Did Valero Pay for It? How Can I Tell?
How to tell who paid for the political mailer, call or ad that you received.
The “Progress for Benicia” PAC is primarily funded by Valero Energy.
If you see or hear “Progress for Benicia” or “Working Families” in a mailer, robocall or online ad, Valero was its top funder.
Benicians deserve to know who sent them political material, and perhaps even more importantly, who paid for it. Whether it’s a glossy, full-page mailer in your mailbox, a call on your phone or a Facebook ad, these materials were designed and paid for by people with an agenda.
That agenda is to get you to vote for who they want you to vote for.
Fortunately, California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) as well as city, county and state legislation require that every piece of political material you receive include the name of both the group that designed and sent it (usually a PAC) and the top funder behind that group (unless the amount spent was under $2,000).
Unfortunately, these groups can make these disclosures in very, very fine print or very quickly at the beginning and end of robocalls.
With mailers, look for a phrase that describes the group that paid for the mailer, and near that should be a list of the top funders of that group.
In the last several elections, the “Working Families” PAC paid political firms big bucks to design and mail out glossy double-sided mailers.
The problem? Candidates can’t spend more than around $30,000 on their campaigns. And mailers are expensive, usually costing tens of thousands of dollars.
This means that candidates can’t possibly send out as many mailers to rebut or address the many claims the “Progress for Benicia”or “Working Families” PACs make across the many mailers they can afford to send. This creates a massively unfair situation in which the PAC can flood Benicia’s mailboxes with as much material as they like, knowing candidates and their local supporters can’t possibly rebut or address them.
ADS FROM 2022
In late October 2022, Valero’s PAC mailed Benicians an ad supporting candidates Lionel Largaespada and Christina Strawbridge with big pictures of Mayor Steve Young and Vice-Mayor Tom Campbell on their mailer.
The PAC’s intention in doing could have been to make a case for Benicia City Council to stay as it is, but the outcome is pretty misleading because it makes it look like Mayor Young and Vice-Mayor Campbell endorsed Largaespada and Strawbridge, when they did not. (They endorsed candidates Kari Birdseye and Terry Scott.)
This ad was so misleading that one benefiting candidate issued a statement to help Benicians get the facts straight!
So how can we tell who sent these mailers, and who paid for them?
This is an example of a real mailer the “Progress for Benicia” PAC sent Benicians in 2022. The PAC is not hiding that it is behind this mailer, but it is not very easy to see that Valero is their top funder.
It is important to note that the images above were enlarged substantially to aid you in reading the fine print. In reality, the fine print is much, much smaller than many Benician residents can easily read.
On a full-page mailer, which is about 8 1/2 x 11 inches, the beige disclosure bar is just 1 inch in height.
The word “Valero” is less than 1/4 inch tall, smaller than an average pinky nail. It's there, but it’s tiny.
The full-page mailer shown here is a scan of a real attack ad from 2020 that targeted a Benicia mayoral candidate who Valero considered hostile to its business interests. It is one side of a two-sided mailer. The side that is not shown does not include similar disclosures.
The PAC Valero funds is entitled to design and send political mailers, but it seems by the font sizes used here that they didn’t want it to be obvious it was paid for by a major company based in Texas.
Learn more from the California Clean Money Action Fund about how PACs and their major funders get around or manipulate disclosure requirements as well as important legislative efforts to close loopholes here.
With robocalls, it is a little harder to find out who is calling or who funded the calls. Sometimes, these robocalls blur the lines between conducting a genuine poll vs. phone banking on behalf of a candidate.
Here are some ways you identify who is calling and determine if they are connected to Valero.
The “Working Families” PAC uses scripted robocalls. It pays expensive, out-of-state consultants and firms to develop a leading line of questioning with the ultimate goal of getting you to vote for Valero’s preferred candidates.
The PAC then farms the actual process of calling through other out-of-state firms and companies. Election laws require the PAC to file copies of these scripts locally, so we have verbatim questions and examples of how callers try to persuade you to vote for Valero’s preferred candidates.
Click the ˯ to read a call script the “Working Families” PAC used in the 2020 election.
It is important to note that the centers “Working Families” pays to conduct these calls are not local. The callers are paid. They do not live in Benicia and it is unclear that they know anything about Benicia, at all.
The scripts even have to tell robocallers how to pronounce Benicia.
As with mailers, the robocalls must disclose the group that paid for the calls, and who their top funder is.
If you hear “Progress for Benicia” or “Working Families” during the call, Valero is the primary funder of that call.