With just days to go before the June primary, the Peninsula’s District 21 Assembly race has reached a boiling point as frontrunners Giselle Hale and Diane Papan each look to secure a spot to advance in the general election this November.
Despite a crowded field of candidates to replace Assemblymember Kevin Mullin, who’s seeking election to Congress, the two have dominated in political spending, showering voters with mailers, online and TV ads.
But it’s been Hale’s campaign that’s been most heavily subjected to attacks, which have sought to associate her with former President Donald Trump in addition to calling her beholden to Big Tech, among other claims. And while some of the material has been the product of independent expenditure committees, a website called HaleandTrump.com and at least one mailer insinuating Hale is Trump-aligned are the direct product of Papan’s campaign.
The most prominent attack from Hale’s campaign is a video claiming Papan received major funding from big oil interests and Pacific Gas and Electric, something Papan firmly denies.
Hale raised $727,319 to run her campaign while Papan’s raised $535,481, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office. Those figures, however, don’t account for “dark money” — that which flows into nonprofit groups that are not required to disclose all their donors, yet are responsible for some of the advertising in the race.
Papan is in the top 10 beneficiaries of such spending in the state for the primary election, with $1.2 million spent both to support her and oppose Hale, according to a CalMatters analysis. But Papan said she has “no authority” over the spending, and attempts to connect it to her are a “calculated political ploy.”
“I’m concerned, certainly about the tenor of some of the [independent expenditures] from all sides of this race, it’s one of the things I’m going to work on in Sacramento,” she said.
Hale is a former Facebook executive, and her campaign has received hundreds of thousands in donations from those employed by Meta and other tech companies, state records show. As referenced by Papan’s campaign, she auditioned for Trump’s reality show in “The Apprentice” in 2005, when she was in her 20s (and Trump was a Democrat).
Papan’s campaign further points out that Hale’s voter registration was listed as “no party preference” between 2014 and 2018, something Hale attributed to a clerical error made after her first child was born and she decided to change her legal documents to adopt her husband’s last name.
When asked if she felt Hale shared political similarities to Trump, Papan responded that she was “drawing a distinction” between her candidacy and one of her opponents. Hale is generally held to be running to the left of Papan.
“The fact is, I’ve been a lifelong Democrat without any change to my voter registration,” said Papan. “When I submitted my declaration of candidacy to the Secretary of State, I could state that honestly. One of my opponents couldn’t do that.”
Hale called the assertion “unconscionable and egregious and slanderous,” and said that she was “doing much more for democracy and the Democratic Party” than Papan was at the time “including leading the Trump resistance.”
“But really the intent there is to lie, and that is wrong. You don’t want leaders who are willing to do and say whatever it takes to win, you want people with integrity,” Hale said.
A mailer paid for by the California Association of Realtors and the California Apartment Association, among others, features photos of Hale and Trump and claims Hale took money from “Big Tech who give extremists like Trump a platform for misinformation.”
Other anti-Hale mailers are paid for by the Future PAC, with backing from Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy Committee, a group that’s received money from Chevron, PG&E, Amazon and Walmart, among others.
Responding to whether she would denounce the independent expenditure material, Papan said that “was up to the voters to decide.”
“What I really denounce is hypocrisy, and my opponent sought out the help and support of these very stakeholders that she’s now wanting me to denounce,” she said.
Hale said she did make a phone call to the California Apartment Association earlier in her campaign, a group that represents landlords in the state, but did not pursue an endorsement. As for tech backing, “tech is the number one employer in this district,” she said. “So my donations, coming from real people and many of them work in the district, says something.”
She said she had not taken any money from tech companies themselves, and that she is deeply committed to privacy in the industry. “I’m going to be best able to manage those concerns, because I understand the technology and I’m going to know how to have those conversations,” she said.
“The irony is [Papan] is the only one that indirectly received actual Big Tech funding, but it’s dark money, and that the goal is to hide it so people don’t really see what’s happening,” she said. “I’m very much relying on the intelligence of the voters in our community, people being able to smell something suspicious when they see it.”
The others in the race are South San Francisco Councilmember James Coleman, community college board Trustee Maurice Goodman, Green Party Candidate Tania Solé, Republican Mark Gilham and attorney Allison Madden.
California’s primary will be held June 7, narrowing the field to two candidates. The general election will be held Nov. 8.
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