Juan, Buzz, and BP

The California Fair Political Practices Commission is out with a list of the top ten biggest independent spending committees in the state’s June primary, and it features prominent links to two influential San Diego political figures. Placing tenth on the list, with total spending of $680,329, was an outfit called Californians for Balance and Fairness in the Civil Justice System Sponsored by Civil Justice Association of California. Backed by the Travelers Indemnity Company and other wealthy corporate interests, the committee spent $246,360 on behalf of Juan Vargas, the insurance-company influence peddler and Democratic state senatorial candidate who early this week was 22 votes ahead of his rival, Assemblywoman Mary Salas.

Coming in at number four was Put California Back to Work Sponsored by the Civil Justice Association of California. The Civil Justice Association is a Sacramento-based group that lobbies for causes dear to its big corporate sponsors, including Intel; General Electric; JPMorgan Chase; Sempra Energy; and BP, the oil company formerly known as British Petroleum. The committee spent a total of $1,396,546. Of that, $1,209,546 went into a hard-hitting pro-Vargas campaign against Salas, staffed by Larry Remer and his Primacy Group along with ex–utility lobbyist and legislative staffer David Takashima.

But that was nothing compared to the number-one big spender, the EdVoice Independent Expenditure Committee, which pumped a total of $2,048,770 into multiple campaigns to influence state public education policy in the direction of charter schools and other school privatization measures it favors. The group spent $1,493,782 on behalf of Democratic senator Gloria Romero, its pick for superintendent of public instruction, who managed to get a losing third place. It also put up $317,785 to back Democrat Carmen Avalos, who lost her assembly primary. A major contributor to the EdVoice committee was Carrie Walton Penner of Bentonville, Arkansas, granddaughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, who gave $453,000. La Jolla nonprofit online news champion Buzz Woolley, a longtime EdVoice backer, kicked in $30,000 to partner with fellow EdVoice stalwart and Netflix founder Reed Hastings in another committee, called Putting Schools First Sponsored by the Alliance of California Charter Schools. It conducted an independent campaign on behalf of Avalos.

In all, reported the Fair Political Practices Commission, independent campaigns spent a total of $17 million during the recently concluded 2010 primary season and more than $127 million since 2000. “There are now 127 million loopholes in California’s campaign finance laws, every one of them undermining the will of the people of this state,” newly appointed commission chairman Dan Schnur said in a statement. “This level of uncontrolled special interest spending on both sides of the aisle has made the legal limits on contributions to candidates almost completely irrelevant.”

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