A political action committee mostly backed by Valero Energy is poised to pump $232,000 into the upcoming Benicia City Council race, according to the PAC’s campaign disclosure statement.

Working Families for a Strong Benicia has contributed thousands to past races, including the 2020 mayoral race, in which the PAC donated $250,000 to try to defeat candidate Steve Young, who ended up defeating the PAC’s preferred candidate.

However, in 2018, Valero-backed candidates Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada were both elected to the City Council.

Now Young is being vocal about Valero’s cash possibly influencing this year’s council race.

“Here we go again,” began the mayor’s Facebook post, which he says he put up last weekend “not as mayor, but rather as an interested Benicia resident and voter.”

“There is only one purpose in making such a huge expenditure nine months before the election: to scare off any potential city council candidate who would consider running without first getting Valero’s stamp of approval. What candidate is willing to go up against that kind of war chest?”

“Usually, this level of over-the-top spending is confined to national and statewide elections, not in small towns like Benicia.”

Mayor Steve Young

Young believes that Valero attempted to defeat his mayoral candidacy based partly on his rejection of a proposed crude-by-rail initiative that the energy company pushed in 2016 when he was on the city’s planning commission.

Valero is the town’s largest employer and has a strong philanthropic presence, but Young has been vocal about the energy giant’s big cash infusion to local politics.

“They should have the same right as any company or individual to support the candidate(s) of their choice,” Young wrote. “But they should still play by the same rules that apply to everyone else under campaign finance regulations.”

Young argues that Valero or any of its employees can contribute up to $540 to the candidate of their choice, but that candidates in Benicia are only allowed to spend $35,000 on a campaign.

The mayor points to the Citizens United v. FEC ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows corporations to contribute unlimited funds to campaigns.

“Usually, this level of over-the-top spending is confined to national and statewide elections, not in small towns like Benicia,” Young wrote. “But Valero’s size and wealth gives them the belief that they can pick and choose who should be our elected representatives.”

Valero did not respond to a request for comment.

Young has made a public plea that all candidates for City Council this year “publicly, vociferously, and repeatedly” reject support from the PAC.

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.