Thursday, March 30, 2006

Contra Costa Labor Endorsement Redux

One of the most disturbing episodes that I have witness in this campaign was the machinations by which Steve Filson was able to secure the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council’s endorsement.  I bring this up today because last night I was able to talk with a officer of one of the SEIU locals who told me some of the salient details about the endorsement process that make it look even fishier.  

Importantly, this SEIU officer (I’ll refer to him as XY from now on) told me that Steve Filson would “have never received that endorsement” if things had been done on the up and up.  When I first wrote about this I had thought that the big problem was the appearance of impropriety and the rift that such an appearance might cause between the Democratic Party grassroots and Labor.  But now it looks like the process was rigged in a way that actually altered the outcome.  And XY agreed with me that all of this was most likely a gift to Steve Filson from his number one backer, Ellen Tauscher.  

XY told me last night that the Contra Costa County Labor Central Labor Council’s (CCC-CLC) endorsement vote occurred before SEIU had decided on which candidate to back. (Incidentally, XY told me that the local and statewide SEIU council had voted to endorse McNerney, so that an endorsement by the international is virtually pro forma).  In any case, since SEIU on the local level had not yet voted, their delegates to the CCC-CLC were not empowered to cast a vote one way or the other the night that the CCC-CLC endorsement vote was taken.  Had they voted, and voted for McNerney, he would have received the endorsement.  But since they abstained, the endorsement went to Filson.

Of course, there would be nothing wrong with this per se if it were SEIU’s fault for not endorsing before the CCC-CLC endorsement meeting.

But here is where it gets fishy.  SEIU officials had, like me, heard that the CCC-CLC was going to take a vote on the endorsement the night Filson came to speak.  And like me, they had heard that Jerry McNerney would not be invited to the endorsement meeting.  So someone in SEIU (representing the union in a professional capacity) called the Chair of the CCC-CLC, Pam Aguilar, and told her that a) the CCC-CLC shouldn’t only invite Filson to the endorsement meeting, but b) the endorsement vote should be delayed until SEIU had their internal endorsement vote for CA-11.  The person who called was told by Pam Aguilar not to worry, that this was simply a meet and greet and that no vote would be taken.  

This was NOT a regularly scheduled endorsement meeting.  There was no expectation that SEIU would have already voted.  In fact, XY believes, and I think it’s plausible, that the vote was taken that night precisely because SEIU had not voted internally.

In any event, when a vote to endorse Filson was taken after the “meet and greet,” SEIU was effectively disenfranchised from the voting process.  

Needless to say, this did not engender any sort of good will between SEIU and the people who were responsible for ramming Filson through the CCC-CLC endorsement “procedure.” And when I asked XY why Filson’s backers would do this given the ill-will it generated, he said it almost certainly had to do with Ellen Tauscher.

It’s something to think about.    


Blogger CF said...

I'll make clear from the outset that I don't have any inside scoop from the Filson campaign, and I am taking your comments at face value. I just wanted to ask you to elaborate on this contention that it "had something to do with Ellen Tauscher." That's nicely vague enough to get the rumor mill going but unfortunately it makes no sense. Was it that Ellen Tauscher called up Pam Aguilar and told them who to endorse? Or that the CCC-CLC bowed to what they thought she would want to stay in her good graces? Because neither of those alternatives is plausible. The CLC is an important constituency of Ellen Tauscher's. She needs THEIR support, not the other way round. To think that Tauscher could or would put pressure on or influence a labor council in that way is mind-boggling.

Furthermore, The San Joaquin Labor Council specifically said when they endorsed McNerney that it was in part because they were pissed off at the DCCC's perceived meddling. So why in god's name would anyone then try to put the screws to the Contra Costa County Labor Council? To just throw out Ellen Tauscher's name, to create the suggestion of some shadowy conspiracy without explaining the logic of how or why she would have had anything to do with this, is completely unfair.

You mention that the SEIU delegates had to abstain because they were not expecting a vote. Why are we hearing about this now? If they were "disenfranchised" as you purport, wouldn't they have made more of an issue at that meeting? Maybe I am mistaken, but don't votes usually require a motion and a second, etc. Wouldn't you have heard about this earlier?

XY "thinks it is plausible" that the vote was taken on purpose to sneak in before the SEIU? Do you or XY have any evidence to back this up, or are you just continuing to fuel the rumor mill with baseless and irresponsible speculation? Is this any more or less fishy than San Joaquin County CLC endorsing McNerney before it was even clear who all the candidates would be? Before any other candidate had a chance to get their campaign off the ground?

Also, out of curiosity, what was the breakdown in votes for the endorsement, and what percentage of the CCC-CLC is made up of SEIU delegates?

1:55 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...


When I recount what I was told by someone who is in a position to know what happened, you cannot simply dismiss it as "baseless and irresponsible speculation." This is especially true since everything he told me was consistent with other things I have heard from independent sources.

I know you do not want to accept my conclusions, but simply closing your eyes and plugging your ears does not make them go away.

There was clearly a conspiracy to get Filson this endorsement. It was clearly a conspiracy because a) it was organized and involved at least Nagaraja Rao and Pam Aguilar, and b) it was secret (as demonstrated by the fact that they lied about whether a vote would be taken). This conspiracy also clearly involved the disenfranchisement of SEIU, who were given no opportunity to effectively stop the vote because they were told that there WOULD NOT BE ANY VOTE THAT EVENING.

It is very easy for you, from Michigan, to summarily dismiss the facts that I have verified from multiple sources who are in a position to know what happened. XY is not just a member of SEIU who heard something from someone. He is an officer and someone who was directly involved in this process.

All of the flak you threw up cannot hide the simple fact that I spoke to people who are in a better position to know what happened than you are. That gives their testimony greater weight than any speculation you might have. And until you start offering some compelling reasons why we ought not to believe the testimony of people who were involved, I don't think you are in any position to credibly deny their claims.

I have done my due diligence and I have spoken with a number of people about what happened. Given that, I don't find your brute assertion that things are "mind-boggling" compelling. After all, none are so blind....

2:56 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger CF said...

You still didn't answer my questions:

a) What evidence do you have that Ellen Tauscher is involved? If you don't have that, can you explain to me how she can impose her wishes on people that she depends on for votes and support? I am just a little unclear on that, and was hoping you would clarify.

b) Again, what was the breakdown on the voting, and what proportion of the total CCC-CLC membership is made up of the SEIU delegates?

c) I understand that they were told that there was not going to be a vote. Why did they not try to raise their concerns about this? Why was the issue not even addressed at the meeting? Or was it? I just wanted some clarification.

d) I am not discrediting the SEIU officer. I believe that conversation took place. When did XY talk to Pam Aguilar? Long before the meeting with Filson? Could things have changed between the phone call and the meeting? Was it Pam's decision to call a vote, or someone else? I wasn't at the meeting.

You are right, Matt, I am in Michigan. That's why I ask these questions, because I am not there. You most likely have more information and knowledge of the situation. I don't think it is too much to ask for the answers or at least an "I don't know." Especially when you use qualifiers like "most likely," "is plausible, and "almost certainly."

4:41 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...


I don't mind answering your questions and clarifying things, but I reject you attempting to shift the burden of proof. I have done what I can to figure out what happened, so I would appreciate you asking your questions and seeing if I can answer then before you characterize what I do as "baseless and irresponsible speculation."

I'll see what I can do with respect to your questions.

a) I have no concrete evidence that Ellen Tauscher is involved. However, none of this makes sense without her as an explanatory factor.

Furthermore, everyone I have spoken to who is involved in Contra Costa County politics readily agrees that Ellen Tauscher has a large sphere of influence in the Labor community. So it's not like anyone but you is arguing that she doesn't have the juice to do this.

This makes sense to me because she is a reasonable, although not perfect, friend of Labor. A lot of people in her district (to my mind falsely) view the choice as between supporting Tauscher or getting another Bill Baker. And in any event, she's not in a precarious electoral situation. She won her last election 66% to 34%.

So she's a reasonable friend to Labor, she's powerful, and she's not going anywhere. If I were a union leader and my union had any sort of legislative priorities, I wouldn't want to piss her off.

And she has undeniably been Steve Filson's political patron. So it stands to reason that she would at least appreciate the CCC-CLC endorsing Filson, if not demand it outright.

Also, I think you need to answer the question: If Ellen Tauscher had nothing to do with this, how can you explain the behavior of the CCC-CLC in light of Labor's otherwise unanimous support for Jerry McNerney?

b) I'm not sure what the vote tally was, but the actual number might miss something. XY did not mention it, but others have told me that the CLCs can either vote like so that each delegate's vote is counted equally, or they can vote so that each union's vote is counted proportional to their membership in the county. They call this "proportional voting."

SEIU is one the biggest unions in the area, with thousands of members in Contra Costa County. You have to remember that Co Co County includes Richmond, Martinez, Concord, Pittsburg, etc. If SEIU had been able to get proportional voting, they could have stopped the endorsement. But as I understand it (and this isn't from XY) at least some of the SEIU members delegates wasn't present because they believed that no vote would be taken. And consequently they were not able to get the body to vote proportionally. So, in essence, the people in the room were able to have a vote that got Filson the endorsement even though they would not have been able to do so had everyone been at the meeting.

If the endorsement had been properly noticed, or maybe if SEIU had not be assured that no vote was going to take place, I might fault SEIU. But that's not what happened. There was a conscious and pervasive effort made to reassure everyone that no vote would be taken. And those reassurances were given mendaciously.

c) They did try to raise their concerns about this. Apparently to no avail.

d) As far as I know, nobody had heard that anyone was planning on calling for an endorsement vote until a couple of days before the meeting. As I understood XY, SEIU voiced their concerns to Pam Aguilar less than 48 hours prior to the meeting.

e) I am trying to use qualifiers so that I don't overstate what I know. If the conspirators documented their actions on forms filled out in triplicate that I could access through a Freedom of Information Act request, I might not have to use so many qualifiers. But the basic issue is that

1) I know what Nagaraja Rao wrote to me;

2) I know what a Filson supporter told me about Rao "going to bat" for Filson in this endorsement process; and

3) I know an officer of SEIU told me that he believes that a) the process was "sleazy," b) that Filson "would have never have gotten the endorsement" had SEIU been able to vote, c) that SEIU was "blindsided" by the endorsement vote given their discussion with Pam Aguilar.

Furthermore, I know that all of this overlooks what I first wrote about, that it was simply unfair that Filson was invited to speak immediately prior to the endorsement vote and none of the other candidates were invited, and indeed they were told that there would be no endorsement vote that evening. I thought this process smelled to high heaven when I thought that the CCC-CLC endorsing Filson was a foregone conclusion. Now that I know that a fair process would have yielded different results, it stinks even more.

5:43 PM, March 30, 2006  
Anonymous rick said...

I've seen the same types of shenanigans with labor endorsements in other races, where an Executive Officer seizes control of the endorsement process and decides to support or deny support to a particular candidate. Not fair, but then again, since when is politics fair?

Moreover, I wouldn't be the least surprised if Filson has been on the other end of this kabuki with other endorsements in this race.

In a nutshell, this is water under the bridge.

7:21 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

Moreover, I wouldn't be the least surprised if Filson has been on the other end of this kabuki with other endorsements in this race.

Well I would be surprised because I know for a fact that Steve Filson was invited to speak, and spoke, at the endorsement meetings of the other Central Labor Councils that made endorsements for this race.

Also, what happened in the CCC-CLC goes beyond "not fair." It's wrong and it's unethical. I do not respect it and do not excuse it, least of all because "politics isn't fair." These are people who are supposed to be on our side. They have every right to advocate for their preferred candidate. But this type of stuff ought to be anathema to us.

Lastly, this isn't water under the bridge for one important reason: people look to these endorsements as signs of strength. If Steve Filson got this endorsement only because his backers lied to, deceived, and disenfranchised members of the CLC who would have not otherwise allowed a Filson endorsement to go through, then what does this endorsement say about Filson's strength on the ground? Contra Costa County is Filson's base. It's where he lives. It's where Ellen Tauscher lives. And until last night I thought he at least had the backing of the unions there.

I guess we know that that last part is much more questionable.

7:59 PM, March 30, 2006  
Anonymous rick said...

Having seen these types of labor power plays pulled before, I consider it to be an inherent reality of the political business. BTW, being invited to speak is generally a courtesy since these types of endorsements are often pre-determined well in advance.

As I've previously stated, this is water under the bridge. There will be some who bemoan it, but nothing is going to change. McNerney would be wise to shrug it off, because if he wins the nomination, he could certainly use the Contra Costa CLC's support. Same principle applies to Filson and the Alameda CLC and the San Joaquin-Calaveras CLC.

9:19 PM, March 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rick -- unless you can name one instance in which mcnerney received a "kabuki" endorsement via a rigged process (as appears happened with CCC-CLC for filson), then you are erecting a strawman argument of monumental proportions.

it is one thing to overtly lie and deceive to secure an endorsement (CCC-CLC on behalf of filson). it is an entirely other thing to have an endorsement basically guaranteed before a vote is taken merely because the preponderance of participants naturally align with your labor-friendly candidacy (as is the case with mcnerney, it would appear).

think about it.

that said, it appears the best argument you have left is the one left for scoundrels -- muddy the water enough that no one can see clearly what happened.

and now you understand why it appears filson has such a hard time connecting with the grassroots (as so many have highlighted). of course, the irony is that you're not helping him one bit -- in fact, you're just hardening that perception with your "just eat it" non-defense. wanna piss off the grassroots? tell them to eat your shit. hmmmm... sounds like the dccc formula for building the party. /snark

of course, it would be in filson's best interest to downplay ("water under the bridge") what could become an ugly scandal once a reporter from a local newspaper (hint hint to the Contra Costa Times) starts to do some digging into the dirt of CCC-CLC's endorsement process. who knows what may be under some of those rocks that could go much deeper than some ultimately inconsequential endorsement?

the blowback on this one could be something fierce... if only someone was willing to conduct the journalistic due diligence made possible by matt's continual mission to shine light on otherwise darkly lit political alleyways.

(an aside: this is just another example of how blogs are the ultimate citizen journalism. and why newspaper circulation is dropping like a rock... who needs stenographers to the powerful when you can find out what is really happening from a credible blog?).

1:17 AM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger CF said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:05 AM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger CF said...

Thanks for the information, Matt.

So from what you are saying, this is what we know.

At least 48 hours prior to this meeting, Aguilar and Rao both were not aware of any vote that was going to be taken according to an email you received and a phone discussion with XY. I am still not clear on how the vote was announced at the meeting. Was it Aguilar or Rao that called for a vote? Or was it a delegate that supported Filson that called the vote, and after hearing his speech, a majority agreed? There is a big difference there.

Also, I was also unclear about another thing. If the SEIU was not allowed to vote at the CCC-CLC meeting, did they abstain from the SJC-CLC meetings as well? The SJC-CLC endorsement came back in late November, which seemed pretty early. It is hard to imagine that labor groups like the SEIU at the local and state level would have made up their mind to endorse a candidate at that point. One delegate from the SJC-CLC said the vote was based on the groups prior knowledge of McNerney from the last election (link). Could the CCC-CLC done the same after hearing Filson's speech? They know McNerney from the last election, so maybe Filson represented a refreshing and exciting change from that.

You mention that you have no evidence for Ellen Tauscher's involvement. My alternative hypothesis for the vote is that the delegates present at that meeting were so impressed by Filson at that meeting that they felt they wanted to endorse him. I guess the only way to support this is to hear from people who were there, people who voted for Filson, or the person that called the vote.

Thanks for any clarification.

5:13 AM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger Matt said...

I just had my last comment eaten by my computer, so forgive me if I am a bit terse.

At least 48 hours prior to this meeting, Aguilar and Rao both were not aware of any vote that was going to be taken according to an email you received and a phone discussion with XY.

If you believe that, I have a little War in Iraq I want to sell you.

In all seriousness, the letter from Rao shows that he was dissembling before the meeting even took place. That shows that he knew the process was sleazy, which is why he'd lie about it. And I know from a Filson supporter that Rao was a major part of the process. This alone argues strongly against your hypothesis that the vote was somehow spontaneous.

Also, I was also unclear about another thing. If the SEIU was not allowed to vote at the CCC-CLC meeting, did they abstain from the SJC-CLC meetings as well?

This question is great, and I really hope you join the media team (see this morning's post by Delta). You're getting down to the nitty-gritty, which I appreciate. Still, I spoke with Gene Davenport a couple weeks ago and he said that SEIU doesn't participate at all in the San Joaquin-Calaveras CLC as a result of the AFL-CIO/Change to Win split. The CLCs are still authorized to include Change to Win unions. And in Contra Costa County, SEIU is a full member of the CLC.

Also, the endorsement meetings for the other CLCs besides Contra Costa were well-noticed and included invitations to all of the candidates to attend the endorsement meeting (before the vote was taken of course).

Remember, the first problem for me when I initially looked at this process was that the CCC-CLC refused to invite McNerney to what was essentially their endorsement meeting. I did (and still do) thinks that it looks really bad. The simple fact that they excluded McNerney from the meeting means that it was skewed towards Filson. All this other stuff about SEIU just adds further weight to the charge that the whole process was rigged from the start. And it shows that the endorsement did not legitimately represent the will of the body.

10:09 AM, March 31, 2006  
Anonymous Rick said...

Well "anonymous," the apparent difference between you and me is that I accept the way the world is, whereas you have some quixotic notions of how the world should be.

While some on the left have these naive notions of labor being so virtuous and above politics, it is in fact subject to the same political pressures every other political group is. That's the way the world is.

Furthermore, your claim that I am pissing off the "grassroots" is amusing for a couple of reasons. First, those who call themselves "grassroots" have a rather pathetic track record in terms of electing their self-touted "grassroots" candidates. Second, your implication that comments on a relatively obscure blog would somehow mobilize the pissed off "grassroots" and swing the election one way or another is flat out absurd and demonstrates a naiveté characteristic of those who buy all the hype about the political force of the "netroots." Sorry, but the "netroots" is still largely irrelevant as a force in American politics.

Finally, aside from yourself and a handful of others, there's very little interest in the internal politics of the Contra Costa CLC. Ultimately, this endorsement is insignificant in whole scheme of things.

10:24 PM, March 31, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to CF, we were not yet pissed off at the DCCC at the time we endorsed McNerney as it was the answers that Filson gave to our questions that's all. maybe we should release those questons and answers. and there is a connection with Ellen Tauscher and Pam Aguilar, furthermore you were not at our meeting and I was,so before you assume to know something talk to someone who was there. Gene Davenport E Board San Joaquin CLC

4:04 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger CF said...

""We were with McNerney in the last election," Davenport said. "We know what he stands for."

Davenport said he was upset the DCCC would arbitrarily anoint a candidate without discussing it with local labor groups first.

"They more or less said this is how it's going to be," he said. "I don't particularly like the way they think they can do business."

Sorry if I misinterpreted your quote in the Stockton Record. There was no mention of Steve Filson's comments, only the fact that McNerney ran in 2004, and that the DCCC was behind Filson.

5:22 PM, April 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The CCC CLC and Demo Central Committee have been engaged in these kinds of games for years. Their endorsement processes are a joke and that's one of the reasons they haven't been very succesful. Our brothers and sisters in labor need to make some real changes here but unfortunately our leaders don't have the guts.

4:05 PM, April 08, 2006  

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