Democratic activists hoping for big gains in the California legislature this year were dealt a serious blow after campaign finance reports released last Thursday raised troubling questions about Assembly Speaker John Perez's strategic priorities and the California Democratic Party's ability to achieve a two-thirds majority in the State Senate and Assembly.
Democrats would have to pick up at least two more seats in each chamber to achieve the super-majority needed to pass revenue increases over the objections of a Republican minority.
Yet campaign finance reports reveal that Speaker Perez, Sacramento Democratic lawmakers and PACs donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to safe Democratic Assembly districts while virtually ignoring new "swing" districts or defending others against possible Republican pickups.
In the 10th Assembly District (Marin, D+35) Sacramento Democrats gave $80,600 to Mike Allen, an incumbent Assemblymember who moved into the open district when his existing district was carved up and reapportioned. This, even though Mr. Allen is running against two other Democratic candidates and no Republican opposition.
In the 50th Assembly district (Santa Monica, D+33), Perez and Sacramento Democrats donated $88,750 to Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, who moved north to the Democratic stronghold after redistricting meant she'd have to run in the new, more conservative 66th Assembly district (Torrance, D+3). Butler is running against Democratic candidates Torie Osborn and Richard Bloom, both long-time residents of the district. The lone Republican in the race, Brad Torgen, is not considered a viable candidate.
Records also show that most of these donations were given to Allen and Butler during a three-week period last December, and that many Democratic Assemblymembers who donated did not give money to any other Assembly campaigns. The timing suggests a coordinated and conscious effort from leadership to funnel money to these candidates at the expense of other candidates running in more competitive districts.
But as Butler and Allen enjoy the largess of their colleagues in Sacramento while running in districts so safe a Democratic corpse could win, two other candidates running in swing districts which could potentially lead to Democratic super-majorities enjoy no such protection.
In the South Bay, Torrance School Board member Al Muratsuchi became the Democratic candidate for AD66 after Betsy Butler left the district. Election experts consider the race highly competitive for Republicans, giving them the best opportunity in two decades to pick up a seat in that area.
However, not a single Sacramento Democrat, including both John Perez and Betsy Butler have yet to make any financial contributions to his campaign.
Even Democratic State Senator Ted Lieu, whose district overlaps much of AD66, gave $1,000 to Butler, but nothing so far to Muratsuchi.
Additionally, while PACs - including the Professional Engineers in California Government, the State Building & Construction Trades Council and the California State Council of Laborers - gave over $300,000 to Butler and Allen, many of them presumably at Perez's direction, Muratsuchi received only $11,900 in PAC money, including $1,000 from the California League of Conservation Voters - $6,800 less than they gave to Betsy Butler.
Sacramento's indifference means Muratsuchi has had to loan his campaign $45,000 to defend the new South Bay Assembly seat against two Tea Party candidates, Nathan Mintz, who ran and lost a close race against Butler in 2010, and Craig Huey, who ran an unsuccessful $500,000 self-financed congressional campaign against Janice Hahn last year.