Campaign cash continues to roll into Richmond elections
Issue 295: 10-11-2020
In this issue:
Are Richmond's elections for
As Richmond moves to
district elections, there were hopes that maybe -- just maybe -- this
could be a net positive for our City. Since it is less expensive for
people to run in a district (compared to city-wide), it could
encourage more people to run for office. And that’s a good
However, there were concerns that
smaller campaigns also make it easier for wealthy interests to
dominate the political process. Special interests are usually the only
ones who can afford to “max out” their candidate donations at $2,500.
That makes those big donations carry even more weight.
And that is exactly what seems to
be happening this year. The sheer volume of corporate and
Political Action Committee money pouring into City Council races is
becoming a serious issue. It may not be as bad as in 2014
(when Chevron poured more than $3 million into City Council
elections), but a big PAC called Richmond Progress is poised to spend
around $100,000 each boosting the campaigns of Eleanor Thompson, Ahmad
Anderson and Vinay Pimple. This is tantamount to buying an election
and a government.
This powerful PAC is controlled by
the police union, but also brings together the firefighters, the
building trades, real estate developers and companies like the Levin
Terminal. With this constellation of interests, the goal of this PAC
seems to be:
- To slow
down progress in "reimagining public safety" in our City, and to avoid
introducing real accountability in policing,
- To roll
back environmental progress, such as our coal ordinance,
approving every development proposal regardless of whether it is a
good idea for Richmond
To make matters worse, Mayor Butt is
also in on it. He is endorsing the same three candidates, and this
week circulated a letter that with bogus allegations casting doubt on
residency requirements of other candidates.
But it’s not hard to figure out
Butt and the police union don’t
want to elect Thompson, Anderson and Pimple as much as the want to
defeat progressive candidates Gayle McLaughin, Melvin Willis and
Claudia Jimenez, who are running as “Team Richmond.” As Butt wrote in
one of his E-forums, he mostly wants residents to vote for “anyone but Team Richmond.” Similarly, even though the police unions
are spending big money to elect their three candidates, they are
actually spreading their money around, and have made donations to
almost every single City Council candidate except McLaughlin, Willis
The dirty politics are going are
starting and it will get worse -- don’t be fooled!
And don’t let our elections be
dominated by big money and self-interested parties. Only three
candidates -- Gayle McLaughin, Melvin Willis and Claudia
Jimenez -- have gained the widespread support of local
progressive groups, and have rejected all money from corporations so
that they can be faithful to Richmond residents, not special
-- Michelle Chan, Editor
Campaign cash continues to roll into
Since last week, we have continued
to see cash roll into Richmond elections. Still leading the pack is
the police union, with the Richmond Police Officers
Association ponying up over $100,000 to influence City Council
The majority of this money is being
funneled into the RPOA-controlled Political Action Committee, Richmond
Progress, which has now raised $280,000. It will probably surpass
$300,000 in the next weeks.
The Levin Terminal (which currently
handles 25 percent of the coal exports coming out of the West Coast)
is the next biggest player in this PAC, having chipped in $25,000.
Between these two players, we now have a formal alliance of
police and fossil fuel interests as the dominant seeking money seeking
to Richmond elections.
But the PAC hasn’t finished
bundling up money. Just in the past week, the PAC has brought in new
players, including a political organization, California Laborers for
Equality and Progress, which is controlled by construction union
LiUNA. People may recall that LiUNA was one of the main forces trying
to stop Richmond’s coal ordinance, which was passed earlier this year.
With the addition of LiUNA money, this ups the ante for construction
unions, who have now funneled $37,500 of political spending into this
PAC. Other new members include the California Real Estate PAC, and
Republic Services, which holds the sole contract for sanitation
services in Richmond.
The Richmond Progress PAC is
limited in what they can give directly to candidates, so most of their
political spending will be through “independent expenditures.” With
a war chest of $280,000 and growing, we can expect to
see a surge in mailers, social media ads, phone calls, etc. in the
next weeks. And maybe even some down-lown dirty tricks.
Finally, please note that in the
last edition of The
Activist, we mistakenly
said that the Richmond Chamber of Commerce was also making political
contributions in Richmond races; that reporting was in error, and we
regret the mistake.
How to spot Big Money
We’ve all heard of “grassroots”
political action, and most of us appreciate it when ordinary folks
care enough to (respectfully) engage in political conversations --
even if we don’t agree with their views. After all, when people take
responsibility and action, it strengthens our community and our
movements and organizations rely on people coming together and taking
action at local
level. Grassroots groups are
often volunteer-driven, and engage in public education, advocacy,
electoral politics and more. One great example of a grassroots
movement was the No Coal in Richmond coalition, which brought together
many local groups in a mostly volunteer-based effort to stop coal
transport and handling through the City.
or using fake grassroots efforts to elect candidates and win policy
goals by creating the impression there is broad public support about
an issue, when in reality there is not. Astroturfing tends to be
funded by corporations or powerful entities, and is aimed at swaying
public opinion. Today, Astroturfing has become a significant problem,
especially when combined through social media-driven misinformation
campaigns. A recent example is how a pro-Trump group paid teenagers to troll Trump’s opponents on social media
and spread doubt about mail in voting, the severity of the
coronavirus, and more.
Here are some ways you can spot the
difference between grassroots efforts versus Astroturfing:
Who is funding those candidates?
If a candidate raises most of
his/her money from institutions, rather than individuals, that’s a
sign of a potential Astroturf candidate. As of last week, a
shocking 87 percent of Eleanor Thompson’s campaign money came from
institutions; for Vinay Pimple it was almost as much -- 74 percent.
And institutional money made up a majority of Ahmad Anderson’s
campaign money too. All three of those candidates accepted
money from corporations and other for-profit interests.
In contrast, progressive candidates
Melvin Willis, Claudia Jimenez and Gayle McLaughlin receive most of
their money from individuals -- and have sworn off all corporate
Who’s paying for those
When you receive mailers and
political advertising, make sure to check out who is paying for it.
Often the mailers feature a wide array of pictures in order to give
the impression that a diverse group of people support the candidate or
cause. But take a look at who is funding the mailer. In the case above
(a Proposition 22 mailer), the main funders are corporations like Uber
and Lyft. On the flip side, if someone comes to your door and says
they are a volunteer, you know it’s more likely a grassroots
Where are those lawn signs
Lawn signs are starting to pop up.
And if you see lots of signs on people’s lawns and windows, it’s
probably a good sign. The people who live there have likely met, know
and support the candidate. If most of the candidate's signs are in
“public” places, like highway offramps and bridges, but you haven’t
been able to spot more than one or two in someone’s home, chances are
the candidate doesn’t have much of a base supporting them.
Take a closer look at the names.
Richmond voters are savvy enough to
realize that political organizations often give themselves
positive-sounding but misleading names. One obvious example is
Richmond Progress, the police- and corporate- dominated political
organization whose name bears a close resemblance to the Richmond
Progressive Alliance, a grassroots organization which has been around
for over 15 years.
Another group called “Emergency
Room for Richmond” donated almost $10,000 to the Richmond Progress
PAC. Described as “a coalition of Richmond residents, community
leaders, health-care advocates, police officers and firefighters,”
they sound like a grassroots effort rallying around a popular issue.
The group burst onto the scene about a year ago with a pricey catered
lunch for hundreds of people at the Craneway Pavillion. But the
California Nurses Association, who was one of the leading groups
fighting the closing of Doctors Hospital had never heard of this
group. Plus CNA actually opposes stand-alone ERs, which can't handle
procedures like surgeries. It turns out that the money behind
Emergency Room for Richmond is the construction unions -- more
interested in building stuff (and influencing elections) than they are
in people's health. A classic example of Astroturfing.
The mud (and misinformation) has
With the elections getting closer,
politics are getting dirtier, and we are definitely starting to see
some mud start to fly. Here are some recent low-down and misleading
tricks we have seen:
Bogus residency allegations
Tom Butt circulated a letter from
the firefighters union to District Attorney Diana Becton questioning
the residency of two candidates, Najari Smith and Melvin Willis, who
they say don’t live where they registered and are therefore not
eligible to run for their respective districts. But both are indeed in
compliance, and their residency was actually checked before they ran
Here’s some of what Najari had to say:
is unfortunate that People of Color in our community are constantly
subjected to having to prove our innocence, but not recognized for our
excellence...It may have felt like harmlessly sharing information, but
it is far more than that when it’s a mayor sharing information that
can greatly harm and negatively impact a candidate’s political
campaign and their personal life.
Here’s some of what Melvin had to say:
addition to being the main promoter of this bogus complaint, Mayor
Butt is planning to introduce a regulation saying, and I’m not kidding
here, that a person cannot run for city council unless they have a
statement from their landlord vouching for them. Butt's proposed
regulation will violate the right to hold office for homeless, young,
and low-income people trying to survive in this economy. We are the
people who should be holding public office, not barred from it, or
harassed with legal complaints when we try.
Attempts to make inclusive development =
Progressive candidates such as
Gayle McLaughlin, Melvin Willis and Claudia Jimenez are often broadly
painted as “anti-development” when they advocate for inclusive,
environmentally sustainable development. For example:
Molate: Yes -- McLaughlin, Willis and Jimenez support development at
Pt. Molate, along the lines of the Community Plan proposed by the Pt.
Molate Alliance. This plan incorporates the input of the many public
workshops on Pt. Molate, and includes public-access parks, beaches, a
hotel and conference center, restaurants, etc. However, they have been
strongly opposed to other proposals for the site, including a
mega-casino, and the current SunCal proposal to build an exclusive
housing enclave. Suncal wants to build several hundred $1.4 and $1.2
million homes -- which could cost the City more than it would bring in
through additional taxes. Creating high-end housing that is
subsidized by lower-income Richmond taxpayers isn't what most people
would call a good or fair model of
- Terraces on Nevin: In stark
contrast to SunCal's Pt. Molate project, the Terraces on Nevin is an
example of the kind of housing that Gayle, Melvin and Claudia want to
encourage more of: more affordable, dense housing in the urban core
that is very close to the BART station and other transit.
at Astra Zeneca site: The three candidates support building housing
and other kinds of development at the current Astra Zeneca toxic waste
site on the south shoreline -- as long as the site is fully
cleaned up. However, they don’t support building on the site
if it’s only partially-cleaned up, which could create environmental
and health liabilities for generations.
- Berkeley Global Campus: In 2016, UC
Berkeley backed away from the idea of building a new campus at their
Richmond Field Station due to a lack of funds. But critics such as Tom
Butt tried to blame the project’s demise on community advocates such
as Melvin Willis and Claudia Jimenez, who were advocating that Cal
provide a community benefits package for Richmond. Such a package
would have allowed the Campus to be an inclusive engine for economic
growth by requiring local hiring, good union jobs, opportunities for
small and minority-owned businesses and more. It takes some
nerve to call fighting for Richmond residents, jobs and small
[Photo credit: 3dpete
Mon 10/12, 12pm: Supreme Court rally
at Feinstein's office
Have you ever wondered what we could
possibly do to stop Senate Republicans from confirming an
ultra-conservative to the Supreme Court (at a time when people are
actually casting - or have already cast - their Presidential
One answer: get Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary
Committee -- like Diane Feinstein -- to stay home and not provide a
quorum! This could delay the process and buy valuable time. Join ACCE
and others on Monday at noon in front of Diane Feinstein's office at 1
Post Street in San Francisco and urge Diane Feinstein: No
Confirmation Before Inauguration! Bring signs and your
When: Monday, October 12, 12pm
Where: 1 Post Street, San Francisco
invitation can be found here. Please wear a mask and be prepared
to physically distance.
Mon, 10/12, 6pm: Richmond Our Power
Support Team Richmond (Melvin Willis,
Gayle McLaughlin and Claudia Jimenez) and get to know other City
Council Candidates at an online candidates forum from 6-8pm on Monday.
It will be hosted by the Richmond Our Power Coalition and the Asian
Pacific Environmental Network.
When: Monday, October 12 at 6pm
Where: Online. Please
RSVP here for details. And share the event on Facebook!
Tue 10/13, 4pm: No Coal on the City
Council! (Venue change)
Sick of corporations polluting our
Richmond elections? Please join our friends at No Coal in Richmond who
will be rallying next week to protest Levin Terminal’s attempts to
influence our local City Council races.
The Levin Terminal is trying to buy
a seat on the Richmond City Council. RPA candidates are endorsed by
APEN, CBE, Sierra Club, and Sunflower Alliance, while opponents are
funded by donations from the coal terminal, big developers, and the
police union. Join our action this coming Thursday to protest this
perversion of the democratic process!
When: Tuesday, October 13, 4–5 pm
Where: Richmond City Hall, 450 Civic Center Plaza
(please note the venue change)
The environmental choice could not
be clearer. We need your participation! Wear your "No Coal" t-shirt or
other red shirt. Covid-19 precautions will be observed, and masks will
be available if you forget yours.
Vote early and safely this
This year, all registered voters in
California will be sent a vote-by-mail ballot with a prepaid postage
return envelope for the November 3 election. You may have already
received yours. Here are some important details on how to vote safely
How to vote
Vote by mail (recommended): Mark your ballot, then place it in the postage-paid return
envelope. Sign the envelope and
mail it back, early if you can.
It must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by
November 20, 2020.
Vote by dropping off your ballot (recommended): Instead of mailing back your ballot, you can
also drop it off at one of 37 secure outdoor drop boxes in Contra
Costa. Drop boxes are open 24/7 and will be in use from October 5
until 8pm on Election Day (November 3). In Richmond, there is a drop
box in front of Richmond City Hall (450 Civic Center Plaza).
- Vote in person: Polling
places will open on November 3; to locate your polling place, look on
the back of the Voter Information Guide that will be mailed to you.
(The location may be different than in previous years.) If you vote in
person, bring a mask, hand sanitizer, and be prepared to socially
distance. There may be long lines, so consider going
Am I registered to vote?
The last day to register to vote is October 19. Check to see if you are registered to vote
by visiting VoterStatus.sos.ca.gov. You can also confirm where you are
registered, adjust your political party preference, language
October 19, you can still register and vote in person (using
Conditional Voter Registration) on Election Day, November 3, at
How do I know my vote is being
is California’s official
tracking tool to find out if your ballot has been mailed, received and
counted. You need to sign up for this service; it only takes a few
- Remember: voters are used to getting results on
Election night, but the results of the election actually may not be
clear until weeks after November 3, after all mail-in-ballots have
been counted. Also many more Democrats are likely to vote by mail, so
early predictions of “who won” the Presidential election, for example,
may be different than the final results. With the combination of
delayed election results, inaccurate early predictions, and various
misinformation campaigns, some folks might get the (mistaken) idea
that the elections are not legitimate. Please help raise awareness
among your friends and family!
Make this election grassroots and
Looking at the campaign fundraising
records, it seems like some candidates are bringing in the bucks from
monied interests. But since Team Richmond candidates --
Melvin Willis, Claudia Jimenez
and Gayle McLaughlin -- accept no corporate campaign
donations, the only way to counter the power of big money in
politics is through volunteers and small grassroots
Phone banking: Team
Richmond is hosting three days
of phone banking per week: Mondays and Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm and
Saturdays from 10am to 1pm. Please contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for
your shift(s) today!
canvassing: We are also starting to do socially-distanced
door-to-door canvassing. It's fun, safe, and folks actually seem to
appreciate getting information. To canvass for Claudia in District 6,
North and East, sign
up here. To canvass for Melvin in District 1, central Richmond, sign
Progressive voter guide
For an online, easier to read version
of this guide, visit the Richmond
Progressive Alliance website.