The best Council PAC money can buy

If either incumbent Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C. or Bonta aide-de-camp Jim Oddie, or both, manages to get elected to Council next week, there are five men to whom they owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

Their names are Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

Recognize them?  They’re the five Justices of the United States Supreme Court, all of them appointed by Republican presidents, who signed the majority opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the case in which the Court held it was unconstitutional to limit spending by political action committees on behalf of candidates.

Our friends on the left have denounced Citizens United as giving moneyed interests the ability to “buy elections” for conservative candidates.  But two can play that game.  And in Alameda they have – for the benefit of Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie.  And a down-and-dirty game it has become.

As usual, Michele Ellson of The Alamedan has done a thorough job of analyzing the campaign disclosure reports filed by local candidates.  Among other things, the filings show that:

  • Through October 18, the date of last regular pre-election filing, the IAFF Local 689 PAC paid $14,042.42 to a political consulting firm and $2,113.17 to a printer for a mailer touting Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie (as well as four other candidates – including Mayor Marie Gilmore – and two ballot measures).
  • Since then, the firefighters’ union PAC put up another $8,872.64 to print and distribute a letter signed by IAFF Local 689 president Jeff DelBono claiming Mr. Oddie had saved Alameda Hospital.
  • During the same period, PACs run by other unions – primarily from outside Alameda – contributed $12,800 in cash to the Oddie campaign (and $2,500 to the Chen campaign)
  • Through October 18, an entity called “Golden State Leadership Fund PAC” spent $21,611.82 backing Councilman Chen’s re-election bid.  The expenses included a mailer crediting the Councilman for results that occurred before he even took office.  Indeed, it appears to be based on a list once found on Dr. Chen’s Website that disappeared after the Merry-Go-Round took it apart.
  • The same outfit then dropped $14,000 on a mailer claiming – falsely – that former Councilman and current candidate Frank Matarrese was “using a loophole in the law” to run again for Council.  It urged voters to “TELL MATARRESE TO PLAY BY THE RULES” – and to vote for Dr. Chen.
  • A few day before the Golden State PAC slander-pander hit the doorsteps, an entity called “Alameda County Business and Technology Consortium 2014” sent out its own mailer falsely attacking Mr. Matarrese’s eligibility to run for Council.  This one urged voters to “Say NO to Termed-Out Candidate Frank Matarrese!!” and “Say YES to Jim Oddie & Stewart Chen.”  Because the “Consortium” has not filed any of the legally required disclosures, it is unknown how much this mailer cost.

The spending by the IAFF Local 689 PAC comes as no surprise.

In the 2010 election, the firefighters’ union PAC spent $10,207.24 on a mailer promoting the IAFF Local 689 slate (Gilmore, Bonta and Tam) and another $9,385.83 on a letter signed by then Local 689 president Dom Weaver assailing Mayoral candidate Doug DeHaan.  (This was in addition to cash contributions to Ms. Gilmore, Mr. Bonta, and Ms. Tam totaling $18,300).

In 2012, the PAC paid $15,845.17 for a mailer supporting its endorsed candidates for Council and the Hospital and School Boards.  In addition, a week before the election, it put up another $10,000 for “mail drop pieces” supporting Dr. Chen.

Nor is it surprising that the other union PACS are pumping cash into the Oddie, and to a lesser extent, Chen campaigns.  After all, Mr. Oddie is the self-proclaimed champion of the working family.  As for Dr. Chen, well, he has a track record of taking money from anyone who’ll give it to him.

The spending by the Golden State PAC and the “Consortium” is a whole other matter.  Indeed, it raises precisely the kind of issues that concern the opponents of Citizens United.

First, just who are these guys?

The Golden State PAC lists an address on South Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles on its campaign filings.  Having checked the state records, The Alamedan described the PAC as a “veritable dumping ground for cash from unions, Pacific Gas & Electric, Indian gaming tribes and others.”

The other mysterious entity, “Alameda County Business and Technology Consortium 2014,” listed an address in Oakland that, according to The Alamedan, is the same as the address of “an Oakland accounting firm that does political work.”  This time,  however, a check of state records revealed no disclosures of either contributions or expenditures by the “Consortium.”

In any event, it is probably safe to conclude that neither the Golden State PAC nor the “Consortium” is an Alameda-based organization.  Not that it would be unusual to find Dr. Chen or Mr. Oddie relying on outside money to fund their campaigns.

Indeed, the campaign disclosures filed by the two candidates show that, of a total of $40,604.88 in itemized cash contributions, Dr. Chen has raised only $5,500 from Alameda individuals or businesses.  (And even that amount includes $1,000 from his wife’s business, $500 from his friend Jeff Cambra – whom Dr. Chen got appointed to “facilitate” a “community process” for discussing rents – and $100 from Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s mother).

The breakdown for Mr. Oddie is even less Alameda-oriented.  Of $40,150 in itemized cash contributions, he received $3,600 from Alameda individuals or businesses (including $100 from Dr. Chen, and – of course – $100 from Ms. Bonta).

(Note: These figures have been updated to reflect contributions received before July 1, 2014).

But here’s the thing:  Neither Dr. Chen nor Mr. Oddie disclosed any contributions – monetary or non-monetary – received from the Golden State PAC or the “Consortium.” This means that these two groups supposedly made “independent expenditures” – i.e., they acted on their own or, at least, not “at the behest of” the candidate.

Which raises the second question:  What do these guys want?

Or to put it another way:  Why are these two outfits interested in a City Council election in Alameda in the first place?  And why have they picked Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie to be the beneficiaries of their big bucks?

In a way, the local situation is worse than the national one.  At least we know the agenda the Koch brothers are promoting when they spend money on ads for conservative candidates.  And we know – or suspect – how the Koch brothers expect those candidates to vote if they’re elected.

But the reason the Golden State PAC and the “Consortium” chose to thrust themselves into the middle of the Alameda Council race remains a mystery.  We don’t know the goals these groups are trying to accomplish – other than electing Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie, and definitely not Frank Matarrese, to Council.  And we don’t know what they expect Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie to do for them if they succeed.

Frankly, hidden agendas make us nervous.  And we are even more troubled by how the PACs are spending their money.

To begin with, the letter sent out by the firefighters’ union crediting Mr. Oddie for saving Alameda Hospital strikes us as more than just a little hyperbolic.  As we previously have pointed out, Mr. Oddie twice tried – and failed – to get appointed to the Hospital Board.  As a consolation prize after his initial failure, the Board gave him a seat on the Hospital finance committee, but, as The Alamedan reported Wednesday, he “only showed up for three of 10 meetings in 2012 for which minutes were posted online, and had been off the committee a good six months before hospital managers announced they were negotiating what was being hailed as a life-saving affiliation deal with Alameda Health System, in June of 2013.”

But we realize that Mr. Oddie has a dearth of accomplishments of which to boast, and if the IAFF Local 689 president wants to paint him as the savior of the Hospital, well, it’s not the most outrageous thing Capt. DelBono has ever done.

We cannot be so charitable about the attacks on Mr. Matarrese.

Matarrese hit piece 1

The “Alameda County Business and Technology Consortium 2014” hit piece

The two hit pieces do not take him to task for any of the positions he has advocated during the campaign.  No, the assault is on a purely peripheral matter.  It is almost as if, lacking any substantive basis for criticizing Mr. Matarrese, his assailants sought the flimsiest grounds they could find from which to sling their mud.

Matarrese hit piece 2

The “Golden State Leadership Fund PAC” hit piece

Mr. Matarrese was elected to Council in 2002 and served two consecutive four-year terms.  Under the City’s term limits rules, he was eligible to run again after sitting out the next election.  Which is what he did, just as Councilman Tony Daysog, also a two-term Councilman, had done in 2012.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  But that’s not what the anti-Matarrese mailers paid for by the Golden State PAC and the “Consortium” would have voters believe.  Instead, they suggest that Mr. Matarrese is breaking the law by running again.  Let us put it as bluntly as we can:  This is complete and total bullshit.

The risk is, some voters may buy it anyway.  It’s not that Alamedans are stupid; it’s that most people probably don’t know what the term limits rules actually say.  And if the flyer appears to have some connection with the Alameda County Democratic party or Labor Council – and the mailer sent by the “Consortium” refers to these organizations by name – even fair-minded people might think it’s got to be true.

Again, unfortunately, the local situation may be worse than the national one.  If the right-wingers were to put out a brochure repeating the “birther” lie about President Obama, you can be sure that not just the cable networks but social media would be quick to debunk it – and to condemn those responsible.  But The Alamedan is our only online news outlet, and it doesn’t reach everybody.  There simply is no effective way to get the truth widely disseminated with only a few days remaining before the election.

We hope that Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie are as curious as we are about the identity and motivation of their “independent” supporters.  After all, Justice Roberts and his colleagues may have made it possible for the PACs to infect the local political process, but it’s the secret operatives behind the Golden State PAC and the “Consortium” who are wielding the hypodermic with the poison.  Surely, if Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie win, they will want to know who else is responsible for their victory.


The campaign disclosure statements for all of the candidates are posted on the City Website:

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
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13 Responses to The best Council PAC money can buy

  1. Denise Lai says:

    Reblogged this on Raising Hell For Good and commented:
    On Tuesday, vote against Pay-to-Play Politics.

  2. Michele Ellson pointed toward the culprits behind the Golden-State-PAC-funded mailers when she wrote that it is a dumping ground for cash. The PAC itself doesn’t really care one way or the other about Alameda, they’re just a vehicle for dirty politics. Interest groups with a financial interest in the future of Alameda would be the only parties with a good reason to secretly pour cash into Alameda’s municipal election. The likely source of the funds are unions concerned about member contributions to retirement benefits being increased, and unions concerned about construction jobs at Alameda Point if development does not proceed with haste. The character of the mailers says a lot about the character of local and regional union leaders.

    And when Stewart Chen and Jim Oddie say they did not authorize the mailers, well, it may be plausible denial. But the world of backroom political money laundering is relatively well-known among insiders, and Chen and Oddie have ties to all of the insiders. About two phone calls would tell them who wrote the checks. Maybe they will tell us, if they get elected due to this secret cash.

  3. Adam Gillitt says:

    I really do not understand where the firefighters get the chutzpah to tell us they know what is best for Alameda. Most importantly, THEY work for US. Even worse, few to none of them live here, and everything they demand is with no regard to the detriment to finances of the City, just toys and baubles to bolster their egos. Why has the current council taken out a $5 million loan to build a “emergency command center” on Grand St. that we the people resoundingly voted against? And why isn’t that money being spent on actual disaster planning instead of ff daycare?

    It’s great to see more and more people realizing the ff’s are just a bunch of spoiled brats, hoping to suck the teat dry before the City’s corpse drops. Sadly, until the whole populace wises up to this toxic bullshit, they’re going to keep getting away with whatever they want.

  4. A Neighbor says:

    A motive for the Big Money?

    There’s gold to be made in Alameda Point. Whoever controls Alameda City Hall (and their allies in Sacramento) control development at Alameda Point. It is the premier spot on the west coast of the United States.

  5. notmayberry says:

    I am very glad you provided the actual mailers, since I did not receive either one. I only received one negative mailing in the gilmore-tam-bonta election as well, though I hear there were many others, Perhaps this is because I am not registered as a democrat.
    These mailings only reinforce that Stewart Chen has not turned away from the deceit that brought about his prior felony conviction. Give him another chance? Not this time!
    Alameda has enough corruption in office from the Un-convicted.

  6. notmayberry says:

    PS; Vote YES on 45 [keep health insurance rates down!]; NO on 46. Thank You.

  7. notmayberry says:

    “But the reason the Golden State PAC and the “Consortium” chose to thrust themselves into the middle of the Alameda Council race remains a mystery.” Maybe this will help: Kal Krishnan, who runs a construction management firm with offices near Lake Merritt, as well as statewide; is a big contributor to Golden State PAC. and

    KKCS World has big contracts with BART, transportation management, and…modernization of LAUSD School Facilities [think Measure I funds…] . Check it out, Bob!

  8. Joel Rambaud says:

    At the last elections the firefighters were driving around removing signs for Dehaan and Matarrese , I wonder why ????
    They come around telling you that Alameda is a great place to leave , yet the same Captain Weaver went on the record to say they could not afford to leave in Alameda , but they can leave in Alamo , Danville , Moraga , Lafayette , San Ramon , certainly much cheaper real estate than Alameda …..All of them outside of the required response time required to answer Alameda Emergency , This is why the Oakland Fire Dept all the way down to Fremont have a joke , let’s bail out Alameda’s sassy’s a BBQ and donut fire .
    According to some they even ask the City Manager to merge together because they spend almost as much time in Alameda than Oakland.

  9. Darcy Morrison says:

    I’ve been wondering what it would cost to buy City Hall outright, now the city council is virtually bought and paid for. We have machine politics, operating with outright impunity, and why not, who’s going to stop it? Voters here are well informed though, they follow the issues, and maybe we’ll start to see some backlash. One can only hope.

    With regard to any distance from these “independent expenditures” — Golden State Leadership Fund contributed heavily to Bonta’s assembly campaign, so clearly their identity is not a secret. A variant of the “Business and Technology Consortium” existed earlier, as a funding source for local campaigns, and it’s no doubt familiar to the local pols — including unions, labor council, democratic committees. So none of this is a secret to anybody involved, and claims of innocence are just bs. And thank you to Mr. Sullwold for his apt summation above.

  10. notmayberry says:

    I spoke too soon. I arrived home yesterday to find both of the above Frank-bashing flyers in my mailbox. And Last Night, as the East Bay Bicycle Coalition went by and Alameda Haunts! was judging Hallowe’en displays on my block, one of my Trish lawn signs was stolen. That is the second Trish sign, of the 3 I put up, that has been taken. Sheesh. No tolerance for free speech in this town.

  11. David says:

    Shawn Wilson, of Alliance Campaign Strategies – which features Alameda City Hall on its website – and which has been tied in the past to Alameda operatives like Doug Linney, and Royce Kelly, and the Alameda County Central Democratic Committee – is recorded as giving $20,000 to the Golden State Leadership Fund PAC, per filings on the Secretary of State website.

    Wilson is also chief of staff to Alice Lai-Bitker, our county supervisor.

    Of course, it’s not possible to prove that Wilson earmarked his $20K for hit pieces on Frank Matarrese – that’s the entire point of the Golden State Leadership Fund. But it’s a good guess.

    According to the BANG Salary Database, Wilson’s base comp as Lai-Bitker’s Chief of Staff is $108K.

    Funny he would commit almost 20% of his salary to a political donation. Or is it really someone else’s money?

  12. notmayberry says:

    So, Golden State Leadership PAC is basically Money Laundering for negative ad sponsors

  13. Darcy Morrison says:

    Thanks very much to Bob for his coverage of the campaign contributions swamping our city – this coverage is all we, the average citizens, have to counter the influence of all this money. These are candidates getting elected with a very small percentage of donations from average Alamedans — I should say, trying to get elected, but some of them will succeed.

    As many people must have seen, the Business & Technology Consortium has another flyer out, this one touting Bonta and Wilma Chan, and their support for Tam, Gilmore, Chen and Oddie. I’d like to see whatever sources can be identified – and I’d like to see the grand totals too, whenever those filings should occur, which could be months from now. And thank you to David above for his comment regarding Shawn Wilson.

    I’d like to know the source of this money, but at the same time, I’m feeling that it’s just one big network, and our city is nothing but an item on somebody’s checklist. Spend $10,000 here, spend $10,000 there, election bought.

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