Vallejo Times-Herald: Anti-Birdseye Valero PAC now up to $124,200

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor: Here’s a link to the City of Benicia’s Campaign Finance Reports.  Check out the campaign telephone scripts and the dirty ads as well as the financial information.  LATER: See Oct. 18 update – total now at $154,200!  – R.S.]

Valero spends money to oppose Benicia candidate Birdseye

By JOHN GLIDDEN, October 16, 2018 at 6:42 pm

BENICIA — The 2018 Benicia City Council election just got more interesting.

According to financial statements submitted to the Benicia City Clerk’s Office late last week, the Valero Benicia Refinery is funding a special committee to oppose council candidate Kari Birdseye.

The committee, known by a lengthy 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 2018, has raised $124,200 within the past week.

Valero is responsible for $14,200 of that total, documents show.

Records further show that a portion of the monies have gone toward funding calls to local residents asking Benicians to support council candidates Lionel Largaespada and Christina Strawbridge, while rejecting Birdseye as “a yes man for the mayor.”

A phone script was provided with the expenditure as required by the Benicia Municipal Code. If the respondent says he/she is voting for Birdseye then the caller was to recommend that the potential voters reconsider.

In addition to the “yes man for the mayor” part, the script further states that “Benicia deserves an independent thinker to represent our local values.”

Records show that the special committee paid the Washington D.C-based Winning Connections to make the calls.

The business boasts on its website about getting results.

“Opinions are shaped one conversation at a time. At Winning Connections, we impact public policy by engaging thousands of Americans with one-on-one conversations over the phone or online,” the company’s website states. “Our clients pass legislation and win elections because we’ve reached their constituents on a personal level. With our research-based programs, research-driven scripts and precision operations we shape the way voters think about pivotal candidates and issues.”

Additional cash contributions came from the Heat & Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local Union 16 Political Action Committee which gave $20,000 to the group, while $30,000 came from the International Brotherhood of Boilmaker, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers & Helpers Local 549 PAC, according to 497 forms posted to the city’s website last week.

The San Rafael-based Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross Leoni, LLC firm serves as treasurer of the special committee. Campaign forms submitted to the California Secretary of State show that the firm also serves as official treasurer to Valero’s major donor committee.

Jason D. Kaune, partner in the firm, confirmed the Heat & Frost Insulator’s PAC actually gave $20,000 to the Working Families for a Strong Benicia committee instead of the $30,000 first reported. He said a correction will be filed.

The clerk’s office has posted new 497 forms online this week showing that the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California Independent Expenditure PAC also gave the Working Families for a Strong Benicia $30,000, and $30,000 came from the California State Pipe Trades Council PAC, bringing the total monies raised for the committee at $124,200.

State and local campaigns are required to submit a 497 form when receiving a total aggregate of $1,000 or more during the 90 days before an election. They must report the donation within 24-hours after receiving the large donation.

The special committee has submitted six expenditure forms as of Tuesday, two for each candidate.

The forms show that a combined $29,700 was spent for the calls and “use of poll.” It’s not known if “use of poll” is in reference to a survey commissioned by Valero which appeared to smear Birdseye and show support for Largaespada.

Many of the residents who took the survey felt it was a “push poll,” meant to sway public opinion instead of recording objective information from those surveyed. The polling firms which conducted the poll deny the allegation.

Records also show that the special committee spent an additional $20,000 on media adds which, in the same manner as the phone script, support Strawbridge and Largaespada, while bashing Birdseye.

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.