Used car salesmen, strip clubs, big money self-financing, the healthcare debate, gay marriage and burning buildings — the race in the 5th Assembly District has it all.
The highly-contested district also offers a lesson in some of the many ways money can seep into an election, sometimes without appearing on campaign ledgers.
There are several viable candidates hoping to replace Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Sacramento, when he terms out at the end of this year. Each one of them is closely identified with one or two particular industries.
For instance, Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and a Democratic candidate for the seat, appeared in at least two questionnaires mailed out by the powerful California Medical Association. In each, a large photo of Pan takes up all or most of one page of the questionnaire; one prominently shows Pan’s left hand, with a wedding ring on his finger. In each case, there is a fairly generic quote: “Your health care is our top priority” or “California physicians want to hear from you.”
People receiving the mailing were invited to participate in a 26-question survey about their own health care coverage and their feelings on the healthcare reform debate. But there is no question that mailers also raised Pan’s name ID.
Andrew Lamar, a spokesman for the CMA, said that there were five separate mailings sent out statewide that especially targeted urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco. He would not say how much the CMA spent on them.
“I’m sure that many went out to the 5th district, but mailings went to every part of the state,” Lamar said. Lamar added, “He’s been a physician leader for the CMA for awhile.”
He pointed out that Pan served on the group’s legislative committee last year, testifying at numerous hearings and serving as “our point person” on legislation. A large proportion of the quarter-million dollars Pan has raised has come from medical concerns. This includes $7,800 from the CMA’s Small Contributor Committee, as well as large donations from the California Nurses Association, the California Dental PAC, the California Dermatology Society PAC, and other groups.
If Pan is the doctor’s candidate, rival contender Larry Miles is associated with a less-trusted group — used car dealers.
But he bristles at the notion — which he said Pan’s people appear to be trying to spread — that he is the dealers’ candidate. He notes that he’s gotten far less money from these dealers than Pan has from doctors.
“It’s absolutely clear he’s the CMA candidate,” Miles said. “Which is fine, they’re entitled to spend their money any way they want to. He has almost no [financial] support from the district.”
Miles has touted himself as the homegrown candidate. He’s lived in the district for two decades, and was a two-term board president of the San Juan Unified School District. Miles also has a wide range of endorsements, from the California Federation of Teachers to the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
But it remains clear that much of his financial support does come from car dealers. An attorney, he has served as general counsel for the Cal Worthington Auto Group for eight years. Worthington, long known as the king of used car dealers in the Los Angeles area, has given his campaign $7,800. Other auto interests, including family members and employees of Worthington, have put in about $60,000 more.
Miles had kinder words for a third contender on the Democratic side — Matt Gray, a lobbyist known for representing the adult entertainment industry through his firm, Capital Alliance.
“Matt’s very forthright,” Miles said.
Gray has taken in over $40,000 from various adult entertainment clubs. Gray’s lobbying practice also includes several technology companies, including CTC Data and Quantum Energy Systems.
These tech companies have yet to put large amounts into his campaign. However, a pair of independent expenditure committees were registered with the Secretary of State’s office last year that a source says may put in money behind Gray. Americans for Diversity and Californians for Green Energy share the same treasurer, principal and Dallas area phone number. These people did not return calls as of press time.
Gray also made the news this week for something else. On Friday evening, on his way to buy dog food, he saw a house fire on Watt Ave. He and a neighbor entered the house, and Gray pulled out an unconscious 60 year old man. The man was extensively burned and later died of his injuries.
“It was an experience I won’t soon forget,” said Gray.
There is a bit less intrigue on the GOP side, where the top two candidates are Andy Pugno, a campaign consultant known for leading the successful Proposition 8 campaign to repeal same-sex marriage in 2008, and Craig De Luz, a former Robla School Board member and capitol director for Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Riverside.
But Pugno has amassed a half million dollar war chest — including over $100,000 of his own money – based in part on his track record with the Prop. 8 campaign.