EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in a series of commentary on this subject. The first installment was published Dec. 23 and is available on NewsPress.com.
Politics is a balancing act. Whether you’re a school board member or president of the United States, your first duty is to the people. But in order to get elected, you need money. And the people who pay for political campaigns have their own interests ? interests that may conflict with those of the voters.
Balancing those interests is tough. The road to political corruption begins with giving too much attention to the people who finance your election campaigns, and forgetting about the good of the community you were elected to serve.
A classic example of this conflict has been on display at the Santa Barbara City Council.
On Dec. 4, the council voted 4 to 3 to mandate a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for all public works projects valued at $5 million or more. A PLA hands control of a public works project to the unions. Unions will have the right to determine who gets hired, what the “work rules” will be, and to demand payments into union benefit funds.
How could this possibly be spun as benefiting the community?
Council members Gregg Hart and Eric Friedman, who brought the PLA idea before the council, said that it would increase local construction employment. But since most Santa Barbara construction trade workers are non-union, as are all of our local general contractors, our workers and our companies will suffer under a PLA.
But that’s a topic for another article. For now, let’s look at how campaign financing may have influenced the decision-making behind that 4-3 vote.
First, the three council members who voted against the PLA: Randy Rowse, Jason Dominguez and Kristen Sneddon. Rowse raised $32,000 for his 2015 campaign in District 2. His only political action committee (PAC) contribution was from the California Realtors for $1,000. The rest of his funds were from individuals. Dominguez ($6,500) and Sneddon ($5,000) both got money from the police union, but nothing from the construction trade unions that are stalwart contributors to the California Democratic Party.
What about the other four council members ? Mayor Cathy Murillo, Mr. Hart, Mr. Friedman and Oscar Gutierrez, all Democratic Party endorsees ? who voted for the PLA?
Of the staggering $200,000 that Cathy Murillo raised for her mayoral campaign, $53,000 came from labor union PACs. This is not surprising. Ms. Murillo has been the council’s staunchest advocate for unions, particularly for SEIU Local 620, which represents most of city government’s employees (and which gave $15,000 to her mayoral race).
On a much smaller scale, but proportionally more significant, Mr. Gutierrez’s run for City Council District 3 showed strong union influence. Of the $29,000 that Mr. Gutierrez raised in 2018, $10,500 came from labor unions. Additionally, Mayor Murillo donated $5,000 and Mr. Hart gave $2,000. That must have made it hard for Mr. Gutierrez to think about voting against both the unions and against a measure that Ms. Murillo and Mr. Hart supported so strongly.
As I described in an earlier article, unions contributed roughly half of Mr. Hart’s funding in his unopposed campaign for 2nd District county supervisor. Mr. Friedman’s union contributions in 2017 ? $19,500 out of $96,000 raised ? proportionally were the smallest of the labor union contributions to the four pro-PLA council members.
Though the council has taken the first step in establishing a PLA, it’s not too late to turn back. Staff estimates that just the cost of creating and negotiating a PLA will be $300,000 to $400,000. With Mr. Hart’s exit to the county, the City Council can reverse this bad decision.
On Feb. 12, the council will choose an interim council member to take Mr. Hart’s place. They must appoint someone who will make clearheaded financial decisions for the good of the city. If a PLA will result in project cost increases of 10 percent to 24 percent, that means millions of dollars’ worth of streets that won’t be paved, cracked sidewalks that won’t be replaced, and aging sewer mains that won’t be fixed.
In the last two years, the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party received 90 percent of its $400,000 in funding from labor union PACs. This guarantees that whomever they endorse for Mr. Hart’s seat will put unions first. Please ask your council members instead to appoint someone who will work for the people, and who makes decisions based on what’s best for Santa Barbara.