Category Archives: Valero PAC

Benicia’s mayor calls out Valero’s big war chest ahead of election

The Vallejo Sun, By John Glidden, Feb 15, 2022

The Valero Benicia refinery

BENICIA – Mayor Steve Young says he’s displeased that Valero Benicia Refinery is poised once again to spend a large sum of money during the upcoming city council election.

The refinery dumped $200,000 into its Working Families for a Strong Benicia PAC last December, giving the PAC more than $232,000 ahead of the November 2022 election, according to campaign forms submitted to the Benicia City Clerk’s Office.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young.
Benicia Mayor Steve Young

Typically, a Benicia council candidate can expect to receive more than $20,000 in contributions over the span of an election or about 10% of what Valero has available.

The move has revitalized conversation in town between environmentalists seeking more regulations, the company, and local unions that are concerned that city officials want to shut down the plant.

Valero couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Young — who said he issued his statement over the weekend only as a Benicia resident and not as mayor — admitted that what Valero was doing was legal but argued “it is wrong-and extremely harmful to our community.”

“There is only one purpose in making such a huge expenditure nine months before the election: to scare off any potential City Council candidate who would consider running without first getting Valero’s stamp of approval,” Young’s statement read. “What candidate is willing to go up against that kind of war chest?”

Valero opened its PAC ahead of the 2018 city council elections, ultimately backing Lionel Largaespada and Christina Strawbridge. Both were elected. The PAC publicly opposed Benicia Planning Commissioner Kari Birdseye. Two years later, the PAC once again backed Strawbridge, this time as she made a mayoral bid, while opposing Young. Despite the PAC spending $250,000 during that election, Young was elected.

Young and Birdseye served on the planning commission together when the body rejected the company’s crude-by-rail proposal in early 2016. The Benicia City Council went on to reject the project later that year.

Young wrote that Valero should have a say in the election but “they should also play by the same rules that apply to everyone else under our campaign finance regulations.”

Young said the city’s campaign laws allow a candidate to spend no more than $35,000 on a campaign. He argued Valero should be held to the same rule.

“But Valero’s size and wealth gives them the belief that they can pick and choose who should be our elected representatives,” Young added.

Young said that to stop Valero every council candidate should reject support it receives from the company.

“In addition, voters should demand that any candidate take a public and ongoing stand that Valero should not support their campaign in any way,” Young added. “I call on all prospective candidates in the November election to make this pledge. If no candidate is willing to be supported by this PAC, where will they spend all of their money?”

Young’s statement comes as the Valero refinery has been receiving some negative attention.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced in January that it was seeking a legally binding order against the refinery to correct “significant excess emissions violations.” The district alleges that Valero didn’t report that more than 8,000 tons of excess emissions came from the plant over a 16-year period.

Last November, a contractor was found dead hanging from a scaffolding ladder by his safety harness over a piece of refinery equipment.

Valero is the largest employer in Benicia, employing more than 400 people. The plant processed 165,000 barrels of oil each day, according to its website.

Campaign records show that from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2021, the PAC spent more than $5,000 with Sacramento-based Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leonli LLP for campaign services.

Young, who has opened a 2024 re-election campaign, reported raising no contributions and only spending $29 during the second half of 2021. The campaign reported having about $900.

Meanwhile, both Largaespada and Strawbridge, who are up for re-election this November, reported no activity during the same period.

Here We Go Again – Benicia candidates and voters must reject Valero’s big money

Here We Go Again

On social media, by Steve Young, Benicia

Steve Young, Benicia resident (and Mayor)

I want to emphasize that I am writing today not as the Mayor, but rather an interested Benicia resident and voter. I also want to state that I understand the importance of Valero to our local economy as a major employer and taxpayer and an important contributor to local causes. Since the last election, I have initiated meetings with the Valero General Manager on a monthly basis, and feel that we have developed a respectful relationship. I have also told him directly that I will be writing this article.

Last week, it was revealed [here on the Benicia Independent] that Valero, through the oddly named Working Families for a Strong Benicia Political Action Committee (PAC), had deposited another $200,000 in anticipation of this year’s City Council elections. They are currently sitting on $235,000.

There is only one purpose in making such a huge expenditure nine months before the election: to scare off any potential City Council candidate who would consider running without first getting Valero’s stamp of approval. What candidate is willing to go up against that kind of war chest?

In 2018, Valero and their construction trade union allies, ran a big-dollar, negative campaign against Planning Commission Chair Kari Birdseye (“Birdseye Bad for Benicia”) and in favor of Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada. The PAC attack was successful, and Strawbridge and Largaespada were elected. The presumed reason for opposing Ms. Birdseye is that she (and I) had led the Planning Commission denial of Valero’s Crude by Rail proposal (a denial that ultimately was upheld by the City Council).

In 2020, the same Valero-funded PAC decided to run the same type of negative campaign against me in my race for Mayor. Over $250,000 was spent attacking me, and in favor of Ms. Strawbridge. Unlike in 2018, however, Benicia voters saw through this effort and I was elected by a 20 point margin.

The argument has been made that, as Benicia’s largest employer and a significant taxpayer, Valero should have a say in the selection of Council candidates and the Mayor. And I agree. They should have the same right as any other company or individual to support the candidate(s) of their choice.

But they should also play by the same rules that apply to everyone else under Benicia’s campaign finance regulations. They, and any of their employees, are able to donate $540 to the candidate of their choice. But, in Benicia, candidates are limited by our campaign finance ordinance to spending no more than $35,000 on a campaign (assuming they can raise that much). By contrast, the PAC spending more than $250,000 on our local campaigns shows how uneven (and undemocratic) their influence buying campaign has become.

[Editor – see Benicia Municipal Code…
Chapter 1.36: Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices
Chapter 1.40:  Disclosure Of Contributions and Expenditures
Chapter 1.42: Contribution and Voluntary Spending Limits]

The disastrous “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision opened the door for this by declaring that “money is speech”, and allowing for unlimited spending by corporations and unions. Usually, this level of over the top spending is confined to national and statewide elections, not in small towns like Benicia. But Valero’s size and wealth gives them the belief that they can pick and choose who should be our elected representatives.

What they are doing is legal, but it is wrong-and extremely harmful to our community. This is what is truly “Bad for Benicia”.

The only way to stop it is if EVERY candidate for City Council publicly, vociferously, and repeatedly rejects support from the Valero PAC, and denounces this type of negative campaigning and excessive spending. In addition, voters should demand that any candidate take a public and ongoing stand that Valero should not support their campaign in any way. I call on all prospective candidates in the November election to make this pledge. If no candidate is willing to be supported by this PAC, where will they spend all of their money?

Leave Benicia elections to Benicia voters.

Valero sitting on $232,000 in readiness to influence 2022 Benicia elections

Valero Political Action Committee files financial statement with City of Benicia on Jan 31, 2022

Source: City of Benicia website, 2022 Campaign Finance Reports
“Working Families…” CA Form 460, covering 7/1/2021 – 12/31/2021

FULL COMMITTEE NAME: Working Families for a Strong Benicia, a Coalition of Labor and Industrial Services Companies, Committee Major Funding by Top Contributors Valero and International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers Local 549 PAC

Total Contributions:

This period: $200,000
Year Total to Date: $200,000
Detail: Received $200,000 on 12/23/21 from Valero Services, Inc. and Affiliated Entities, 3400 East Second St., Benicia [See CA Secty of State listing for Valero Services Inc & Affiliated Entities.  See also Valero Services’ year-end report showing this contribution.]

Total Expenditures:

This period: $6,366.34
Year Total to Date: $13,373.39
Detail: 6 payments to Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni, all for Professional Services (legal, accounting)

Current Cash Statement: $232,386.88

Outstanding Debts: $1,651.63

Detail: 2 expenses accrued but unpaid to Nielsen Merksamer etc. for Professional Services (legal, accounting)

KQED News: Benicia considers strengthening campaign finance ordinance against lies and misinformation

Benicia Considers Proposal for City Hall to Fact-Check Political Ads During Elections

KQED News, by Ted Goldberg, October 18
Valero’s oil refinery in the Solano County city of Benicia. (Craig Miller/KQED)

Benicia lawmakers are considering a proposal that could eventually require the city to fact-check political campaign advertisements — a novel response to alleged election misinformation that could face legal scrutiny.

The ordinance comes after a political action committee funded by Valero, the oil giant that runs a refinery in town, tried to influence voters in the last two city council elections. The company’s involvement in city politics also came as the Valero plant experienced two of the region’s worst refinery accidents in the last four years.

The ordinance was co-authored by Mayor Steve Young, whom the Valero PAC opposed in the last election. He said the committee put out ads that manipulated photos of him and distorted his record.

Now, Young said, the city should consider whether its campaign regulations “can be amended to prohibit digital or voice manipulation of images and whether any lying can be prohibited.”

The PAC, dubbed Working Families for a Strong Benicia, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the 2018 and 2020 city council elections. Both votes revived debate between some city officials and environmentalists on one side, who want more regulations on the refinery, and oil executives and unionized refinery workers on the other, who say they fear the city’s real motivation is to shut the plant down.

In 2018, two candidates backed by the PAC, which is also funded by several labor organizations allied with the refinery, won seats on the Benicia City Council. Another candidate, an environmentalist who was opposed by the committee, lost.

Last year, Young won the mayor’s race despite the PAC’s opposition to his candidacy. The ads said that he was against affordable housing and that he didn’t need a job because he receives a pension from previous local government work.

The mayor said he does want cheaper housing and there’s nothing wrong with receiving a pension. He said Valero’s opposition to him began in 2016, when the Benicia Planning Commission, which Young was a member of, voted to reject the company’s crude-by-rail proposal.

“Steve Young wants to turn Benicia into a place where young families can’t afford to live and work,” one flier stated. “Who would vote against kids playing at the ballpark? Steve Young did,” another one said.

Young and the proposal’s co-author, Councilmember Tom Campbell, said the ads mean the city should do a better job of making sure future elections are fair and honest.

But turning the government into a fact-checking body would be ripe for a legal challenge, according to Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Marymount University professor specializing in election law.

“We know the First Amendment does in fact protect lies,” Levinson said in an interview. “I think this is absolutely open to a legal challenge the second they pass it, if they do.”

“Who decides what’s an embellishment, what’s misleading, what’s just an omission versus what’s actually a lie?” Levinson asked.

Since the 2016 election and the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, misinformation has become one of the biggest issues in American politics, said Levinson.

“We are tackling a situation where there are more lies and there’s more technology that allows us to lie than for sure the framers every dreamed of,” she added.

At the same time, the local news industry, which traditionally acts like a fact-checking body, has been decimated. Benicia gets some news coverage but is often overshadowed by larger Bay Area cities like San Francisco and Oakland.

“One of the things that keeps me up at night is not just misinformation and disinformation and the fact that people believe it, but the fact that we have a dwindling press corps and particularly in smaller jurisdictions,” Levinson said.

The details over how the city would fact-check political ads has yet to be worked out. The proposal, set to go before the city council on Tuesday, would forward the issue to Benicia’s Open Government Commission, a body that would consider changing the city’s election campaign regulations. The commission would work on new rules and forward them to the city council next April.

Valero fought with the city’s last mayor, Elizabeth Patterson, after she called for more regulations to be placed on the refinery following a May 2017 power outage that led to a major release of toxic sulfur dioxide and prompted emergency shelter-in-place orders. Less than two years later, the plant had a series of malfunctions that led to another significant pollution release.

Jason Kaune, the PAC’s treasurer and head of political law at Nielsen Merksamer, a Sacramento-based lobbying firm, declined to comment. Representatives for Valero and unions that supported the committee did not respond to requests for comment.