How charter school, real estate and healthcare money helped Wicks outspend Beckles by 4 to 1

The race for California’s 15th Assembly district is one of the most expensive in the state. More than $3.75 million has been spent to support the candidacies of Buffy Wicks and Jovanka Beckles, with spending for Wicks exceeding Beckles by a margin of 4 to 1, a Richmond Confidential analysis of the latest campaign finance reports shows.

The reports reveal that nearly 40 percent of Wicks’ support is coming from outside of California. Corporate executives and business interests are heavily invested in Wicks’ campaign.

Wicks is supported by more industry and trade groups compared to Beckles who draws substantial donations from unions and teachers’ associations. And a higher percentage of Wicks’ donors gave her the maximum legally allowed. 

Wicks raised more than $1.4 million in direct contributions to her campaign, nearly three times more than the $500,000 Beckles raised.

In addition, political committees have spent $1,380,600 to promote Wicks, according to the campaign finance reports. That’s far more than the $434,364 spent by political committees behind Beckles’ candidacy. 

Prominent individual donors are also supporting political committees running campaigns in support of Wicks and Beckles. By law, these committees are allowed to spend an unlimited amount of money to help candidates as long as they do not coordinate directly with any campaign. More broadly, these committees include independent expenditure groups,  such as Political Action Committees — or PACs — whose individual donors can be harder to track. 

Powerful healthcare PACs, including the California Medical Association PAC and the California Dental Association PAC, contributed to Wicks by channeling money through a special PAC formed exclusively to support her assembly campaign. It is called the Coalition for East Bay Health Care Access, Affordable Housing and Quality Public Schools, supporting Buffy Wicks for Assembly 2018. 

EdVoice PAC, a charter school-supporting political committee, also used the Wicks PAC to route money into the race to support Wicks. Combined, these three PACs directed $857,500 in contributions to the Wicks PAC, which has spent $1,022,434 to support her. 

The California Apartment Association’s political committee also supported Wicks’ candidacy through a $100,000 contribution to the Wicks PAC. The association opposes Proposition 10, the ballot initiative that would allow cities to expand rent control, and set up a No on Prop 10 political committee, which has so far spent at least $43 million to oppose it. Wicks also opposes Proposition 10 while Beckles supports it. 

Silicon Valley investor Ron Conway also gave $45,000 to the Wicks PAC. Earlier this year, Conway donated the maximum allowable amount to Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican running in a Central Valley swing district. The race is among a handful in California that could determine party control of Congress.

 Campaign finance filings detailing Rob Conway’s $2,700 contribution to Rep. Jeff Denham.

Campaign finance filings detailing Rob Conway’s $2,700 contribution to Rep. Jeff Denham.

Members of the Walton family who are heirs to the Walmart fortune have also contributed to political committees that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of Wicks. 

Last week, The Intercept, a nonprofit-supported investigative newsroom, published an analysis of some of the Wicks’ campaign’s backers. Asked to respond, Wicks campaign spokesperson Debbie Mesloh stated that the report contained multiple errors. “Perhaps the most egregious is that Buffy is benefitting from Walmart money. Buffy has taken no money from anyone associated with Walmart, nor has Walmart given to the outside independent expenditure campaign. It is misleading to insinuate that,” wrote Mesloh.

But an heir to the Walmart fortune and the company’s chairman both contributed to political committees supporting Wicks, campaign finance reports show.

Among the major contributors to the largest PACs supporting Wicks are heirs to the Walmart fortune Carrie Walton Penner and her husband Gregory Penner. He currently serves as chairman of Walmart Inc.

Together, they’ve contributed $944,600 to EdVoice and Govern for California political committees that are among the most high-profile spenders in the assembly district race. These two committees have spent $1,088,023 to support Wicks. 

Carrie Walton Penner currently serves as the board vice-chair of the California Charter Schools Association, a board member of EdVoice, and is an outspoken advocate for charter schools. Gregory Penner, at the helm of Walmart since 2015, has overseen a company that has defied demands by its workers calling for a $15 minimum wage even as other major chains met similar demands.

The other political committee that the Walton family donates to, Govern for California, is led by David Crane, once the special adviser to former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. A lecturer at Stanford University, Crane is an advocate for charter schools and curbing spending on public employee retirement. In 2010, he penned an editorial for the San Francisco Chronicle entitled, “Should public employees have collective bargaining?” It questioned the rights of teachers and other state employees to organize for better benefits. 

Crane’s Govern for California spent $493,333 on mailings, polling and consulting, among other things in support of Wicks.

Wicks has in the past called for increased accountability for charter schools, but has stopped short of Beckles’ assertion there should be a moratorium on new ones because they are  “sucking the lifeblood out of public schools.” Public school teachers’ groups are fighting the expansion of charter schools, arguing that they siphon off the best students and a substantial amount of public money.  

On pensions, Wicks has suggested that the state would likely need to bring key stakeholders to the table to address union pension costs, insisting that the state must “honor its commitment to workers.” Implied was that some negotiation could be necessary. Beckles has underscored her support for defined pension benefits and has said she would “fight vigorously to avoid reductions in pensions.”

Mesloh, Wicks’ spokesperson, did not respond to Richmond Confidential’s request for a detailed response to the committee expenditures. Instead, she repeated phrasing that the campaign often uses: “From day one, Buffy pledged to take no corporate money in this race.” 

Mesloh also noted that Wicks has in the past explained that she is not in favor of the current system of financing elections that is heavily reliant on political committees spending money in support of candidates. “We need campaign finance reform,” Wicks has said. 

In past statements, Wicks has appeared to defer responsibility for the committees’ spending on her behalf, saying, “No candidate wants an independent expenditure out there communicating for or against them without the candidate having control of that.” She added, “It is the reality that we are in.”

Wicks’ comments suggest that she has accepted a necessary evil, but in statements she has stopped short of rejecting corporate expenditures on her behalf. 

Beckles, meanwhile, has said she would not accept these corporate expenditures.  

While corporations themselves have not contributed directly to Wicks’ campaign, corporate executives are among the funders of the $1.38 million spent through various committees working to get Wicks elected. At least 20 corporate executives have also donated the maximum amount to Wicks’ campaign directly.

In defending expenditures on Wicks’ behalf, Mesloh noted that Beckles had also benefitted from political committees spending on her behalf.

A political committee called the East Bay Working Families has spent $342,914 in support of Beckles, according to the analysis of her latest campaign finance reports. The organization derives most of its funding from local chapters of the Service Employee’s International Union as well as the union’s statewide PAC.

Beckles’ campaign spokesman Ben Schiff responded that the committees supporting her not only gave far less money, but that their contributors were almost all unions rather than business interests and corporate executives.

“That’s not the same as the sources of money for Buffy’s PACs which are decidedly anti-union and not local,” he said.  

Wicks’ individual donors also gave her campaign more money, on average, than Beckles’. Almost seven percent of Wicks’ donors gave her the maximum amount — $4,400 for individuals and $8,800 for political organizations. Less than three percent of Beckles’ contributors gave the maximum. 

Wicks received direct campaign contributions for the maximum $8,800 from the California Real Estate PAC, the Northern California Council of Laborers PAC and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California PAC, among others.

The real estate PAC is one of many supported by the California Association of Realtors. Using a series of similar political committees, the association has routed $8 million into the campaign against Proposition 10.

Beckles’ campaign received the $8,800 maximum donations from big state unions and associations, including the California Nurses Association, the California Teachers Association and SEIU United Healthcare Workers. 

SEIU spokesperson Sean Wherley cited Beckles’ support for local healthcare workers who he said are fighting the outsourcing of more than 100 jobs at Kaiser Permanente facilities throughout the East Bay. 

The Permanente Medical Group, Inc., the regional parent organization for local Kaiser facilities, gave $562,018 to California Medical Association committees that would eventually contribute $111,500 to the Wicks PAC. A spokesperson for The Permanente Medical Group didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Speaking on behalf of the California Teachers Association, Claudia Briggs said the teachers supported Beckles because of their experience with students in the classroom. “They know the needs and the challenges their students face every day, and they make their recommendation accordingly,” she said. 

The association’s decision to contribute to Beckles’ campaign underscores their shared opposition to the statewide expansion of charter schools.

Notable individual contributors to Wicks’ campaign include David Axelrod, former Obama strategist; George Soros, billionaire philanthropist; Jeremy Stoppelman, chief executive for Yelp Inc.; Michael Bloomberg, chief executive for Bloomberg L.P.; Reid Hoffman, founder and chairman of LinkedIn Corp.; and Alejandro Cabrera, senior vice president at McDonald’s. All gave the maximum-allowed $4,400. 

Among the individual contributors who gave the maximum donation to Beckles’ campaign were three owners of marijuana dispensaries in Richmond. They include Zeaad Handoush, owner of 7 Stars Holistic Healing Center; Rebecca Vasquez, the owner of Holistic Healing Collective and William Koziol, the director of Richmond Patient’s Group.

In an interview, Handoush cited Beckles’ roots in Richmond and support of cannabis as reasons for backing her candidacy. Handoush’s collective is among the handful that have obtained permits to operate in Richmond in recent years after Beckles played a central role in shaping the city’s marijuana regulations. 

Thirty-seven percent of Wicks’ donors were from outside of California while four percent of those giving to Beckles listed out of state addresses, according to the latest candidates’ campaign finance filings. 

Schiff, Beckles’ spokesperson, said almost all of her money came from California donors because of her long history as an elected official in the Bay Area.

“Those tend to be working people and local residents who like most people aren’t fabulously wealthy, so those contributions tend to be small and they tend to be here in the East Bay,” he said. 

Asked about the higher proportion of out-of-state money flowing into the Wicks campaign, her spokesperson Mesloh noted that some of her contributors from other states supported the progressive movement nationwide. 

She emailed a quote from Wicks in which she said, “All of my donors who have donated to my campaign have donated to people like Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris and other great Democrats up and down this state.” 

The latest campaign finance reports list 2,141 contributions to the Wicks campaign. There is no indication that all or most of Wicks’ donors have indeed contributed to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senator Kamala Harris, as Wicks has insisted. 

Wicks’ campaign also went on the attack, noting that one of the political committees supporting Beckles drew support from corporate donors.

That committee, the California African American PAC, supports the election of African American candidates across the state of California, according to its campaign finance reports.

The PAC spent $45,830 in support of Beckles, according to its most recent campaign finance filing. The filings show that the money was spent on a poll and literature in support of Beckles.

The PAC draws support from Tesla Inc., Facebook Inc., as well as Chevron’s Policy, Government and Public Affairs division. But the PAC maintains a broad range of contributors who also include Native American tribal councils and labor unions. The PAC didn’t return calls seeking comment. 

Beckles, who has campaigned as a candidate who rejects corporate donations, sought to distance herself from the PAC’s spending on her behalf. 

In a press release on Nov. 1, she said she appreciated “the PAC’s goal of electing more African Americans to higher office in California,” but could not, “condone any spending on my behalf by corporations and individuals who are actively opposed to our agenda to put people over profit.” 

Barbara Harvey contributed to this report.

Defending the Sacred


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As winter looms, over 200 native tribes from across the Americas and their non-native allies press on.

As hundreds of water protectors leave the Oceti Sakowin encampment and prepare for direct action early on the morning of November 15, an eagle soars overhead. 

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Indigenous women, traditionally matriarchs across native cultures, lead prayer in honor of disappeared and murdered indigenous women on November 15. 


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At one point, law enforcement from seven different jurisdictions had a presence at Standing Rock. By the start of winter, over 600 water protectors were arrested in clashes with police and state troopers. 

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Non-native—particularly white—allies of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were often called upon and offered themselves as buffers at the front lines of prayers and direct action.

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Later on November 15, around 250 water protectors rallied at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in Bismarck, ND. There, they confronted local and state authorities, presenting letters that proposed mutual understanding between law enforcement and water protectors. 

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Water protectors claim continued victory after disrupting operations that day, first at a heavy equipment dispatch site in Mandan, ND, and here, later in the day at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters.

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Just two days after the series of actions in Mandan and adjacent Bismarck, ND, law enforcement again prepare to defend private property held by entities responsible for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. About 400 water protectors marched through the streets of Bismarck, disrupting traffic in the city's main thoroughfares. Wells Fargo has provided about $120 million in capital for the $2.5 billion project.

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An Oglala Lakota family pitches their tipi on November 16, just says ahead of the first winter storm of the season.

The Oceti Sakowin encampment, less than a mile south of the Dakota Access Pipeline and bordering contested treaty lands, had for months been preparing for the changing of seasons. Pitching tipis and constructing other semi-permanent structures was just one of many ways that native and non-native water protectors prepared.

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The University of California, the Students and the Sweatshops

Shopping at UC Santa Barbara's bookstore has always seemed a straightforward student ritual. As one enters through the gleaming white walkway, exotic-looking women made of brown cardboard present a small shelf of sustainably-produced t-shirts. Between cues like this and the general vibe of the place, the average consumer would find it hard to imagine anything unethical about the apparel they pick up at the bookstore.

A growing movement on campus and across the country is making the argument that our shopping habits aren’t so harmless. Students, academics and consumers are mobilizing, targeting the places they work, study and shop. The movement has been spurred by now seemingly-routine disasters in garment factories mainly in Bangladesh, where in the decade prior to 2013, over 700 workers had died in factory fires and collapses. Then, in April of 2013, over 1,100 workers lost their lives after being coerced into entering the factory where they worked, only to have it collapse on them minutes later, Public Radio International reported. 

The International Business Times found that growth in apparel exports from Bangladesh now make it the second most important apparel supplier to the U.S., only behind China. FiveThirtyEight estimates Bangladeshi apparel exports to the U.S. to have exceeded $5 billion in the last year. Meanwhile, the collegiate apparel licensing business has swelled to over $4 billion according to Kristi Dosh of ESPN.

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Among the bookstore's most popular items are “collegiate licensed apparel”—clothing that bears the UCSB name and logo, but are produced abroad under unknown conditions.

(photo by Brandon Yadegari)

Back at the University of California, the institution's stake in apparel manufacturing in Bangladesh was recently assessed by the UC’s Committee on the Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees, which found that the UC’s bookstores generated $22,872,451 from licensees that source UC-logoed apparel in Bangladesh. With that knowledge, students and faculty are pushing bookstore managers and UC administrators to reevaluate procurement contracts.

Erin Purvis, a second year at UCSB and member of the campuses chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) has been involved with labor issues since arriving at UCSB. Purvis says that students have a "unique position" at the university as consumers, considering the size of the collegiate apparel market.

Rich Appelbaum is the MacArthur Chair in global and international studies and sociology at UCSB, and is a faculty member on the UC committee that reported on the UC’s stake in Bangladeshi-sourced apparel. An expert in labor studies, Appelbaum asserts that "there is the opportunity for the University to take meaningful steps to better-support the improvement of working conditions in Bangladesh."

Appelbaum described such a step as being requiring the UC’s licensees to sign on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, also called “the Accord.” In the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, European brands sat down with labor rights groups and came up with the Accord as a response to the worsening apparel production situation in Bangladesh. “The Accord is the most important thing there is as far as improving working conditions in Bangladesh go,” said Appelbaum.

As the Accord emerged as a seemingly-viable option for ensuring accountability and improved working conditions in apparel manufacturing in Bangladesh, a second agreement emerged called the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, conveniently dubbed “the Alliance.”  While the names are similar, Appelbaum said “the origins of each agreement speak to their scope.” The New York Times made a detailed comparison of the Accord and the Alliance and revealed a more thorough inspection process guaranteed under the Accord, with legal liability placed on brand signatories—liability and responsibility that the Times noted to be absent from the Alliance. 

The UC Committee on the Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees' April 2nd, 2014 report titled "Managing UC-Logoed Apparel Production in Bangladesh" recommended that the University of California require the Accord of its licensees (page 16).

In an article published by Appelbaum and Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor of history at UCSB, the two argue that the Accord brings many more stakeholders to the table, including workers, while the Alliance’s governance structure focuses on the power of the brands that sign the agreement. Matters of conflict under each agreement are handled accordingly; under the Accord, arbitration is an independent process that includes different stakeholders, while arbitration is a process handled exclusively by the brands under the Alliance.

On the basis of extensive scholarly work that was being published and under pressure from USAS chapters across the country, universities began to require their licensees to sign on to the Accord. The rationale behind the requirements was that eventually, one-by-one, every collegiate apparel licensee with a slice of the $4 billion pie would bow to the threat of losing lucrative licensing contracts with universities and sign on to the Accord.

In the spirit of such findings, the UC Committee on the Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees made the unanimous recommendation to the president of the UC, Janet Napolitano, that all brands maintaining licensing deals with the UC and that source apparel in Bangladesh must sign on to the Accord. A few months later, however, President Napolitano's office countered with a policy that would require that brands sign on to either the Accord or the Alliance.

The notice issued on November 17th, 2014 by the UC Office of the President (left), which stipulates that trademark licensees could sign on to either the Accord or the Alliance, included an attachment (right) where licensees would indicate their affiliation with either or.

“The Alliance did its homework as far as getting its political backing,” said Appelbaum. “It’s clear that Napolitano overruled the committee because Ellen Tauscher, the executive director of the Alliance, got to her first—[Napolitano] was pressured by the head of the Alliance to take the Alliance.”

Erin Purvis saw the move as disregarding the will of students, who she argues had made it clear  where student support was on the pending decision. Purvis says that USAS had been pressing both the UC committee and the president, but in the end, Napolitano chose to side with the outside interests. Appelbaum said “I have no illusion that Napolitano will change her mind on this,” mainly because of the political pressure being exerted by supporters of the industry-friendly Alliance, he explained.

But Appelbaum and Purvis believe that the autonomy offered to UCSB as its own institution situated within the greater UC should allow students, faculty and administrators to weigh in on a more stringent requirement that UCSB itself could set for its licensees. “Each campus coming up with its own solution to join the Accord could be a way to run around this,” said Appelbaum. A solution of this sort could look like a requirement that brands sold in UCSB’s bookstore sign on to the Accord, guaranteeing safer working conditions for workers making clothes that UCSB students wear.

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Erin Purvis, a student organizer working with United Students Against Sweatshops, stands along one of UCSB's main thoroughfares, ready to educate students about apparel available for purchase at the campus bookstore.

(photo by Brandon Yadegari)

Appelbaum, along with Purvis and other student activists are optimistic about a change in tactics, but acknowledge similar and consistent challenges. While Appelbaum explained the need for greater student input on UC-wide policy, citing a “shortage of student representation on the UC Committee on the Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees,” Purvis noted that students affiliated with the anti-sweatshop movement have been shut out of joining the committee, but that further steps could be made to work together in the future. 

But the lack of student involvement in labor issues isn’t purely structural. “Students and consumers in general need to be more educated about these issues because big, important decisions are being made all around them every day,” said Purvis. The limitations of an anti-sweatshop movement without a supportive and educated base become apparent, but Purvis maintains that translating social justice concepts into actionable steps is a long process for anyone.

Bryoni Lawrence, a fifth year economics and accounting student, sees these limitations when students are unaware of particular issues. “Consumers don’t seem to consider their individual impact elsewhere, so I don’t think most of us are aware of where our clothes come from,” said Lawrence, “but many people do educate themselves and are more intentional with the way they shop and dress, whether it’s particular to style or a socially conscious reflection.” Lawrence said the missing piece for most is education, but acknowledged that consumers aren’t the only ones with responsibilities. “I’m personally not aware of any fair-labor alternatives, aside from a section that’s marketed more towards women,” she said. “I think the bookstore should be making it more obvious which items are be produced where, and then the consumer then can make their own choice.”

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United StudentsAgainst Sweatshops organizers meet in a campus conference room, where they plan a response to President Napolitano's policy decision to require either the Accord or the Alliance.

(photo by Brandon Yadegari)

As the stakeholders at UCSB consider the Accord and its implications, the university is just one of hundreds that will eventually consider such measures. Successful activist pushes past and present can shed light on this particular movement. In the 1990s, the anti-sweatshop movement was in full-swing on college campuses, coming to a head in the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization protests. The movement was mobilized and met some success, as researchers Tim Bartley and Curtis Child found in their study which covered the period surrounding the anti-sweatshop movement. According to the researchers, tactics dubbed “naming and shaming” and even outright boycott sought to bring attention to the plight of sweatshop workers around the world. Companies in their crosshairs made everything from apparel to footwear and other small consumer goods, and many took hits to their reputation and bottom line when they were “called out” for their use of extreme sweatshop labor practices. Most lasting from this early skirmish between student activists and apparel makers was the role the campaign played in sparking the creation of independent monitoring organizations like the Fair Labor Association and the Workers Rights Consortium, both of which play integral roles in industry monitoring and worker advocacy to this day.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) recently released its annual numbers on holiday shopping and found that sales in the first week of shopping for the season had fallen 11% from last year. Jeff Sommer of The New York Times explored the possibility of the decline being a direct result of the Black Friday Boycott and continuing protests surrounding the killing of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Sommer suggests that the magnitude of mobilization behind these movements was enough to cause the decline in holiday spending.

The data has its limitations, in both the NRF’s report and others', but behind each of these trends there are social pressures, and vice versa. Behind each movement, there are activists and organizers with deep convictions, aiming to turn the tide. Though the question remains: when a student walks through UCSB's pristine bookstore, will campus anti-sweatshop activists be there to tell the full, colored story behind the clothes?

United Students Against Sweatshops activists Ria Sager (left) and Dana Patterson (right) are one of dozens of students who staged a die-in in front of UCSB's University Center, obstructing traffic in and out of the university bookstore as a response to policy decisions made by UC President Janet Napolitano's office. (photo by Brandon Yadegari)