San Jose: Senate candidates launch attacks over campaign funding

With March primary ballots hitting mailboxes in two weeks, the race for an open state Senate seat in District 15 is heating up, with candidates lambasting their opponents over campaign finances.

Former Federal Elections Committee Chair Ann Ravel this week called for fellow candidate Nora Campos to return campaign funds she received from Big Oil. In a series of emails, her campaign highlighted a $4,700 contribution – the maximum allowed for individual entities in this election – from Chevron, an oil company headquartered in San Ramon.

Ravel’s pointed out that Campos, a former state Assemblymember, said she wouldn’t take money from “special interests” harming California and would run a grassroots campaign during a Silicon Valley Democratic Club forum in May.

Ravel added that the “Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class, including energy companies who produce gas, oil, jobs and pay taxes” has spent more than $461,000 in independent expenditures for media production and consulting supporting Campos.

Courtesy of Ann Ravel.

In total, the coalition has given nearly $12 million statewide in 487 different independent expenditures, according to the California Secretary of State’s campaign finance database.

While it is not illegal, Ravel said the outside money pouring into Campos’ campaign could influence her behavior.

“I don’t think money is always per se corrupting the way some people sway, but when you know that you are receiving such great amounts of support and that’s how you’re going to win your race, that’s certainly going to influence greatly how you vote,” Ravel told San José Spotlight. “To think that (the expenditures) are truly ‘independent’ as the Supreme Court intended in Citizens United, it’s definitely hard to believe.”

Campos shot back by saying she had no control over independent expenditures made to support her campaign.

“As a former FPPC Chairwoman, Ann Ravel knows better than to accuse me of coordinating my campaign with any independent expenditure, and on a personal note, I’m shocked at these accusations,” Campos told San José Spotlight. “It leads me to question either her competency or her character. My votes are not for sale, and they will never be for sale.”

Other than the Chevron donation, other contributors to Campos’ campaign include BNSF Railway Company, California Latino Caucus Leadership PAC, South Bay Construction and individuals. According to state records, Campos’ contributions totaled $278,090 from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

Campos also referenced her 100 percent voting record from the California Clean Money Action during her time in the Assembly. However, the 2015-16 scorecard discloses it “does not say anything about how ‘clean’ a legislator’s fundraising is or their voting record on non-Clean Money bills.” She did not answer the survey the year before.

When asked if she would return the Chevron donation, Campos said she’d consider that when Ravel returns some of her questionable campaign cash, referring to recent contributions from insurance companies.

On Jan. 3, the Personal Insurance Federation of California Agents & Employees PAC donated $4,750 to Ravel’s campaign, while the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company Federal PAC donated $1,500 three days later. She also received $1,000 from Fund Her PAC and $1,500 from PrivacyPAC: NARAL Pro-Choice California, both women-centered organizations. There have been no independent expenditures supporting her campaign, state records show.

Ravel also received maximum contributions from fellow attorneys such as Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP and Lauder Partners. Ravel’s total donations from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 total $396,779.11, according to state records.

But Ravel last year insisted she wouldn’t accept contributions from PACs and would run a grassroots campaign.

Campos said she hasn’t run a “smear campaign” against Ravel because she wants to support another woman representing Silicon Valley in Sacramento, which hasn’t happened since she termed out of the Assembly in 2016.

“If she’s going to attack me and call me out, then she needs to hold herself to the same standard,” she said. “I’m more than happy to address that and go down that hole (sic), when she’s holding herself to the same standard that she is projecting on others.”

Ravel doesn’t deny the funding, but said the insurance companies’ campaign contributions are substantially less than what Campos has received – in both dollar amount and policy impact.

Ravel added that if she ever hears of any “evil” the insurance companies are doing, she’d return the money immediately. But until then, she thinks the two situations are like apples and oranges.

“We are all covered by insurance, we are all concerned about having insurance carriers there to assist us when we need to be reimbursed for a loss,” Ravel said. “I appreciate that she’s got to argue that the insurance companies are somehow the same as Big Oil PACs, but I think that’s absolutely not the case.”

Ravel and Campos are two of seven candidates vying to replace Sen. Jim Beall in Sacramento next year. Other contenders include Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis, paratransit operator Tim Gildersleeve, U.S. Army staff Sgt. Ken Del Valle and mechanical equipment manufacturer Robert Howell.

In the dash for cash, campaign finance records from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 show Ravel ended the year with $396,779.11 in contributions, while Campos tallied $278,090. Cortese and Khamis had only filed records from Jan. 1 to June 30, raising $486,952.30 and $280,204.95, respectively.

State finance databases do not have any records for Gildersleeve, Del Valle or Howell.

Contact Katie Lauer at klauer77@gmail.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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