The Rise of the Corporate Democrats

East Bay Assembly candidate Steve Glazer is a classic pro-business politician. He also worked for a group that tried to defeat liberals and elect Republicans.

The East Bay’s most heated political battle in the June 2014 election pits Governor Jerry Brown’s former longtime advisor Steve Glazer against Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti in the race for the 16th Assembly district. The district includes portions of the Berkeley and Oakland hills and extends east to Walnut Creek and southeast to Livermore. Glazer, vice mayor of Orinda, gained notoriety last year during the BART dispute for proposing a ballot measure that sought to ban transit workers from striking. Not surprisingly, organized labor is now strongly supporting Sbranti.

During the campaign, Glazer, a Democrat, has repeatedly criticized Sbranti’s union backing, while portraying himself as the true “independent” candidate in the race, not beholden to special interests. But public records show that Glazer, who is part of a new breed of pro-business moderate politicians now increasingly known as Corporate Democrats, owes his financial well-being in part to special interests: Big Oil, insurance, and tobacco companies. In addition, Glazer worked for a powerful political committee at a time when it was only supporting Republicans and was spending huge sums trying to defeat liberal Democrats for the state legislature.

Throughout 2012, Glazer worked as a political consultant for JobsPAC, an influential group operated by the California Chamber of Commerce. Records show that during that time, JobsPAC paid Glazer $172,500. And while Glazer was on the group’s payroll, its three big funders by far were oil companies ($660,000), tobacco interests ($334,500), and the insurance industry ($446,000). The single largest donors were Chevron Corporation ($610,000) and Philip Morris USA Inc. ($334,500).

In an interview, Glazer sought to distance himself from the funding side of JobsPAC and said his only role was to advise the Chamber of Commerce on which Democratic candidates to support that year. But Steven Maviglio, a longtime Democratic political operative who is now working for organized labor in support of Sbranti’s campaign, said the job of a high-priced political consultant like Glazer is more hands-on than just giving advice to a committee. “He was the consultant who advised these companies on where to put their money,” Maviglio said.

During the first half of 2012, Glazer advised JobsPAC to support moderate, pro-business Democrats and to fund attack ads against liberal and progressive candidates during the June primary. In the second half of the year, however, JobsPAC steered all of its funding in the general election toward electing Republicans and defeating liberal Democrats. In all, the group spent $414,144 on ads backing three GOP Assembly candidates — Chris Norby, Matthew Lin, and Peter Tateishi. The group also spent $780,634 on negative ads against those candidates’ Democratic opponents — Sharon Quirk-Silva, Edwin Chau, and Ken Cooley, respectively.

Glazer said he had no role in the decision by his employer to only support Republicans and to try and defeat Democrats during the 2012 November election — a time when JobsPAC was still paying him $15,000 a month. According to public records, JobsPAC kept cutting checks to Glazer through the November election. “They made choices as to what they wanted to do or not wanted to do,” he said of the JobsPAC committee leaders.

Marty Wilson, vice president of public affairs for the California Chamber of Commerce, said the group kept paying Glazer when it was only backing Republicans because “we had a contractual obligation” to him. “We honored the terms of that contract.” In the end, all three of the GOP candidates backed by JobsPAC lost.

Wilson said that Glazer did much of his work for JobsPAC during the June primary, when the group financed several moderate Democrats. But some of the group’s work during that period has been strongly criticized by the Democratic Party. Last year, the Associated Press reported that JobsPAC had steered $100,000 to another group, known as Family Farmers Working for a Better California, which had paid for a series of vicious attack ads against two liberal Democratic incumbents — Assemblymembers Betsy Butler and Michael Allen. Democratic Party leaders said the payment violated a promise that chamber officials had made to leave incumbent Democrats alone. Butler and Allen eventually lost to moderate Democrats.

Other decisions made by JobsPAC when it was paying Glazer during the June primary also raise questions about the group’s choices. For example, JobsPAC backed Democrat Tom Calderon for a state Assembly seat in Southern California against fellow Democrat Christina Garcia, who ran on an anti-corruption platform. Late last year, Calderon was indicted on federal corruption charges with his brother, state Senator Ron Calderon, who has since been suspended from the legislature.

One of JobsPAC’s favorite candidates of the June 2012 primary was pro-business Democrat Tom Daly of Southern California, whom the LA Weekly had dubbed “The Joe Lieberman of Orange County Politics” because of his staunchly moderate views. During this period, the chamber spent $419,783 on Daly’s behalf.

The chamber’s actions — and those of Glazer — are part of a broader attempt by so-called independent groups that are funded by Big Business to elect moderate candidates in California. These politicians, in turn, can be counted on to vote against tighter regulations on industry, higher wages, and higher corporate taxes. Electing these Corporate Democrats also has become easier thanks to the state’s new top-two primary system, which typically results in liberals running against moderates in Democratic strongholds. In these areas, such as the 16th Assembly district, outnumbered GOP voters typically have no hope of electing a Republican, so they often end up voting for the moderate Democrat, and thus help defeat the more liberal candidate — much like Glazer is attempting to do against Sbranti.

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