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Op-Ed: In Ben Allen-Sandra Fluke Race, "The Answer to Darkness Is Light"

Maureen Cruise: Although both Allen and Fluke are often labelled "progressive," the most basic research indicates that these are two very different candidates.

Ben Allen and Sandra Fluke, the two Democratic Party candidates for the California State Senate District #26 seat, are both often labeled as “progressive” at the various public forums, a term that emphasizes their similarities rather than any differences. Questions distinguishing the respective campaigns, background and policy positions never seem to be asked. Yet the most basic research indicates that these are two very different candidates on several very important counts.

Ben Allen Sandra Fluke

Let's Follow The Money

As we all know, "talk is cheap" and "money shouts". Visiting the California Secretary of State website where campaign contributions and donors are listed, is essential to understanding what interests are investing in a candidate, and to what extent.

The Follow the Money tables show here are derived from information at the Secretary of State website.Ben Allen is receiving wide and deep money support from some very non-progressive sources: Republicans, corporatist billionaires and millionaires, and conservatives with agendas in opposition to public sector interests, in particular various privatization entities such as charter Schools organizations.

Sandra Fluke does not have these contributions.

Table 1: Contributions to the official campaign committees

Follow the Money Table 1: Contributions to the official campaign committees

William Bloomfield, who financed the Open Primary and Redistricting Initiatives opposed by liberal Democrats, also funded GOP candidates Palin, McCain, Whitman, Schwarzeneggar, Whitman, and Poizner. He has spent over $1 million on behalf of the Allen campaign. He is supporting Marshall Tuck of Charter Schools movement (over $1 million) and GOP Neel Kashkari.

Table 2: Independent expenditures

Follow the Money Table 2: Independent expenditures

Jessica Levin, a professor at Loyola Law School who studies the intersection of law, money and politics, said Bloomfield and Allen’s relatively tenuous relationship makes these independent expenditures a little unusual.

“I think it is pretty rare for an individual making an independent ex-penditure in favor of a candidate and that candidate to lack any connection,” she said in a Daily Breeze article. “Even if the independent spender doesn’t know the candidate well, she or he usually has a pretty specific reason for supporting that candidate.”

Contributions to Ben Allen totaling $644,000 represent the following interests :

  • 31% Real estate: real estate sales and finance, venture capital, law, development (especially Ballona Wetlands, Playa Vista and Santa Monica), hotels, hotel associations, construction, construction trades.
  • 19% Finance: hedge funds,venture capital and investment firms in activities besides real estate or insurance.
  • 14% Right-Wing Think Tanks: prominent funders or architects of strategies for privatizing public utilities and education (e.g. charter schools), union busting; institutes such as Aspen Institute, FAIR PAC, Civil Justice Association, Hoover Institute, Atlantic Council, MAXIMUS, Pacific Council, NASDAQ.
  • 8 % Oil & Chemical: oil and gas, nuclear, chemical, pharmaceutical, agribusiness, generic waste management, timber, industrial food production, e.g. GMO food products, soft drinks.
  • 6% Insurance & Doctors PACs: insurance companies, political action committees (PACs) and associations of medical providers.
  • 22% Uncategorized: the affiliations either not available, or do not fall into the other categories.
Ben Allen Sandra Fluke

Ben Allen

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Among other wealthy conservative donors are William E. Oberndorf, a California billionaire investor who funds conservative causes such as the privatization of education which he promotes via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). He has contributed to the Karl Rove PAC and to Jeb Bush and the GW Bush Foundation. The Fisher Family of Gap and a dozen other corporations are fans of privatization of the public sector and charter schools.

Millionaire contributor Tei-Fu Chen, founder of Sunrider Corporation, served time in federal prison for conspiracy, tax evasion, filing of false corporate tax returns, smuggling, and customs fraud. Murdoch's FOX Group, Verizon, McDonalds and seven other $1,000-plus donors have added $29,000 to the Allen campaign since I began this article.

The money just keeps rolling in. In sync with these contributors is the fact that Ben Allen is uniformly endorsed on both the GOP slates and Howard Jarvis mailers currently flooding mailboxes.

Toxic Contamination Coverup

There are oversight, stewardship and leadership issues where Ben Allen has failed in his duty to the school community during his eight years as an elected Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Board of Education member since 2008. The SMMUSD Board of Education is named in two impending lawsuits complaining of nondisclosure of toxic contamination and refusal to test and remove volatile carcinogenic toxins. PEER law firm is representing 29 teachers against the District and BOE members. The second lawsuit, with different counsel, represents a group of parents insisting the District comprehensively test the campus and follow the law in removal of the highest PCB toxic contamination recorded in the country. The law states 50 ppms are a danger to health and safety. Some Malibu classrooms are testing as high as 370,000 ppms.

As of October 2013, 11 teachers had developed lifelong thyroid disease, four thyroid cancer and 21 exhibited contamination symptoms (hair loss, nausea, rashes, migraines). Dozens of students were symptomatic. After first dismissing teacher and parent concerns, the SMMUSD/BOE has refused for one year to put this item on the agenda for discussion, denied comprehensive testing, inaccurately reported issues, and continues to deceive parents and community. Since 2009 SMMUSD/BOE has been misleading members of the school community while violating safety standards regarding the collection and disposal of contaminated soil exposing children and teachers to nine carcinogens cited in the report.

Ben Allen Sandra Fluke

Sandra Fluke

Ben Allen ignored parent and teachers concerns when they appealed to him over this past year to advocate for them. Allen's concern prioritizes maintaining a specific budget over solutions to life-threatening problems. Yet over $1 million dollars of district funds have been spent on public relations and district legal counsel before any hint of litigation. This issue has been sent to the Los Angeles District Attorney to review for possible criminal investigation.

There are other scandals involving inadequate Edison school construction plans costing millions that left teachers and students languishing in classrooms in over 100 degrees heat without ventilation and with windows that do not open. Unpaid contractors were picketing Edison school and a Doubletree Hotel-SMMUSD financial deal depriving the schools of district property money has emerged. Real estate, development, contracts, public relations fiascos and legal consulting issues loom large. These are serious issues where Ben Allen has failed in his duty to exercise leadership providing a safe and healthy environment at the schools.

Where Have They Been Lately?

Though both are attorneys, these 26th District State Senate candidates do not have similar legal and legislative backgrounds. Ben Allen's legal work was corporate. With Bryan Cave Attorneys, Ben Allen worked on behalf of Countrywide and Bank of America. Then he worked for corporate client law firm of Richardson Patel focusing on corporate and securities law, mergers and acquisitions, and business, securities and employment litigation. Sandra Fluke's legal work was in the nonprofit sector, working with NGOs advocating for the underrepresented and abuse-victims.

Sandra Fluke worked on a variety of human rights, civil rights, and social justice issues representing society's voiceless victims. Ben Allen's work was with the wealthy UC Regents, the monied and very well-heeled.

Their legislative work differs as well. Sandra Fluke worked on a variety of human rights, civil rights, and social justice issues representing society's voiceless victims. Ben Allen's work was with the wealthy UC Regents, the monied and very well-heeled whose interests are now funding him in the tens of thousands of dollars. The conservative, anti-teacher union, ex-regent millionaire David Crane gave Ben's campaign $16,400 and sent out a newsletter to his wealthy friends to fund Ben Allen's campaign. They did.

Ben Allen's website states he worked for National Democracy Institute in Latin America 2001-2004. NDI is a neo-liberal US foreign intervention program, created to replace some of the CIA activities created during the Reagan era. NDI (a project of the neo-liberal NED) works by laying the civil society groundwork to effect "regime change" to benefit US global interests including working with opposition groups and involvement in foreign elections. Allen Weinstein, who helped establish NED, noted: “A lot of what we [NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”.....What makes NED a particularly useful instrument is that although federally funded, the activities of its institutes are not reported to Congress."

Ben Allen was a Truman National Security Fellow and is a current “expert". "The Truman Doctrine recognizes that foreign in-tervention is a joint economic, political, and military venture. . …[this] has meant that U.S. foreign policy can be adapted to the ever-shifting, globalized structure of the world today." This group supports the Trans Pacific Partnership, which removes corporate issues decision making from congress precluding meaningful environmental, health and safety regulations

Clearly when looking at facts, there are stark concrete differences in these two candidates that expose very different political leanings. Sandra Fluke's campaign is grassroots -- liberally funded -- and her legislative and legal work was with the underrepresented finding voice for victims and the underserved. Sandra is a progressive and a populist figure.

In contrast, Ben Allen is a neoliberal candidate. His funding is primarily corporatist, from powerful, wealthy conservative donors. His stint on the school board is marred by some major scandals involving serious health and safety hazards and lack of attention and oversight.

Just count the mailers and other glossy colored ads from Ben Allen. What is the source of this money? When I ask self-described “progressives” and “clean money” advocates who know this information why they support Ben Allen…the response is uniform, "Ben is such a nice guy!”

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"If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It's simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back." -- Carl Sagan

Maureen Cruise