In recent weeks Chevron’s $3 million campaign to influence the Richmond election has helped swarm local television airwaves with a flurry of slick attack ads targeting three candidates.
The ads take aim at current Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, councilmember Jovanka Beckles, and Eduardo Martinez, all running for seats on the City Council. The three candidates are running as a slate through the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and are critical of Chevron’s role in Richmond.
According to its most recent independent expenditure reports, the campaign committee “Moving Forward opposing Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez for City Council 2014, with major funding by Moving Forward, a coalition of labor unions, small businesses, public safety and firefighters associations. Major funding by Chevron, an energy provider,” has spent at least $925,026.78 attacking the three candidates.
A progressive majority was elected to the City Council in 2010, and led by McLaughlin recent councils have disrupted Richmond’s reputation as a company town. In 2013, for the first time in the city’s history, Richmond sued Chevron for damages caused by the company’s Richmond refinery, and the future City Council could hold the key to a possible settlement.
The $3 million Chevron has funneled through their Moving Forward committees into the election has drawn national media coverage, much of it critical of the oil giant, and the ire of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who visited the city earlier this month to rally progressives.
Moving Forward has reported spending $286,756.69 attacking Martinez, including $76,291.38 on running TV attack ads, and $22,696.69 for producing those ads.
The ad against Martinez criticizes his attendance records for two public committees on which he has served, with a voiceover saying he missed one-third and one-fourth of meetings for two school district committees.
Martinez did not respond to calls for comment.
Moving Forward has reported spending $286,671.33 opposing Beckles, including $76,291.38 on running an attack ad and $23,097.88 to produce it.
The ad against Beckles says she “indulges champagne tastes and caviar dreams,” criticizing her for expenses made during a city-funded trip to Florida. The ad mimics Robin Leach’s once-popular show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and ends with the British voiceover saying “Jovanka Beckles, dining out in style while you pick up the tab.”
Beckles chuckled when asked about the ad, calling it “ridiculous and stupid.”
Beckles said she went to Ft. Lauderdale for a conference on health inequalities in communities of color, and was allotted $70 per day.
“I decided to skimp on breakfast and lunch and use my whole per diem on dinner,” she said, referencing a $39 lamb chop that Moving Forward has highlighted in various mass mailers.
Moving Forward has reported spending $351,598.76 attacking McLaughlin, including $76,291.39 on running an ad and $23,344.38 to produce it.
The ad against McLaughlin focuses on three trips she has taken in the eight years she has been mayor: to Ecuador, Cuba, and Washington, D.C. The ad shows an animated McLaughlin skipping onto a private plane and says she “ran away when we needed her the most.”
In an email, McLaughlin called the ads “ridiculous.”
“The community-at-large knows that I have made community engagement the central focus of my work as mayor,” McLaughlin wrote.
Moving Forward’s spokesperson Alex Doniach, a senior account executive at the PR firm Singer Associates, Inc., was not able to confirm that Moving Forward was running three TV ads in the Richmond market.
When asked to comment on the TV ads Doniach said, “we believe that voters deserve to have all the information about the candidates running so they can make an informed decision about who to vote for.”
She declined to say whether Moving Forward planned on running more ads before the election. “These TV ads are part of our effort to share factual information about the candidates running for council and raise questions about their ability to serve as effective legislators,” she said.