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.
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.
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: http://docs.ci.alameda.ca.us/WebLink8/Browse.aspx?startid=310100&row=1&dbid=0.