Victoria Rusnak got taught a lesson in politics California-style on Tuesday: Ordinary citizens, even those with wealth and success in the private sector, are not welcome in the halls of the state capitol.
Rusnak ran for the state’s 41st Assembly District centered in Pasadena because after years of standing on the sidelines and watching things go from bad to worse, she thought it was time for her to try to do something about it.
It’s not like she needed a job, or had nothing better to do. She is an attorney and president of the family’s group of highly successfully luxury car dealerships, so she could afford to put $350,000 of her own money into the campaign while raising $130,000 more from family, friends and business associates — many of whom are car dealers like herself.
“I ran because California is in a crisis and we need people from the private sector to make a difference because the politicians can’t or won’t get it done,” she said on Wednesday, a day after voters had spoken.
With more than enough money to run an aggressive professional campaign, Rusnak jumped into the race in February and instantly was seen as the main threat to the Democratic Party’s favored candidate, Pasadena City Councilman Chris Holden, the son of former state senator and Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden.
Chris Holden had very little money in his campaign war chest at the time because he, like so many Democrats, was a victim of Kinde Durkee, the party’s go-to treasurer in Burbank who was caught embezzling millions of dollars from candidates, including $121,000 from Holden.
The political money machine came to Holden’s rescue and over the next four months poured so much money into his campaign that he was able to come out on top Tuesday. That means he’s all but certain of winning the November runoff against tea party activist Donna Lowe. Rusnak, meanwhile, was relegated to a fifth-place finish in a field of five, with 13% of the vote.
You don’t have to be an investigative reporter to follow the money and see how it happened. You can look for yourself at the Secretary of State’s Cal-Access website.
What you will see is that from March on, virtually every union in the region and a long list of developers, builders, bankers, insurers, Indian casinos and corporations looking for favors in Sacramento gave up to the maximum $3,900 contribution to Holden.
And for good measure, a political action committee that calls itself the Alliance for California’s Tomorrow funded nearly $90,000 worth of last-minute attack mailings aimed at Rusnak.
Alliance for California’s Tomorrow — nothing more than an slush fund for special interests — is the brainchild of Sacramento Republican consultant Jim Nygren, who raised $698,000 so far this year to successfully influence the outcomes of three races, all of them to help candidates endorsed by the Democratic Party: Holden, state Sen. Rod Wright in the South Bay’s 35th District, and Raul Bocanegra in the northeast San Fernando Valley’s 39th Assembly District.
The money for Alliance for California’s Tomorrow’s independent expenditures came from dentists and eye surgeons, Blue Shield, the Farm Bureau, the Personal Insurance Federation, real estate and developer interests, apartment owners, even a labor union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Most of those special interests overlap with those who contributed directly to Holden . . .
(READ FULL STORY at PASADENA SUN and other LA Times Community Newspapers)