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A campaign mailer that hit North Coast mailboxes last week portrays Assemblyman Marc Levine in a positive light, saying the San Rafael Democrat, who is seeking re-election, has demonstrated "proven leadership for California."

However, another campaign ad airing on YouTube suggests Levine has been dishonest about his stance on fracking, a controversial oil extraction method. "Are we about to be fooled again?" the ad asks. "No fracking way."

The two ads, paid for by independent expenditure committees that support or oppose Levine, are the first examples of the controversial sources of political funding flowing into the race for the 10th Assembly District seat, which spans the southern half of Sonoma County and all of Marin County.

Independent committees in the past two weeks have spent more than $100,000 in the race ahead of the June primary, according to state campaign finance records. Such committees typically are responsible for funding negative ads.

Levine's challengers for the seat include first-term Santa Rosa Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom, Marin College trustee Diana Conti and Gregory Allen, a Novato corporate recruiter and the lone Republican entered in the race. Former Santa Rosa councilwoman Veronica Jacobi also appears on the ballot despite Jacobi publicly endorsing Conti.

Californians Allied for Patient Protection spent $26,389 on last week's campaign mailer supporting Levine, state records show. The organization is opposed to raising the state's cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases. The cap is currently set at $250,000 and may be the subject of a ballot initiative in November.

Lisa Maas, executive director of CAPP, said the coalition of physicians, hospitals and other groups authorized the mailer expenditure because Levine "has always been philosophically supportive of access to health care."

The Cooperative of American Physicians, which also is opposed to changes in the medical malpractice law, spent $26,389 on a campaign mailer in support of Levine, records show.

Levine declined comment this week on the role independent committees are playing in the Assembly race.

In 2012, Levine received a boost from two independent committees that poured $250,000 into his successful campaign against incumbent Assemblyman Michael Allen, who was the beneficiary of about $700,000 in such spending. The money spent on Levine's behalf fueled attacks ads labeling Allen as a Sacramento insider who had a history of ethics violations.

But Leo Wallach, Levine's campaign manager, said this week that Levine is not a "fan" of such committees playing a role in political races.

"We can't control this," Wallach said. "We hope that if anybody chooses to do an independent expenditure that they will be both civil and accurate."

Wallach said Levine has not taken a stand on the medical malpractice law. Asked whether Levine would be swayed by the money spent by the independent committees, Wallach replied, "Absolutely not."

Under state law, independent committees cannot coordinate their efforts with candidates. Wallach said the photos of Levine and quotes attributed to him on the mailer paid for by CAPP appear to have been taken from the assemblyman's campaign website. Nowhere on the mailer is there any mention of the medical malpractice law.

The ad is designed to build positive name-recognition for Levine, said David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University. He said such committees "almost always go negative" closer to Election Day.

Levine also is the subject of a YouTube video ad paid for by the Western States Council of the United Food and Commercial Workers union in which Levine's stance on fracking is called into question. The union has endorsed Carlstrom.

The ad claims the assemblyman "tap(ped) into oil money" by accepting more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from a "millionaire who invests in fracking."

The line refers to John Scully, managing director of SPO Partners & Company, a private investment firm that has offices in Mill Valley and ties to fracking interests in Texas.

Scully and his wife contributed $102,000 to Elevate California, Levine's ballot issue committee. Levine used $40,000 of that money to pay for a mailer in which he called for a moratorium on fracking in California.

Wallach called the YouTube ad's assertion that Levine accepted oil money "categorically false."

He said Levine "has never taken money from oil companies, and his voting record in the Assembly is as green as it gets on oil issues."

Levine supported a Senate bill last September that allowed fracking to continue in California, albeit with new regulations. He said later that the bill was the best he could hope for after several other moratorium bills failed to gain traction in the previous legislative session.

United Food and Commercial Workers spent $20,000 on the online ad, plus an additional $33,516 for research and polling, state finance records show.

Carrie McFadden, Carlstrom's campaign manager, did not disavow the online ad, saying Carlstrom "believes that we are accountable for our votes on behalf of our constituents."

"Unfortunately, until we change the way that campaigns are financed in this country, independent expenditures are going to be part of the political dialogue," McFadden said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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