The Democrat-on-Democrat clash of departing Assembly speaker Toni Atkins versus state senator Marty Block for Block's 39th District seat is shaping up as one of the costliest special-interest-funded races in San Diego County history, with big money pouring into the contest through a growing variety of political channels.
So far, based on campaign finance disclosures for the first half of 2015 filed with the California secretary of state, Atkins has a formidable lead, stashing money into three political funds — to Block's mere one, though the contest is still young.
For starters, Atkins was still sitting on a cash balance of $921,523.30 in her Assembly 2014 reelection fund at the end of this June, after spending $251,608 during the first half of the year.
Payouts included a $32,500 contribution to the state Democratic Party in March and $4200 to San Diego city councilman Todd Gloria's 2016 Assembly campaign.
In addition, Atkins dipped into the fund to the tune of $11,892 to pay for a five-day trip to Cuba in March with spouse Jennifer LeSar, the filing reveals.
The Atkins committee also footed the bill for $168.45 in post-trip appetizers from Ambrosia Fine Foods of Sacramento, according to the document. Travel costs for staff ran an additional $6526, according to the disclosure.
The Cuban journey was arranged by a group called Californians Building Bridges that has come under fire for its ties to Sacramento lobbying outfit Platinum Advisors, whose president Darius Anderson is on the nonprofit's board.
"The other four members of the Californians Building Bridges board include another Platinum lobbyist Holly Fraumeni, lobbyist, Jim Bruner of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, consultant and former state Sen. Kevin Murray, who is a principal at the Murray Group, and the organization's president Jennifer Davis," according to an account in the Los Angeles Times.
By chance, Anderson’s firm peddles its influence for the Republican-led City of San Diego.
“The Assembly wants to do everything we can to create more jobs and business in California, and this trade delegation is one way to help California companies gain a competitive edge,” the Times quoted Atkins as saying.
Other social expenditures for the Atkins 2014 fund included $5007 for the "Masterpiece Gala" thrown this summer by the Patrons of the Prado in Balboa Park, backed by Republican kingpin and ex–U-T San Diego owner Douglas Manchester.
Meanwhile, another Atkins-controlled fund, called “California Works: Speaker Toni Atkins Ballot Measure Committee,” raised $241,300 during the first half of this year and spent $30,233, leaving it with a cash balance of $287,465 at the end of June, according to its disclosure.
Contributions included $5000 from Sempra Energy, $10,000 from Anheuser Busch, and $75,000 from the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees of Washington DC.
The fund, which currently lists no ballot measures pending, paid for a February 9, 2015, balance due of $3770 for Atkins, her spouse, and friends at Selland Family Restaurants in Sacramento, according to the filing.
The third Atkins-controlled fund is Atkins for Senate 2020, set up prior to her announcement of taking on Block next year. The committee collected $710,036, spent $100,335 in cash, and ended the first half of the year with $614,165 in the bank.
Contributors included the usual legislative donors, including Blue Shield ($8400); Charter Schools PAC ($5200); Personal Insurance Federation PAC ($9400); and the California Beer and Beverage Distributors PAC ($5500).
Block did not do as well, raising just $53,950 in his sole Marty Block for State Senate 2016 account during the first six months of the year. After spending $39,472, he ended the half with $78,869 in cash on hand, his report says.
Like Atkins, Block was backed by Anheuser Busch, but got only $2000 from the brewing giant. The state teachers’ union kicked in $2500. Expenses included $205 for a May 16 stay at the Anaheim Hilton for the state Democratic convention, and $310 for a March 9 legislative staff meeting at the Grange Restaurant in Sacramento.