With Labor Day and the traditional campaign kickoff date approaching, the 37th Assembly District race between Republican Jeff Gorell of Camarillo and Democrat Ferial Masry of Newbury Park has kicked into gear.
For starters, Masry is asking that Gorell return $16,000 in oil-industry contributions, including a $1,000 donation from the British Petroleum North America Employee PAC, based in Houston. BP, of course, is the oil company that owns the Deepwater Horizon platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico this spring, kicking off the worst oil spill in American history.
"I hope Jeff Gorell recognizes that BP's money is no good in California and that he gives it back," Masry says in a press release. "Jeff, what did you promise them? Please don't tell me it's Channel Islands Harbor or the beautiful beaches of Malibu."
Gorell is having none of it. He said today he has no intention of returning any contributions. The fact that BP gave him $1,000 in November 2009, he said, indicates the company was "endorsing my ideas and not necessarily my endorsement of them."
The money was contributed months before the spill. Asked whether he would now accept money from a BP-affiliated group, Gorell said: "There is a complexity of responsibilities for what happened in the Gulf. I'm not going to begin that judgmental process."
In addition, Gorell said if he believed there was any sort of connection between a candidate's potential policy positions and his or her campaign contributors, he might make an issue of the fact that, in 2004, Masry received $250 from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group that some have said has ties with Hamas and whose contributions have been returned recently by prominent politicians including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Masry's campaign consultant Steven Afriat said Gorell is bringing up "six-year-old information. She has not taken any money from them in this campaign."
He noted that Gorell's advocacy firm included clients in the oil industry. "If he would like to disclose all the income he received from his clients in 2004, we could discuss it. How can he not be beholden to them? He pays his mortgage with oil industry money."
Meanwhile, Gorell released to me a memorandum summarizing a poll conducted for his campaign Aug. 23-25. The memo from pollster James Fisfis says that interviews with 411 likely voters, weighted for partisan affiliation, geography and gender, shows Gorell with a 45 percent to 32 percent lead. It notes, however, that Masry, who has run three times before, starts out with higher name-identification than Gorell.
Afriat said he is "very skeptical" of the poll's findings. "I'm always suspicious when people release private polls," he said.