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.
A little more than two months ago, Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez was sworn in to her first term on the Kern County Board of Supervisors.
Now, she’s looking to move up to the state Senate, announcing Monday that she would run for the seat of fellow Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who abruptly resigned last month.
In doing so, Perez will have the backing of the Senate’s Democratic leadership team — including President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg — and some of its most influential senators.
Among them are Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, Democratic Caucus Chair Jerry Hill, and Ron Calderon, Lou Correa, Kevin De Leon, Cathleen Galgiani and Hannah-Beth Jackson. There are 18 in all.
Perez’s announcement — which was widely expected — sets up what is likely a three-way race between her, fellow Democrat Fran Florez and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.
Others are running, but Florez, Perez and Vidak will have the name identification and/or money necessary to be competitive.
Florez, who is on the Shafter City Council and is the mother of Dean Florez, who held the Senate seat before Rubio, could be the odd person out, said Stan Harper, a Bakersfield-based Republican political consultant.
“There is no question in my mind Leticia will get more votes than Fran,” Harper said.
That would likely put Perez into a runoff against Vidak.
Florez gave some insight into her strategy when on Monday she officially announced her candidacy — in Fresno.
She said Fresno County, in terms of the number of voters, is the biggest part of the 16th Senate District. The numbers confirm that. There are more than 137,000 voters in the Fresno County portion of the 16th District. In Kern County, it is around 75,000.
The district is 50.7% Democrat and 28.6% Republican.
Fresno County also happens to be a part of the district where Florez has some name identification, either through her two unsuccessful state Assembly runs, or from Dean Florez. Perez, in the meantime, is virtually unknown in Fresno.
But Perez will likely have plenty of money to help close that name identification deficit, thanks to the Senate leadership’s backing. That support seems like a slap in the face to Dean Florez. It was Steinberg, as incoming Senate President pro Tem, who in 2008 named Florez Senate majority leader.
Perez also has a political get-out-the-vote machine inherited from Rubio — her former boss.
“Leticia will have a better ground game,” Harper said. “As much as Fran has what Dean had several years ago, Leticia has everything in place that Rubio had a year ago.”
Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong introduced Florez, and one person standing behind her was Dave Wilson of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. He said he personally supported Florez and would work to get the UFCW behind her as well.
On the Republican side, it appears that Vidak — who in 2010 came close to ousting Fresno Democrat Jim Costa from Congress — won’t have any competition from within his own party.
It means he’ll likely do well in the May 21 primary election. He might even win. But if, as expected, none of the candidates win a majority of the votes, the top two will advance to a run-off July 23.
The special election to replace Rubio will be for the 16th Senate District as it was between 2002 and 2012. Next year, the person in the seat must run again under newly drawn boundaries. That is the 14th state Senate District. The two districts are 88% the same.