Republican Catharine Baker won the tightly-contested Bay Area race for California’s 16th Assembly seat against Democratic challenger Tim Sbranti last week, the first time a Republican has won a Bay Area Assembly seat since 2006.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, outside money, mostly in the form of independent expenditures, played a huge role in the race for both Baker and Sbranti’s campaigns.
Sbranti’s campaign raised about $3.1 million in direct contributions, mostly from statewide Democratic organizations, according to the Chronicle. In comparison, Baker’s campaign raised a paltry $625,000 in direct contributions.
Yet those numbers don’t even come close to the actual cash raised by both campaigns, due to independent expenditures.
The California Teachers Association (CTA) reportedly contributed about $1.2 million to Sbranti’s campaign, along with other public employee unions. Meanwhile, Baker was backed by California Chamber of Commerce political action committee JobsPAC, as well as Spirit of Democracy California, which kicked in at least $1.8 million to support her.
“We knew we were going to get outspent, so the independent expenditure was hugely important,” Baker campaign consultant Justin Matheson told the Chronicle. “It kept us in the game.”
Henry was referring to physicist Charles Munger Jr., chairman of the Santa Clara County Republican Party and chairman of the Spirit of Democracy PAC that spent nearly $2 million in support of Baker. Much of the money from the PAC was contributed directly by Munger.
Still, according to federal law, organizations making independent expenditures to political candidates cannot interact directly with those candidates’ campaigns. A note on the Spirit of Democracy website claims that the organization “adheres to this prohibition absolutely, without exception.”
Instead, all of that outside money was spent on media buys, including campaign mailers from both sides that sought to paint the opposition as special interest-funded politicians out of touch with the needs of Bay Area voters.
One of the biggest issues in the race, and consequently, Baker’s campaign mailers, was the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers strikes, which frustrated voters in the district. Democrat Orinda City Councilman Steve Glazer, who lost to Sbranti in the primary, slammed Sbranti in a Baker campaign mailer, saying that “Baker would ban future BART strikes and Sbranti would not,” although he stopped short of officially endorsing the Republican.
Sbranti campaign spokeswoman Michelle Henry told the Chronicle that despite the huge independent expenditures and contentious campaign mailers, California’s record low voter turnout and Democrats themselves were ultimately to blame for the Democrats’ loss.
Baker’s win represents the first Republican Assembly win in the Bay Area since Guy Houston won reelection to the 15th District Assembly seat in 2006.