Category Archives: Corporate influence

Benicia – PAC influence here worse than in Big Cities

The One Way in Which Our Wonderful Benicia’s Politics Are Worse Than Those of Big Cities

By Stephen Golub, Benicia Resident, October 31, 2020
Stephen Golub, Benicia

When my wife and I moved to Benicia, one major reason we did so is the wonderful sense of community here. Even during these terrible Covid times, this town’s warmth has continued to shine through. And though my fantastic neighbors and I don’t always agree about politics, our chats about them have always been friendly and civil.

It’s against this backdrop that this year’s mayoral campaign, namely the negative attacks on Council Member Steve Young by the Valero-backed PAC, Working Families for a Strong Benicia, has been so appalling. The many lies and distortions have apparently included blasting him for his legitimately receiving a publicly funded pension. What’s next? Denigrating someone for getting social security?

To be clear, before for I go any further: I recognize that Valero and its local workers have legitimate interests and that it donates to Benicia’s well-being in many much-appreciated ways. But while individuals who work for Valero here may arrange such contributions with the best of intentions, the corporation’s Texas headquarters is not funding them out of the goodness of its heart. Rather, it’s to influence perceptions of the company and thus increase its influence on our city.

If Valero were simply out to help, think of how many meals for hungry families impacted by the Covid economy or services for school kids could have been purchased with the nearly $400,000 that Valero and its allies put into tainting our politics in 2018 and 2020.

Furthermore, I respect Vice Mayor Christina Strawbridge’s devotion to Benicia. But I’m nonetheless disappointed that her disavowal of the Valero PAC’s attacks on Mr. Young have been so weak and late, largely confined to a couple of recent online candidate forums, and that she has sought to equate its massive spending with negative but much less impactful social media insults against her.

I also give her kudos for responding quickly and thoughtfully when I emailed her campaign about the PAC’s attacks on Steve Young. But meek disavowals by her do not make for a convincing rejection of its attacks on Mr. Young. And in view of the PAC’s strenuous support for her, they do nothing to reassure us about how she will deal with Valero if she wins.

All this brings me to how the PAC’s actions have been even worse than what I’ve seen in some big cities – namely, what I witnessed years ago working in New York City politics and government and later living in Manila (in the Philippines) and, most recently, Oakland.

Here’s how: I’ve never seen so much money spent to try to sway the votes of so few people, particularly through the lies and distortions about Mr. Young that the PAC has circulated in support of Ms. Strawbridge. Between 2018 and 2020, Valero’s and its allies’ attacks on candidates it opposes have worked out to about $25 per voter here, based on the roughly 15,000 citizens who cast ballots in our elections.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Politics in those much bigger cities can get dirtier than here. But purely in terms of per person expenditure, my admittedly imperfect memory can’t recall such great levels of funding pouring into a campaign.

My concerns go beyond what’s being spent, however, to what’s being bought or at least influenced if Christina Strawbridge is elected. PACs exist to advance specific interests. This is particularly concerning in Benicia, which has seen very recent disputes, especially crude-by-rail, over Valero’s operations. Steve Young has been much stronger on such matters.

What’s more, our state is being ravaged by climate change-facilitated fires. Benicia itself is threatened by them – recall the Vallejo fire last year and the toxic skies in recent months. Other refineries are converting to biofuel processing. California’s and potentially federal policies (pending the presidential election results) are shifting away from petroleum. In light of all this, Valero should be exploring with Benicia a gradual transition that protects its interests and especially those of its workers, not adding fuel to the fire of this great town’s politics.

I’ll note that the one issue that I’ve discussed (online) with Mr. Young involved my challenging his proposal earlier this year for indirect city support for Covid-impacted Benicia businesses – an idea about which, in retrospect, he might have been right. He was civil, polite and thoughtful in his reply.

In contrast, Ms. Strawbridge could have done much better in backing away from Valero’s backing. So can we, come Election Day, by voting for Steve Young.

UPDATE: Anti-Birdseye PAC gets more money

By Roger Straw, October 18, 2018

The Benicia City Clerk notified City Council members and candidates yesterday that additional campaign finance reports were received from the Pro-Strawbridge-Largaespada/Anti-Birdseye PAC. [Editor: You will notice that I am purposely avoiding use of the politically loaded and false title the PAC has chosen for itself, Wkg Fmls…]

Two NEW Contribution Forms 497 were filed, and one NEW Expenditure Form 496 was received from the PAC on Wednesday.

In addition, since last reported here on October 13, a few new reports and corrective AMENDED reports were filed.  These new filings are not clearly labeled by the City of Benicia.  All are simply listed by number on the City website without much guidance for voters.  I’ll try to sort it out below, with new totals.

But meanwhile, be alert!  In summary, the PAC is absolutely LOADED for more big campaign expenditures during these final weeks before election day.  TOTAL CONTRIBUTIONS OF $154,200 MINUS EXPENDITURES TO DATE OF $25,836.06: $128,363.94.

CONTRIBUTIONS UPDATE (Oct. 18)

EXPENDITURES UPDATE (Oct. 18)

  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_1.pdf
    PRO-STRAWBRIDGE: Winning Connections calls $5,166.67 on 10/10; Valero Use of Poll $4,733.34 on 10/10
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_2.pdf
    PRO-LARGAESPADA: Winning Connections calls $5,166.67 on 10/10; Valero Use of Poll $4,733.34 on 10/10
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_3.pdf
    ANTI-BIRDSEYE: Winning Connections calls $5,166.67 on 10/10; Valero Use of Poll $4,733.34 on 10/10
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_4.pdf
    ANTI-BIRDSEYE: Digital Turf media buy $4,689 on 10/11 (cumulative to date $16,589); Digital Turf ad production $2,000 on 10/11 (cumulative to date $16,589)
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_5.pdf
    PRO-STRAWBRIDGE: Digital Turf media buy $4,689 on 10/13 (cumulative to date $16,589); Digital Turf ad production $2,000 on 10/13 (cumulative to date $16,589)
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_6.pdf
    PRO-LARGAESPADA: Digital Turf media buy $4,689 on 10/13 (cumulative to date $16,589); Digital Turf ad production $2,000 on 10/13 (cumulative to date $16,589)
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_7.pdf
    AMENDMENT TO 496-1 PRO-STRAWBRIDGE Winning Connection calls $5,413.73 (not $5,166.67) and (cumulative to date $16,836.07); Heat & Frost contribution of $20,000 (not $30,000) on 10/16
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_8.pdf
    AMENDMENT TO 496-2 PRO-LARGAESPADA: Winning Connections calls $5,413.73 (not $5,166.67) and (cumulative to date $16,836.07) on 10/16
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_9.pdf
    AMENDMENT TO 496-3 ANTI-BIRDSEYE: Winning Connections calls $5,413.73 (not $5,166.67) and (cumulative to date $16,836.07) on 10/16
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_10.pdf
    AMENDMENT TO 496-4 ANTI-BIRDSEYE: Digital Turf media buy and ad production (and cumulative to date $16,836) on 10/15
  • Anti-Birdseye_PAC_Form_496_11.pdf
    NEW EXPENDITURE PRO-LARGAESPADA: Winning Connection calls $9,000 (cumulative to date $25,836.06) on 10/16
    TOTAL EXPENDITURES TO DATE: $25,836.06

City records show Valero, others have pooled $104,200 (LATER: $154,200) to oppose Kari Birdseye with negative ads & phone calls

Shocking documentation of outside money plans to influence Benicia election

By Roger Straw, October 13, 2018
[See Oct. 18 update – total now at $154,200!  – R.S.] 

Get ready!

If you think the Benicia City Council race has been nasty so far, with negative campaigning through secretive push polls and negative phone calls, just wait… Valero and others in a new Political Action Committee (PAC) have joined together to raise over $100,000 to influence our election with additional hard-hitting negative campaign tactics.  $100,000 – over 3 times the limit each individual candidate is allowed to spend on their campaign!

So… you can expect to see negative ads making outrageous claims against Kari Birdseye on TV and Facebook.  Expect nasty signs around town, more negative telephone campaign calls, glossy mailers delivered to your door, and who knows what else?  To understand the dark nature of their plans, you really do need to check out the phone script and photocopies of ads in the City reports at right. They want to buy a seat on Council.

According to official City of Benicia documents (see at right), Valero wrote a $14,200 check to help fund a Political Action Committee that goes by the nearly endless name, “Working Families for a Strong Benicia, a Coalition of Labor, Industrial Services Companies, Public Safety and Local Leaders Supporting Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada and Opposing Kari Birdseye for Benicia City Council in 2018.”

Besides Valero’s $14,200, the other interested parties are throwing in another $90,000 to fund the WFSB anti-Birdseye campaign.

My opinion?  They better hope this works. Can you imagine campaigning this viciously against someone and then losing? Not the smartest way to try and “mend fences” after a near disastrous chemical release in 2017 and a pledge to be a “good neighbor.” Is this how good neighbors act?

We’re not all that far away from the election – you can expect the PAC to spend this huge amount in the next three weeks.  Benicia will be inundated with their anti-Kari messaging.

Remember: this tactic was tried by Big Oil previously when Chevron spent $3 million to try and buy four city council seats in Richmond in 2014. It failed spectacularly.  San Francisco State political science Professor Robert Smith wrote of the Richmond outcome, “This means that big money doesn’t always win, that ordinary people can defeat huge corporate power.”  sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Chevron-s-3-million-backfires-in-Richmond-5873779

Let’s hope that Benicia voters see past the slick mailers and negative hit pieces that will soon be flooding our mailboxes and FaceBook feeds.  Kari Birdseye for Benicia City Council!

Click here to go to Kari’s campaign website, BirdseyeForBenicia.com