UPDATE (June 28): The California Association of Realtors denies allegations by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and others that its campaign finance reports in the 16th District Senate race were incorrectly filled out. “We think our reporting is accurate and transparent,” said Don Faught, the association’s president. Faught added that the group thinks Republican Andy Vidak is the strongest candidate in the race.
Check-marking the wrong box on a campaign finance form is not always cause for concern. But in a state Senate race that’s expected to be close and could tip the balance of power in Sacramento, details are everything.
On Tuesday, a supporter of Democratic Senate candidate Leticia Perez filed a complaint with the state, alleging that a real estate association backing Perez’s opponent Andy Vidak should have reported that its money is being used to oppose Perez. Instead, the group reported that its money is being used to support Vidak.
The alleged misstep, while it may seem small, is drawing rebuke from the Senate’s biggest name, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat.
In a statement to The Bee on Tuesday, Steinberg took umbrage with the California Association of Realtors for not only mischaracterizing campaign expenditures but for supporting Vidak in the first place.
Perez, a Kern County supervisor from Bakersfield, is squaring off against Vidak, a Hanford farmer, for the seat vacated by Democrat Michael Rubio. If Perez loses the July 23 special election in the Fresno-Bakersfield area, the Democratic Party’s two-thirds majority in the upper house would be weakened.
“Senate Democrats were already troubled by the misguided decision of the California Association of Realtors to oppose Leticia Perez with six-figure independent expenditures, but, now, the vitriolic and highly partisan smear campaign they’re waging against her represents a new low –- and appears to cross every legal line,” Steinberg said.
The trade association reported its latest political expense on Friday: a nearly $162,000 independent expenditure that brings the group’s total spending in the 16th District Senate race to more than $215,000.
Independent expenditures, unlike candidate contributions, don’t go directly to candidates, but are spent independently for or against the contenders. They face fewer restrictions than direct contributions.
The complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleges that the California Association of Realtors improperly reported that its money is being used to support Vidak. The complaint suggests that the group should have reported its money going to fight Perez.
Political mailers sponsored by the association appear to be quite critical of Perez. Neither the trade association nor the FPPC could be reached Tuesday to comment on whether the group had breached campaign finance rules.
The complaint was filed by Selma Democrat Doug Kessler, also the Region 8 director for the California Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party holds an enviable two-thirds majority in the state Senate, which allows the party to pass measures, such as taxes, without the support of Republican senators. But the cushion is thin. Both Democrats and Republicans see the 16th District seat as a means to weaken the other’s hand.
Vidak nearly won the 16th Eistrict seat in last month’s primary election, but he came up just short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.