I remember the Benicia smear campaign of 2018

Benicia electoral campaign reform – 2018 is the reason for fundamental reform

By Roger Straw, January 6, 2020
Kari Birdseye, Chair, Benicia Planning Commission

For a quick review of the nasty campaign against my friend Kari Birdseye, just search the Benicia Independent for “birdseye.”

Kari ran for City Council in 2018 in a field of 4, competing for 2 seats on Council.  Only she didn’t just run against her opponents.  She ran against a $200,000-plus smear campaign orchestrated by Benicia Valero Refinery and its friends in organized labor.

The three major candidates’ campaigns spent less than $30,000 each, while Valero saturated our phone lines, mailboxes, newspapers and social media with misinformation and ugly photos.

All four candidates came out in opposition to Valero’s big-money dirty tactics.

Shortly after the election, almost exactly a year ago, the Benicia City Council decided – unanimously – to do something about dirty campaigns like the 2018 election.  As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on January 14, 2019:

“Valero spent $200,000 in last year’s Benicia city council election to help elect two candidates who were less critical of the company than others. That’s created tension between the oil refiner and the city, leading people to question how much influence Valero should have in local politics. On Tuesday Benicia will discuss the possibility of new campaign finance laws that could limit corporate influence in its small town.”

The Council directed its Open Government Commission (OGC) to consider updates and amendments to the City’s three campaign ordinances.  The OGC appointed a subcommittee which took nearly a year to review a zillion suggestions gathered from you and me – and from Valero (!) and other local businesses and organizations.

This Tuesday, the Benicia City Council will discuss the report and recommendations of the Open Government Commission.  The City Attorney recommended against some of the recommendations, perhaps with good reason: some are covered by California law, and some could be challenged in court as indefensible.  Others that are not supported should be addressed by Council.

But note that the heart of the OGC recommendations are recommended by City staff, including the City Attorney, for passage.  [AGENDA & Staff Reports here]

Council should not forget its unanimous desire for reform following the ugly campaign of 2018.  COUNCIL SHOULD VOTE YES on Tuesday, January 7.