influence our city council and mayoral elections.
If you nevertheless persist in funding the PAC, we ask that you limit your spending and campaign practices in order to:
Abide by Benicia’s Contribution and Spending Limits Ordinance, which limits individual donations to $640 per candidate, and similarly curtail the PAC’s massive non-donation spending through mailings, ads, phone calls and polling.
Abide by Benicia’s Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices, which sets ethical standards for campaign practices.
In any Working Families online, printed and other materials, clearly and prominently inform the public that you, Valero, are the main funder of the PAC.
Instead of complying with the Spending Limits Ordinance, the Working Families PAC has spent over 230,000 in each of the last several elections, backing one or two candidates and opposing others. This puts Benicia residents and candidates at a huge disadvantage.
Since the city adopted its campaign finance ordinance, all of the candidates signed a pledge to campaign ethically and abide by the city’s spending limits and standards. Yet, your PAC has never agreed to follow the rules that everyone else must abide by. You are by far the dominant spender on Benicia’s elections, dwarfing the expenditures of all candidates combined.
In the interest of “decency, honesty and fair play,” the Code asks that candidates and PACs pledge to not use “character defamation, libel, slander, or scurrilous attacks … including whispering campaigns involving such statements.” Past elections have seen the Working Families PAC violate this prohibition by calling candidates “job killers,” running misleading polls, photo manipulation, misrepresenting candidates’ records, and engaging in harsh, negative campaigning that has divided our community.
Elections have consequences. One can only wonder at your goals and intentions in funneling so much money into elections which should only be decided by Benicia voters. The issues that have been or could be considered by the city council, and that you might look to influence, include:
Whether you would bring back to Benicia the potentially deadly “Crude-by-Rail” project proposal that the council defeated in 2016, which would have brought through our industrial park the kind of fuel-carrying railroad cars that derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in a Canadian city in 2013.
Your unreported release into Benicia’s air of toxic emissions thousands of times (see correction to follow here) in excess of legal limits, reaching back to 2003.
CORRECTION: “Our letter to Valero included an error in the extent of Valero’s Benicia Refinery emissions. The letter said Valero had failed to report ‘release into Benicia’s air of toxic emissions thousands of times in excess of legal limits, reaching back to 2003.’That was incorrect. Valero released about 4,000 pounds a day in Non-Methane Hydrocarbons. The legal limit for such emissions is 15 pounds. That is hundreds—not thousands—of times over the limit. Valero also released 138 tons of toxic air contaminants from 2003 through 2020. These contaminants included Benzene. This information was presented by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in its community meeting in Benicia.” – Benicians for Clean Elections www.beniciansforcleanelections.org
Your continual requests to lower your property tax assessment, which impacts city finances.
Your relatively low water rate payments, given that you use 60 percent of our raw water.
None of our requests are intended to prevent you or your employees from having a voice in Benicia’s election. We only ask that it not drown out Benicians’ voices.
Nor do we doubt the integrity or dedication of Valero’s hardworking employees, some of them our neighbors. But in order to be a good neighbor, the Corporation needs to contribute to clean elections and clean air.
So, keep your PAC out of our elections.
If you will not do that, then sign Benicia’s Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices, limit your donations to $640 per candidate just like everyone else in Benicia, and similarly limit your non-donation spending through polling, ads, calls and mailings.
Be a good neighbor — make our elections clean and fair.
City Council Endorsements for Benicia’s November Election
On Thursday, August 25, after an informative and well-attended meeting of the Progressive Democrats featuring a forum for three Democratic Benicia City Council candidates, the membership voted to endorse Kari Birdseye and Terry Scott for City Council.
The membership failed to endorse the third Democrat running for two seats on Council, Christina Strawbridge.
In the forum moderated by Interim Chair Kathy Kerridge, the candidates were presented with prepared questions on topics ranging from the Valero PAC—which has a stockpile of over $200,000 to support candidates favorable to their issues—to climate change response and adaptation strategies, as well as affordable housing for seniors and low-income families. Each candidate was afforded ample time to answer each question and provided thoughtful, forward-thinking responses.
The membership also voted to endorse Jose Altamirano for the State Board of Equalization and to make a financial donation to each of the endorsed candidates.