The answers are a secret paper trail left by politicians who have sought backing this year from the Service Employees International Union, one of the state’s most powerful labor groups. The union won’t share the completed documents with the public. But it will pull out candidate’s responses later when they cast votes as lawmakers.
“We do bring the questionnaire back out and remind them that when they were running, they told our members x, y and z,” said Alma Hernandez, SEIU’s political director.
“So there is an expectation that they vote [that way].”
Questionnaires from interest groups are a staple of electoral politics. They’re used by unions and business interests and others across the political spectrum, from gun-rights and anti-abortion groups on the right to environmental and gay-rights groups on the left.
The surveys can help sift a field of contestants as decisions are made about how to spend big campaign money. SEIU poured $14.3 million into California campaigns in 2014, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and only a handful of Democrats were elected without the union’s support.
By locking potential legislators into a position before they’re even elected, questionnaires may also influence policy-making in a way that excludes the public and raises ethical questions. Out of view from voters, they can create private covenants between soon-to-be public officials and the groups that will lobby them.