Ben Allen and Sandra Fluke running a hotly contested campaign for the 26th state Senate district, which covers much of West L.A., Santa Monica, and the South Bay. But so far, both of their campaigns have been outspent by one man: Bill Bloomfield.
Bloomfield, a retired businessman, has spent nearly $1.3 million* supporting Allen, including $710,000* in the last month. What makes this strange is that it's not entirely clear why.
To hear Bloomfield tell it, he basically just likes the guy.
"He's brilliant and he's ethical, and he'd be great in Sacramento," Bloomfield says.
Bloomfield used to be a Republican, but switched to independent in 2011. Since then, he's run for Congress, spending $8 million in a losing battle against Henry Waxman, and spent more than $2.5 million supporting Allen, Dan Schnur, Neel Kashkari and Marshall Tuck.
If there's a common thread there, it might be education reform. Both Kashkari and Tuck are big supporters of the education reform movement, with its emphasis on fighting teachers unions, rolling back tenure, using test scores to evaluate teachers, and expanding charter schools. Bloomfield is also a supporter of Students First, the education reform political action group.
But here's the thing. Unless he's hiding something, Allen is not a big education reformer. Allen serves on the Santa Monica-Malibu school board, but the issues that drive the education reform movement aren't a big deal there. There are no charter schools in the district, and the board has an amicable relationship with the teachers union. As a senator, he has said he'd be interested in looking at teacher tenure, but that's about as far as he'll go.
And Bloomfield's mailers certainly don't talk about education reform. In mail to registered independents, Bloomfield touts Allen as a "fiscal watchdog" who balanced school budgets and will focus on controlling state spending. In mail to Democrats, he refers to Allen as a "progressive champion."
If anything, the connection seems to be personal. Bloomfield was impressed with Allen when they met last year at a Waxman speech. After that, Bloomfield had breakfast with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Allen had interned for Yaroslavsky, who raved about him. So Bloomfield decided to start writing checks.
"He's running against somebody with extremely high name identification," Bloomfield says. "We want to be sure the voters know about him... We're just trying to level the playing field."
Fluke became a national figure when Rush Limbaugh vilified her for supporting reproductive health access at Georgetown University. After that, she moved to L.A. and decided to launch a political career.
The reality is that there's not much difference between Allen and Fluke on the issues. At a recent debate, the two Democrats were hard-pressed to think of any disagreements. There is certainly a greater difference between Bloomfield and Allen than between Fluke and Allen.
So without much else to distinguish the candidates, Fluke's is seeking to make Bloomfield the issue. This would be a lot easier, however, if Bloomfield were clearly after something, beyond Yaroslavsky's friendship.
"The funding in this race is a real distinction that voters should pay close attention to," said Lindsay Bubar, Fluke's consultant, in a statement. "Our democracy shouldn't be for sale."
Meanwhile, the California Farm Bureau has also taken an interest in the race. The group sent out mail attacking Fluke for supporting reform of Proposition 13. Fluke has said she would like to move to a split property tax roll, which would allow for periodic reassessments of commercial properties, thus boosting state revenue.
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"Sandra Fluke wants to raise our property taxes," the mailer warns. "That's the wrong way to go."
The trouble with that argument is that — of course — Ben Allen also supports a split roll. Allen pushed the Santa Monica-Malibu school board to adopt a resolution in favor of a split roll last year.
So whatever their actual issue is, that isn't it.
*Numbers updated to reflect an additional $140,000 since the post was written.