Days before the Long Beach primary election on Tuesday, a local animal-advocacy group began raising questions regarding eleventh-hour endorsements by another animal-rights organization, as well as the connection between the latter group and an incumbent councilmember.
No Kill Long Beach (NKLB), formerly Stayin’ Alive Long Beach, an initiative whose ultimate goal is to make the city one that is “no kill” for healthy animals in the local shelter, released information last week that drew a link between the treasurer for Animal PAC, a group that identifies and endorses candidates who support the humane treatment of animals, and the treasurer for the campaign for 7th District Long Beach Councilmember Roberto Uranga.
While it is certainly not a crime for an individual to serve as treasurer for more than one entity, the concern, according to Patricia Turner, spokesperson for NKLB, is that Animal PAC appears to have endorsed several candidates– including Uranga, Mayor Robert Garcia and 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price– late in their campaigns, shortly before the election, in an effort to make those candidates appear animal-friendly.
It’s all about timing, according to Turner, considering these endorsements came shortly after her group released its guide for voters who care about candidates’ policies and priorities related to animal welfare and none of the three incumbents had scored well in NKLB’s rating system.
She also pointed out that Garcia had issued an email blast– from his City email address– just six days before the election, publicizing the progress the City has made in reducing euthanasia rates.
“In 2013, the year before I was elected, we were euthanizing more than 4,000 animals a year at our animal shelter,” Garcia wrote. “Since then, we have made progress every single year, and last year we euthanized 1,065 animals at the shelter. We are making progress thanks to our amazing animal rescue and spay/neuter organizations, our animal advocates, the team and volunteers at Animal Care Services and our city council.”
Garcia added that the work on that issue is not finished, that the City won’t stop until every possible life is saved and that every animal life is precious.
In several interviews with the Signal Tribune, Turner articulated why she views these actions as concerning.
“The problem is that, at the end of the campaign, we saw a flurry of activity from the incumbents as they rushed to secure the animal community’s votes: a last-minute task force from the mayor that could have been implemented four years ago; funding a spay/neuter event at the last minute from Suzie Price, who got her agenda item in under the wire on Tuesday morning, two days after our voter information guide came out,” Turner said. “And then you have these endorsements happening right after our voter information guide came out on March 18. Mayor Garcia and Councilman Uranga received their endorsements [from Animal PAC] on March 22, and Suzie Price received hers on April 2. It just seems obvious that this is an attempt coming at the eleventh hour to show themselves to be animal-friendly, when they have declined to implement the single most effective program that would save lives of animals at the shelter– an effective adoption program.”
Uranga’s camp, however, has pointed out that the treasurer for the councilmember’s campaign and Animal PAC– Gary Crummitt– also serves in that position for numerous others.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Celina Luna, Uranga’s chief of staff, said Crummitt is one of a very small pool of professional treasurers available in the city.
“He covers most of the elected officials in Long Beach, as well as the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club and a couple of the unions, so it’s really not surprising that we would share a treasurer, ” Luna said.
According to Luna, it is simply about compliance.
“To use the word ‘treasurer’ the way we use the word ‘treasurer’ is purely compliance,” Luna said. “Gary doesn’t have any say on how we spend our money or how the Animal PAC spends their money. It’s strictly compliance in turning in the forms to regulatory agencies. So, [there is] no correlation between Gary being the conduit to transfer money across these accounts. Gary is purely the person who does compliance for all of these entities.”
Luna said there are only two such treasurers in Long Beach, so the fact that Crummitt works for both the councilmember’s campaign and Animal PAC is merely a matter of availability.
“There’s only one other person in the game and one person who does it half-time,” Luna said. “So, if you have a compliance requirement like many of us do, you’d likely go to Gary or the other person or the person who does it half-time at their law firm. Just not many players in the game.”
In a phone interview thereafter, Crummitt essentially restated what Luna said regarding compliance.
“You have to understand the treasurer duties,” Crummitt said. “I serve as treasurer for over 200 political-action committees, which includes candidate committees. There are very few professional treasurers in the area, and sometimes some of the PACS make contributions or endorsements to my candidate. Now, all I do as the treasurer is compliance. I have no say on how the funds are raised or spent. There’s a principal officer of a political-action committee that makes those determinations. I take direction from my client.”
The Signal Tribune asked Crummitt how long he has served as treasurer for Animal PAC.
“They were previously with a law firm in Los Angeles, and then they transferred over to me,” he said. “Their state-local PAC I took over September of ‘17.”
When asked how long he has served in that capacity for Uranga’s campaign, Crummitt said he’s been treasurer for the councilmember since September 2013, working on both his 2014 and 2018 campaigns.
As for endorsements, Turner said NKLB’s research revealed that every candidate Animal PAC has supported over the roughly eight months since its Facebook page was established is a Democrat. According to Animal PAC’s website, it has endorsed US Senator Kevin de Leon, LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz, California State Senator Ben Allen, Assembly Member Adrin Nazarian, West Hollywood Councilmember John D’Amico and LA County Assessor Jeffrey Prang.
Turner explained that she herself is a Democrat and thus has no “ax to grind” regarding Animal PAC’s party affiliation.
“Looking at these facts, it appears that Animal PAC is a mechanism for making certain candidates appear animal-friendly in order to appeal to animal-loving voters, whether or not the candidates have a record of helping animals,” Turner said. “Animal PAC is also soliciting donations for these candidates from compassionate animal-lovers, and it’s not clear that this money is actually being used to help animals.”
In a phone interview Thursday morning, however, Animal PAC Executive Director Tony Hale explained that his organization sends invitations to many candidates, despite party affiliation, to reply to its questionnaire about animal-welfare policies, and, based on those responses, decides whether or not to endorse them.
When asked about the timing of Animal PAC’s endorsing Garcia, Price and Uranga just before Election Day, and on the heels of NKLB’s voter guide, Hale said he was not aware of the other animal-advocacy group’s ratings of candidates until after his own had made its endorsements. He said that he views NKLB’s candidate scoring system as a way for that group to affect the election indirectly.
“It’s trying to play a part in the election without being a political committee, which they have a right to do,” he said. “I’m just not sure what kind of entity they are. As far as the timing of the endorsement, we only endorse people who seek our endorsement and who complete a questionnaire. The first [Long Beach] candidate to complete a questionnaire was Uranga.”
Hale said Uranga submitted his responses on Jan. 25 and that Garcia and Price did so soon thereafter.
“We were eager to endorse [Long Beach incumbents] because of the progress that we had been following at the Long Beach shelter,” Hale said. “The Long Beach shelter had been making news on past improvements– 75 percent– on the amount of dogs that were destroyed at the shelter. That put Long Beach on our radar as a city experiencing success on our issues.”
No matter whether Animal PAC’s endorsements were indeed last-ditch efforts by some of Long Beach’s Democratic incumbents to be shown in a positive light for pet lovers or were simply several more in the ongoing list of endorsers that arise during a large city’s election season, Turner said her group just wants one thing.
“You know, when all is said and done, what we’ve been asking for here is an adoption program– just an adoption program at the city-run shelter, whose purpose is to put animals into loving homes and save their lives,” she said. “That’s really all it is for us– saving animals’ lives– and an effective adoption program would do that. The question is why do we still not have one and why were nearly 1,100 animals killed last year at the shelter when we and other animal advocates have been talking to the City about this issue for four years now? This really shouldn’t be controversial. We’re just trying to save lives here. It’s pretty simple, really.”