The Business of Democracy: How California Democratic Party Chair Candidate Eric Bauman Profits from Politics.
Eric Bauman, the so-called kingmaker of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP), is now seeking to become king himself. He is running to become Chair of the California Democratic Party (CDP), potentially turning the institution into the largest pay-to-play operation in the States.
Eric Bauman, a nurse turned manager turned legislative staffer, already receives a generous six-figure salary from his job as senior adviser to whoever the Assembly speaker is at the time – he’s done it for John Perez, Toni Atkins and now Anthony Rendon -, but his real money comes from Victoryland Partners, a political consultancy business he runs together with his husband, Michael Andraychak, and Adam Seiden , the Executive Director of the LA Democratic Party. In 2016 alone, Victoryland Partners received over $450,000 from the campaigns behind (or opposing) several ballot propositions. Among their clients were pharmaceutical corporations that wanted to fight Prop 61, which would have reduced the cost of medicines paid for by the California government. Despite being endorsed by Bernie Sanders, the Nurses Union and every progressive in the state, Prop 61 failed to get the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. After a campaign against it that reached nine figures, it was defeated at the ballot box. Bauman seems unwilling to take credit, but he won’t disclose who, exactly, is funding his campaign for Chair of the Party.
As LACDP chair and vice-chair of the Party, Bauman uses his influence to get the Democratic Party to endorse candidates of his liking. He then profits from these endorsements through a loophole on campaign finance law. While campaign finance laws limit how much money candidates for state office can receive from any one contributor, political parties and PACs (known in California as independent expenditure committees) have no such limitations. PACs are not allowed to coordinate their ads with candidates. Both must list contributions, but as PACs receive theirs from fewer sources, it’s easier to link a candidate with the industry that supports him. Getting contributions from a dirty money PAC can quickly become a campaign issue.
Campaign laws, however, allow political parties to send out as many campaign ads as they want supporting political candidates to their members through member-to-member communications. Corporations trying to quietly support candidates can thus contribute money to the Democratic Party, which will then spend it on the candidate of their choice. The ads will say that they are paid for the California Democratic Party, rather than paid by the bad PAC, and no one will be the wiser. The corporation’s contributions will be seen as contributions to the Party rather than to a specific candidate. While it’s illegal for these contributions to be earmarked, earmarking is virtually impossible to prove, and therefore it’s rampant. These member-to-member communications can only be done for candidates that have been endorsed by the Party – the true value of the Democratic Party’s endorsement, and the reason why candidates fight fiercely for it, is that it allows them to use the Party to launder such campaign contributions.
At the state level, the leaders of the Assembly and the Senate are the ones that decide which candidates the party will launder money for and which consultants they will use. Both the party and the consultants take a cut for their services. Bauman has a very close relationship with both John Perez and Toni Atkins, who were the Assembly speakers in 2014. In that year, he raked somewhere between $10K and $100K as a “salary” from the California Democratic Party. The Party doesn’t pay vice-chairs; according to Party insiders, he was paid these funds as the consultant.
At the local level, money for endorsed candidates is funneled through Central Committees and sub-regional “United Democratic Campaigns” or UDCs. I have written about how the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, where I serve, and the Ohlone Area UDC have engaged in this semi-legal money laundering before. Eric Bauman would apper to also rake in money “consulting” for the Los Angeles Democratic Party, of which he is chair. Indeed, he also lists a $10K to $100K salary from that institution for 2014 and 2015. The position of county party chair itself is not paid.
As if these ways of financially exploiting his relationship with the Democratic party were not enough, Eric Bauman has also made money as a “consultant” to the “Democratic Club Slate Mailer“. Slate mailers are mailers sent to voters that sound like they are coming from some official organization, but in actuality they are put together by people trying to make a quick buck, and paid for by the candidates appearing on them. Bauman made between $1K-10K in 2014. It’s not clear who is actually behind the slate mailer, but the treasurer is Mark Gonzalez, a member of the LACDCC. This particular slate mailer seems to have been put together mostly to push John Perez, who at the time was running for Controller. Mark Gonzalez was a senior field rep for Perez.
Delegates to the 2017 California Convention will have a serious choice to make: elect as Chair someone who has seen the Democratic Party as a source of profit and who has shown little concern about how dirty the money he takes is, or elect an honest outsider who wants to thoroughly reform the Democratic party for all of us.