California state Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (L) and California state Senator Marty Block (R). Credit: courtesy photos.
California state Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (L) and California state Senator Marty Block (R). Credit: courtesy photos.
Election 2016_v3

State Senator Marty Block and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins will be fighting for the same voters next June but they’re fighting for the same donors right now.

The two Democrats, who are facing off over Block’s senate seat, have shared plenty of donors over the years, according to an inewsource analysis of campaign finance data.

[one_half][highlight]On the radio…[/highlight]

[box type=”shadow this-matters”]Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and state Senator Marty Block, who are facing off over the latter’s senate seat, have shared plenty of donors over the years. Who those donors—among them some of the most well-heeled of California’s interest groups—end up backing could go a long way in determining which Democrat gets to stay in Sacramento.[/box][/one_half]

[simple_tooltip content=’Click here for a note on our methodology.’][anchor name=”methodology”]At least 27.6 percent[/anchor][/simple_tooltip] of the money Block has raised in itemized contributions (those donations for which individual contributor information must be disclosed) has come from donors who have also given to Atkins.

Atkins, who is prevented from seeking another term in the Assembly due to term limits, is even more reliant on shared contributors: 43.2 percent of the money the speaker has raised has come from donors who have also given to Block.

The analysis covers campaign contributions from Block’s first run for state Assembly in 2008 and Atkins’ first run in 2010 through June 30 of this year.

The senator said he expected many of the donors he shares with Atkins to rally around him in this current race.


“If it were a private company doing something like that, it’d be called bait-and-switch.”—State Sen. Marty Block

“A lot of those overlapping donors—many who are loyal to me—gave to her 2020 account and were kind of misled not thinking she’d be running against me in 2016. So, it was not a bad strategy on her part,” Block said, referencing a campaign account Atkins set up in preparation for an expected run to succeed Block when he is termed out in 2020. “I’m sure it was effective at getting people who overlapped to give her money, thinking we were not running against each other.”

When asked whether he believed it was deceptive of Atkins to open a 2020 account for eventual use in a 2016 run against him, Block replied:

“I think your listeners can decide that for themselves. If it were a private company doing something like that, it’d be called bait-and-switch.”

In a written statement, Atkins pushed back.

“This isn’t about money, no matter what Marty says. He can boast about the money he is going to raise all he wants, but it really comes down to who the voters want to represent them—and I’ll gladly match my record of fighting for San Diego against his,” she said. “It’s amusing that Marty speaks of a ‘bait-and-switch’—because that’s exactly what he did by telling me he wouldn’t run for re-election four years ago.”

The speaker has claimed that she passed on running for the seat in 2012 because Block had promised to only serve one term. Block denies making any such promise.

DonorContributions to BlockContributions to AtkinsRank Among Atkins Donors
California Teachers Association$45,600.00$35,600.006
Service Employees International Union Local 1000$45,600.00$16,400.0035
State Building & Construction Trades Council of California$43,000.00$46,400.003
Faculty for our University’s Future (California Faculty Association)$41,600.00$17,900.0031
California State Council of Laborers PAC$41,200.00$28,100.0010

Source: California Secretary of State

Fishing in the same pond

Block will need to secure the support of those donors soon. He badly trails Atkins in available cash-on-hand.

As of June 30, Atkins had more than $610,000 in her 2020 campaign committee — all of which she can use in her run against Block, who had just under $80,000. Atkins also has more than $920,000 left over from her 2014 campaign — a portion of which she can transfer to this race.

Block said he wasn’t fundraising earlier in the year because he didn’t know Atkins would challenge him.

“They’re largely fishing not only in the same pond but in the same favored fishing spot in the same pond.”—Professor Carl Luna

“The 80 figure is from July 1 and that was well before I knew I had a (competitive) campaign,” Block said, predicting he’d raise “a million dollars and more for this race.”

Block raised nearly $900,000 for his 2012 Senate run (a race in which he won more than 58 percent of the vote).

Carl Luna, a professor of political science at San Diego Mesa College, said the overlap in the candidates’ donor pools comes primarily from the organized interest groups that have long been generous givers to Democrats.

“They’re largely fishing not only in the same pond but in the same favored fishing spot in the same pond,” Luna said. “It’s where Democrats statewide go to get their core money and then they raise their additional monies. They’re looking at labor unions. They’re looking at high-end business donors and then they have their own networks.”

Of the donors Block shares with Atkins, the five largest are labor unions. Of the donors Atkins shares with Block, three of her five largest are unions.

DonorContributions to AtkinsContributions to BlockRank Among Block Donors
California Dental PAC$49,900.00$39,333.547
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—CA People$48,300.00$22,800.0024
State Building & Construction Trades Council of California$46,400.00$43,000.003
Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters Political Action Fund$36,600.00$35,500.0010
California Real Estate PAC$36,400.00$9,800.0048

Source: California Secretary of State

Part of the electoral process

inewsource reached out to several of each candidate’s largest shared donors. Only one, Faculty for our University’s Future, agreed to speak about the race on the record.

The political action committee sponsored by the California Faculty Association has been a major donor to both candidates.

It has given $41,600 to Marty Block over the years, contributing $3,000 this current cycle. The PAC made the maximum $16,400 contribution to Toni Atkins in 2014 (and has given her a total of $17,900 over the course of her state legislative campaigns).

Director of Governmental Relations Djibril Diop said the CFA—a labor union representing professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches at the California State University System—has yet to decide which candidate, if either, to back.

“We’ve been working here at the Faculty Association for many years with both of those candidates and pretty proudly,” said Diop. “This is something that has come as a new development and we are at this point just going to go through our process,” he said, adding that he intended to consult soon with members of the union’s San Diego chapter.

Luna says that unlike races where real ideological differences have encouraged primary challenges (pointing to East County’s Dianne Jacob-Joel Anderson race as an example), Atkins and Block are almost ideological clones.

“I can’t think of where it’s happened—where people who are ideologically the same are running for the same seat,” said Luna.

When asked whether it was frustrating to see two legislative allies duking it out instead of focusing their energies on elected officials less amenable to the interests of his union’s members, the CFA’s Diop laughed.

“You know it’s hard for me in my position to be frustrated by many things nowadays,” Diop said. “So, no, I think this is part of the electoral process. I think there’s always a conversation to be had with your voters.”

[anchor type=”target” name=”methodology”]A note on our methodology[/anchor]

Determining all the instances of giving by a particular donor can be challenging. In some cases, a donor will list different addresses or occupations when making contributions. In other cases, the name of a business might be spelled slightly differently in different instances (or simply misspelled). Even tracking contributions by political action committees that are assigned unique ID numbers can be complicated, as some large organizations (such as labor unions) will control multiple PACs that make donations. As such, the figures in this story tallying the proportion of money donated by entities that have given to both candidates should be regarded as minimums.

Joe Yerardi is a freelance data journalist for inewsource, where he worked between 2013 and 2016 as an investigative reporter and data specialist. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email