Follow the Money - An Election 2020 Report

Follow the Money - An Election 2020 Report

Overcoming Big Money and racist political suppression in Richmond

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This week we saw two things happen in Richmond which show just how unfair elections can be in this country; and how ordinary people, especially low income folks and people of color, have the political deck stacked against them.

First, we saw campaign finance reports showing that Big Money is pouring into Richmond elections to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Three "corporate candidates" -- Eleanor Thompson, Ahmad Anderson, and Vinay Pimple -- are now collectively benefiting from $300,000 from an alliance of police and public safety unions, major development interests, and polluters. While these three interests have always been a force in Richmond elections, we haven't seen them coordinate so closely before. And now that we have switched to smaller district elections, Big Money can speak even louder.

Second, this week Mayor Butt Tom Butt put forward a proposal (to be considered at Tuesday's City Council meeting) to make it harder for renters to run for office in Richmond. Like all Jim Crow policies, Butt's proposal seems logical and race-neutral on the surface, but would disproportionately impact Black and low income people. He's doing it as part of a political attack against candidates Melvin Willis and Najari Smith, the only two young, black men running for City Council this year. It's bad enough that our Mayor regularly uses his positional power to go after political rivals; it's orders of magnitude worse when he attacks them by proposing racist policies that would supress the political representation of entire groups of people.

But despite these two developments, I also saw things this week that gave me hope.

The first was a rally on Tuesday protesting how Levin Terminal is trying to pollute our elections. Levin handles about one quarter of West Coast coal exports to Asia, and in doing so creates toxic dust that poses health risks, especially to kids. Richmond passed an ordinance earlier this year giving Levin three years to phase out of coal and into other goods, but the company seems to be more interested in putting sympathetic politicians onto the City Council, in hopes of undoing this ordinance. It was inspiring to see these grassroots activists, who worked for years to pass the coal ordinance, bringing their smarts and their passion to our elections.

My second source of inspiration came earlier today, when I gathered with a group of people -- all volunteers -- to canvass for Claudia Jimenez who is running for City Council in District 6. That gave me hope because I believe grassroots power, united by a vision of collective well-being, can counter the power of powerful special interests, even when those special interests band together like they are doing this election cycle.

I believe grassroots power grows with every struggle. Early this year, we won the coal ordinance. Then as the pandemic unfolded, we got an emergency moratorium on evictions. In past years, progressives fought to pass a $15 minimum wage. We ended police check-points intended to "catch" undocumented residents. Forced Chevron to pay an additional $7.5 million in taxes per year for 15 years. Created and funded the Office of Neighborhood Safety, which helped reduce homicides 75%. Prevented a giant casino from being built at Pt. Molate, and more. None of these things were particularly popular with corporate polluters, big landlords, or the police union. But when people are united, we can win.

-- Michelle Chan, Editor

Mayor Butt introduces Jim Crow proposal to limit who can run for City Council

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“Jim Crow” laws refer to regulations -- largely in the American South before 1965 -- that were created to enforce racial segregation and to politically and economically disenfranchise Black people. 

Examples of Jim Crow laws include poll taxes and literacy tests that were always made to sound reasonable on the surface. White supremacists “logically” argued that only those who could demonstrate a financial tie to a community (poll tax), or a certain level of education (literacy test) should be able to vote. And although these laws never specifically mentioned race, they had the effect of drastically suppressing voter turnout from Black communities. 

But racist Jim Crow laws are not a thing of the past. Just this week, right here in Richmond, Mayor Tom Butt just proposed a policy that would make it harder for renters to run for office in Richmond. Butt’s rationale is that candidates should not be able to run in a district if they don’t live there; and because renters move around more than homeowners, they need special proof of residency from their landlords. 

Mayor Butt’s proposal, if it passes, would mean that some renters will need a signed affidavit from their landlord to be allowed to run for City Council in Richmond. On top of that, anytime a renter runs for office, there will be an automatic investigation of their landlord by the City Attorney, making it even less likely a landlord will cooperate. This sets up a major barrier for who can run for office. In the tradition of Jim Crow, Butt’s proposal never mentions race specifically, but it clearly discriminates against people of color and low income folks, who are more likely to be renters, and would disenfranchise Black people.

A politically motivated attack against Melvin Willis and Najari Smith

To make matters worse, Butt’s proposal is part of a politically motivated attack against Melvin Willis and Najari Smith, two Richmond City Council candidates that Butt has been campaigning against.  Melvin and Najari are both long-time renters in Richmond, and are also the only two young, black men running for City Council this year.

Before even bringing it to the City Council and the public, Butt shared his proposal with the fire department union, who included it in a bogus complaint letter they sent to the City Clerk and District Attorney on October 6th, asking for a criminal investigation against Najari and Melvin. 

Butt also distributed the firefighter’s bogus complaint letter to thousands of Richmond residents via his Eforum one day later on October 7th to try to smear Melvin and Najari’s names. (Ironically, the letter he promoted was penned by Sutton Law firm, which Butt himself characterized as “not a real law firm; it specializes in fronting for corporations and organizations who don’t want to be identified in political campaigns.”) The firefighter’s union and Butt have teamed up to try to 1) criminalize two young black men who have dedicated their lives to improving this community and 2) change the law to make it hard for people like them (renters, people of color, low-income families) to hold office in the future.

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How to help

We need your help to stop him this Tuesday (10/20) at the Richmond City Council meeting. Here are three ways:

NOW - Send an email to the Mayor and all City Councilmembers (Nat Bates, Ben Choi, Demnuls Johnson, Eduardo Martinez, Jael Myrick, and Melvin Willis) telling them to vote no on Item I-1 this Tuesday, and to denounce Mayor Butt’s politically motivated attempt to disenfranchise Richmond renters.

ANYTIME BEFORE TUESDAY 10/20 AT 1 PM - To have your message included as part of public comment for the City Council meeting, send emails to the City Clerk. You can send the same email twice with two different subject lines (you have to use these subject lines):

  • Public Comments - Agenda item I-1. ADOPT a City Council District Residency Policy
  • Public Comments – Open Forum

ON TUESDAY 10/20 AT 6:30 PM - Join the City Council meeting online to make a comment. 

  • Join via this link and use Passcode: ccmeeting
  • When Public Comment is  asked for, click on the "Participants" button at the bottom of your screen and select the “Raise Your Hand” button to request to speak. Speakers will be called upon in the order they select the “Raise Your Hand” feature. When called upon, you will be unmuted. After the allotted time, you will then be re-muted. 
  • Plan to speak to item I-1 towards the end of the meeting. 
  • If Mayor Butt removes Item I-1 during Agenda Review, then you can speak during Open Forum at the start of the meeting. 
  • Because the City cannot guarantee that its network and/or the site will be uninterrupted, you are strongly encouraged to submit your comments via email in advance of the meeting as well.

"Big money" political spending tops $300k in Richmond

Thompson, Anderson & Pimple are the “corporate candidates” who stand to benefit

In the last several weeks, campaign finance reports have revealed a pattern: Thompson, Anderson and Pimple are emerging as the “corporate candidates” and are also the top pick for Richmond’s powerful police union.

As of this week, corporations, developers, safety unions, and construction trades collectively poured over $300,000 into these three candidates. Here’s how it’s breaking down:

Thompson benefiting most from Big Money

Eleanor Thompson, who is running in District 1, has not raised a particularly large amount of money -- just under $20,000. But a staggering 89 percent of her campaign funds are from big donors like developers, corporations, and safety and construction unions. Only a handful of “ordinary” Richmond residents have made donations to help her campaign, an indication that she does not have a lot of grassroots support.

However, the real money behind Thompson is Richmond Progress, which is the big police-controlled Political Action Committee. This PAC has amassed over $122,000 to “independently” campaign for their chosen candidates. And they have spent the vast majority of their monies -- a whopping $91,000 -- helping to elect Thompson.

Thompson is running against current Councilmember Melvin Willis, who grew up in District 1 and attended Chavez Elementary school. He is not taking any corporate donations. Willis is known as a staunch advocate for low-income people and was also an early leader calling for police funding to be cut by 20 percent. He believes that medics and social workers can more effectively, safely -- and cheaply -- respond to non-criminal calls such as mental health situations, homelessness, truancy, etc. The money saved can then be used to increase funding for services such as youth programs that create more stability and opportunity, and improve public safety in the long-term. Naturally, the police union opposes this idea, as well as calls for more police accountability, which are gaining more traction in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and others. The police are literally putting their money on Thompson, in hopes of securing more funding, and potentially less accountability.

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Anderson accepting the most Big Money

Ahmad Anderson, who is running in District 5, has taken the most direct money -- over $43,000 -- from police, developer and construction interests. Several of them have given $2500, “maxing out” their donations to his campaign: including the police union, Levin Terminals and various developers and construction unions (such as Richmond Development Corporation, the California Real Estate lobby, the state landlord lobby, and IBEW).

Richmond Progress, which is the big police-controlled Political Action Committee, is also backing Anderson. As of October 12, they spent over $35,000 on pro-Anderson literature and mailers.

Anderson is running against former Richmond mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who has pledged to take no corporate money. McLaughlin is considered a very strong environmental candidate, having led on several climate and environmental initiatives during her tenure as Mayor (for example, on her watch Richmond received an award in 2010 for installing the highest amount of solar per capita in any city in the US). Companies like Levin Terminals and SunCal would certainly like to ensure that Anderson gets the Council seat, so they can overturn Richmond’s coal ordinance and lock in the luxury housing development in Pt. Molate.

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Pimple coming in second in taking big cash

Pimple comes in second when it comes to directly accepting Big Money, having taken $26,000 so far from these interests. He has taken the maximum political donation from the state landlord association, and various construction trades; the police union also reports maxing out their donation to him, as have the firefighters (who stick with the police union on political matters). He has also taken sizeable contributions ($1000) from developers such as SunCal (Pt. Molate) and Eastshore Properties.

On top of that, Richmond Progress has so far spent over $21,000 on their own efforts to boost Pimple’s campaign. 

Pimple is running against community organizer Claudia Jimenez, who has pledged to take no money from corporations and big developers. Jimenez, who is the mother of two children in Richmond public schools, is running on a record of protecting our immigrant community and promoting inclusive development for Richmond. She was one of the original signatories to the rent control ordinance, and believes that housing is a human right -- which means that landlords and for-profit developers are eager to keep her from getting elected.

Women in Politics endorses Claudia Jimenez for District 6

So much hangs on Richmond City Council District Elections November 3 - especially whether or not the council's membership, where no women currently serve, resembles Richmond.  Women in Politics (WIP) looked for good women to remedy this omission. We found Claudia Jimenez, city council candidate from District 6. We invite you, too, to volunteer to help elect Claudia. It's a small sacrifice for just a short while to gain a council member who will make Richmond proud for years. 

So from where did Women in Politics come? Some of us who share friendships, activism, and/or political views, independently found ourselves horrified by the absence of women from the Richmond City Council after the last election. We eventually networked our way into meeting together monthly to discuss this absence and how to fix it. 

Just to be sure we truly were on the same page, we agreed on a mission statement. Here’s what we decided, including our pledge 

...to support political leaders, specifically city council candidate(s) and office holders who share our core values.  We’re not looking for just any woman, but the right candidate for the job.

We next decided on the values we would seek in women to endorse for public office. We arrived at 37, all the way from “non-racist” to “Takes no corporate donations,” as follows: https://womeninpolitics.net/our-values 

The interview committee we formed questioned Claudia Jimenez based on our collectively adopted values and reported back to the full membership the following recommendation:

Our consensus is that Claudia is a viable candidate with a proven track record of building coalitions, initiating and completing projects, and of working in collaboration with the groups and communities she serves. She shares the stated values of WIP in general, and specifically she shares the belief that progressive women bring an insight and a capacity less frequently observed in mainstream male elected officials. 

Having found a candidate to endorse, we set about helping elect Claudia, hosting discussion forums, organizing a car caravan and other activities. We anticipate Claudia's victory in November. We will reconvene afterwards to evaluate our efforts to balance representation on the city council for a better, stronger Richmond. We will, among other questions, consider whether or not to continue as a group. We welcome others to join us in evaluating if WIP can or should continue to support women in efforts to run for political office and, in general, to lead local government. If you are interested, message us through our Facebook page.

-- Kathleen Wimer, Women in Politics

Vote early and safely this year!

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 this year:

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 early.

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 preference, etc.
  • After October 19, you can still register and vote in person (using Conditional Voter Registration) on Election Day, November 3, at polling places.

How do I know my vote is being counted?

  • Wheresmyballot.sos.ca.gov 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 minutes.

Election results

  • 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 people-powered!

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 donations.

  • 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 rossem19@gmail.com to sign up for your shift(s) today!
  • Socially distanced 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 up here.