February 25, 2015
By Josh Richman
The 7th State Senate District's special election has taken an odd turn as a committee known for backing Asian-American Democrats spends on behalf of a white Republican who dropped out of the contest weeks ago.
The Asian American Small Business PAC has reported independently spending $46,380 on research, polling and a mailer on behalf of Michaela Hertle. That's bad news for the candidate Hertle has endorsed: Democrat Steve Glazer.
"It's gutter politics," Glazer said. "There's no Asian-American in the race, and the Republican has withdrawn and endorsed me. It's clearly an attempt to confuse the voters."
Glazer, Orinda's mayor and a former campaign adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, is more centrist than the contest's other two prominent Democrats -- Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo -- and has been actively courting GOP votes. But when Hertle dropped out of the race and endorsed Glazer Feb. 2, it was too late to remove her name from the ballot. By spending money to tout her now, the PAC effectively is sapping votes from Glazer.
On the front of the PAC's mailer, beside a photo of Hertle apparently cribbed from her Twitter profile, it asks, "Why settle for less? Let's elect a real Republican to stand up for us in the State Senate." On the back, it says the community "needs a real reformer in the State Senate who can break the partisan gridlock and produce results for us."
"Unlike the other candidates, Michaela Hertle is an independent leader who owes no favors to the special interests paralyzing our state government. We can trust Michaela to fight for reform and for us," the flier says, praising her as fiscally conservative and a government reformer.
Bill Wong, the PAC's political director, insisted this truly is a pro-Hertle effort and not an attempt to take votes from Glazer to benefit Bonilla or Buchanan.
"Michaela is still on the ballot, and there's an option for people to vote for her," Wong said, noting that about 41 percent of the district's voters are Republicans or independents. "She thought she couldn't raise enough money to run a legitimate campaign, so we figured we'd throw in this money and see how it goes."
The PAC mostly has supported Asian-American Democrats -- it gave only to Democrats in the 2013-2014 cycle, all but one of whom were Asian-American. But Wong said it has given to a few Republicans in the past, including Michelle Steele and Alan Nakanishi for the Board of Equalization in 2010, so supporting Hertle isn't unprecedented.
Hertle is best aligned with the PAC's ideals, Wong said: "Everyone else is kind of a career politician."
Who's putting up the money remains an open question.
Despite the PAC's name, most of its money comes from big companies and unions. Its biggest donors in 2013-14 were Comcast ($46,800); International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39 ($40,000); the California State Council of Service Employees ($30,000); AT&T ($27,286); and Professional Engineers in California Government ($20,000).
The PAC had $55,064 banked as of Dec. 31, so either it has mostly cleaned out its coffers for this race, or it has received more contributions since the year's start. Any such new contributions won't be reported until well after the March 17 special primary election. And because it already had more money banked than it spent on this race, its mailer need only identify the PAC and not any big new donors.
Glazer said he's sure he knows who's funding this "pro-Hertle" effort.
"It's all being orchestrated by the BART unions and friends," he said. "This is a front group for nefarious interests that don't want to be known."
It's no secret the unions hate him.
Glazer burned his bridges with labor first by consulting with JOBSPAC, the California Chamber of Commerce's political action committee, to help centrist Democrats like himself beat labor-backed Democrats in 2012's elections. More recently, he crusaded for legislation to ban transit-worker strikes like the ones that stilled BART in 2013. Unions this month have put $110,000 into a new PAC opposing Glazer.
But Glazer is benefitting from independent spending, too. Republican-turned-independent millionaire Southern California businessman Bill Bloomfield -- a patron of centrist Democrats who buck their party and labor -- has spent $224,000 on Glazer's behalf this month. And JOBSPAC has spent almost $38,000 against Bonilla and Buchanan.