Labor IE pumping big money into Oakland’s District Three race

Oakland District 3 City Council candidates: Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and community activist Carroll Fife.

Labor unions desperately want to defeat Oakland District 3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney this November and they have the receipts to show their discontent.

An Independent Expenditure Committee (IE) backed the powerful Service Employees International (SEIU) Local 1021, Alameda Labor Council, and other unions, has pumped $343,000 into the District 3 race, through Sept. 19, the most recent campaign finance reporting period. Since then, the IE has raised another $15,000, through Oct. 2, according to finance reports.

The official name of the IE is “Oakland 2020 Committee to Replace Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Elect Carroll Fife and Rebecca Kaplan to the Oakland City Council, sponsored by Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO.”

SEIU Local 1021, alone, has contributed $202,000 to the IE to defeat McElhaney. The Alameda Labor Council has added another $75,000, and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 21 have donated $50,000 to the effort.

McElhaney’s main challenger in the West Oakland council race, Carroll Fife, housing and police accountability activist, has also pulled her own weight in the money column. Fife’s $168,00, was the largest amount of campaign cash raised by any Oakland candidate during the most recent filing period, from July 1 to Sept. 19.

McElhaney reported $93,000 in fundraising since July 1, according to finance reports, and has raised a total of $151,000 since the beginning of the year.

The infusion of campaign cash by East Bay unions, through the IE, is massive, even for Oakland, where big-spending races are common, as is the presence of IEs, which are by law unaffiliated with campaigns they support or oppose.

Labor unions in Oakland and the East Bay have issued growing disenchantment with McElhaney in recent years for a perception that she no longer speaks for the labor movement. To underscore the union’s rancor against McElhaney, a whisper campaign asserting she was a former Republican was pervasive during the campaign last spring.

The spending onslaught by labor, though, has not yet begun in earnest. The IE has $286,000 in the bank as of mid-September, and began spending at far more rapid pace in just the past week. Since the Sept. 19 finance reports, the IE has spent a total of $138,551, led by a $47,500 expenditure on Oct. 2 for online advertisements. Another $26,993 was spent the same day for phone banking.

McElhaney has used the labor IE as a foil in recent weeks to criticize the union’s large outlay of resources in the District 3 race, while reaching out to voters and potential donors to her own campaign.

Four mailers have been sent by the labor IE to voters in the past two weeks, costing a grand total of $55,354. One of the mailers was sent on behalf of Oakland At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s campaign, which is facing a well-financed challenger in local restaurant owner Derreck Johnson.

But with financial support from unions, also comes a well-oiled network of its members and volunteers, although, the power of retail campaigning will likely be dampened this elections due to the pandemic and public health restrictions.