Call it Big Money in Little Richmond. In fact, the City of Richmond is awash this fall in campaign cash. And a tidal wave of money is coming from Chevron Corporation. The oil giant has poured an unprecedented $1 million into an effort to elect or reelect three Richmond politicians who have been reliable Chevron votes over the years — Councilman Nat Bates, who is running for mayor, and Councilwomen Maria Viramontes and Ludmyrna Lopez, who are trying to keep their council seats.
“They really want to stop the progressive agenda,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin who is trying to fend off Bates’ attempt to take her job. McLaughlin has repeatedly stood up to Chevron over the years and helped halt its plans to burn dirtier crude at its Richmond refinery. She noted that the oil giant also is currently asking for a $26 million refund on its Richmond property taxes — in addition to the $12 million refund it already received. Such a refund could devastate services for low-income residents. “Chevron is a multibillion-dollar corporation and it has its own agenda.”
However, the big oil company, which has long sought to exercise its influence over City Hall, isn’t the only cash-game in town. Bay Area card clubs who desparately are attempting to kill a proposal for a huge Indian-run casino at Point Molate have pumped $274,000 into Richmond politics this fall.
And the card clubs, including Oaks Card Club in Emeryville, aren’t just spending the money on trying to defeat Measure U, the casino advisory measure. They’re also spending large sums on behalf of anti-casino candidates — including McLaughlin, whom Chevron strongly opposes, and Lopez, whom Chevron strongly supports.
And then there are the pro-casino folks — two Native American tribes and an Emeryville developer. They call themselves Winehaven Partners and they’ve injected $500,000 into their effort to get Measure U approved. As of earlier this week, however, they had not reported spending money on pro-casino candidates like Bates.
And finally, there are the Richmond police and firefighters unions. They’ve reported spending at least $85,000 this election cycle trying to defeat McLaughlin and progressive council candidate Jovanka Beckels. The unions are desparately attempting to avoid further budget cuts and protect their wage and benefit packages.
So if you’re keeping score: that’s nearly $2 million in outside money attempting to influence elections in a city of only about 100,000 people. And that total doesn’t include the campaign warchests of the candidates themselves.
Chevron created two political committees for the 2010 election — Jobs Now and Get Richmond Working, according campaign finance reports filed with Richmond City Clerk’s Office. The oil giant used Jobs Now to spend at least $229,000 on Lopez through October 16, and $230,000 on Viramontes. It then used Get Richmond Working to spend $129,000 on behalf of Bates, again through October 16. Presumably, the two committees intend to empty their accounts on behalf of those candidates before November 2. Chevron’s huge investment in this year’s campaign was first reported by Richmond Confidential, a website run by UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
The card clubs also formed two committees that have the same name: Stop the Mega Casino. One of the committees is working exclusively on defeating the Point Molate casino and reported raising $155,000 through September 30. It received $49,000 from the Oaks Card Club in Emeryville, $98,500 from the California Grand Casino card club in Pacheco, and the $7,500 from the Napa Valley Casino card club in American Canyon.
The other card club committee reported receiving $118,500 through October 16 — $49,500 from Oaks Card Club, $49,500 from California Grand Casino, and $19,500 from Napa Valley Casino. This committee reported spending $14,000 to reelect McLaughlin, and $39,000 to elect candidate Courtland “Corky” Booze, who also opposes the Point Molate Casino. The group also has spent more $35,000 trying to defeat Councilmembers Lopez and Jim Rogers, and candidate Rhonda Harris, who all support the Point Molate Casino.
Chevron supports Bates, Lopez, and Viramontes because they favor the oil giant, and opposes McLaughlin and Beckels because they don’t.
The card clubs oppose Lopez, Jim Rogers, and Rhonda Harris because they support the casino. The clubs support McLaughlin and Booze because they don’t.
The casino folks just want their casino.
And the police and firefighters oppose McLaughlin and Beckels because they’re more likely to hold the public safety unions accountable.