Invasion of the Auslanders

For those who suspect – nay, fear – that out-of-town special interests are throwing around a lot of cash this year in an effort to influence the outcome of elections in Alameda, the campaign disclosure statements filed last week provide plenty of ammunition.

Today, we’ll give you three examples.

Let’s start with the campaign of Teamsters’ lawyer Malia Vella, the Alameda firefighters’ union’s candidate for Council.

Although Ms. Vella has kept voters guessing about her positions on controversial issues – where exactly does she stand on the Alameda Renters’ Coalition initiative anyway? – there’s no mistaking her prowess as a fundraiser.  Indeed, she is on a pace to challenge Rob Bonta for the distinction of raising the most money ever in an Alameda Council race.  (Note that we said, “raising” money; self-funders are disqualified from the competition – sorry, Pat).

The campaign disclosure statements show that Ms. Vella leads her opponents by a wide margin in cash contributions (which include loans) received through September 24:

Candidate Total cash contributions
Malia Vella $44,167.00
Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft $24,605.00
Lena Tam $21,379.27
Jennifer Roloff $7,770.99
Tony Daysog $5,872.61

But what is especially striking is not so much the total amount of money Ms. Vella has raised; it is where the money is coming from – and not coming from.

Of her $44,167 in total cash contributions, 70.07 percent has been contributed by union political action committees.  PACs affiliated with the Teamsters’ union have been the most-generous, kicking in a total of $12,000 to Ms. Vella’s campaign.  But she also has gotten money from PACs established by the operating engineers, sprinkler fitters, service employees, carpenters, painters, ironworkers, transit workers, electricians, sheet metal workers, grocery workers, and construction and general laborers’ unions.

(For its part, the Alameda firefighters’ union, which sponsored Ms. Vella’s campaign kickoff event in May, apparently is still holding its fire, as it did in the last two elections, until the last required campaign disclosure statement is filed.)

None of Ms. Vella’s opponents even comes close to matching her reliance on funds from organized labor.  Indeed, Councilman Tony Daysog, first-time candidate Jennifer Roloff, and former Councilwoman Lena Tam have not received a dime of union money, and Ms. Vella’s fellow IAFF Local 689 endorsee, Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, clocks in at only 9.14 percent.

Here’s the data graphically:


Receiving nearly three-quarters of her total campaign funds from unions is extraordinary for a Council candidate in Alameda.  We analyzed the data for the last five Council elections, and the highest percentage of union funding (including both monetary and non-monetary contributions) we could find was Councilman Jim Oddie’s 39.91 percent in 2014.  Even Mr. Bonta got only 7.40 percent of his contributions from organized labor in 2010, although, like the others on that year’s IAFF Local 689 slate, he also benefited from “independent expenditures” by the firefighters’ union.

(A historical note:  Guess what percentage of former Mayor Marie Gilmore’s contributions came from unions when she ran for Council in 2008?  That’s right:  Zero.)

The other striking feature of Ms. Vella’s disclosure is the small share of her campaign funds attributable to Alameda residents or businesses.  Of her $41,355 in itemized monetary contributions, only 5.80 percent came from Alamedans.  And of the $2,400 from local sources, individuals with either union or Democratic party ties (or both) accounted for $700.

Again, Ms. Vella stands out from her opponents.  Alameda residents and businesses were the source of 81.59 percent of Ms. Ashcraft’s itemized monetary contributions and 75.45 percent of Ms. Roloff’s.  Ms. Tam also got more than half of her campaign funds from Alamedans, and the sole outside contributor to Mr. Daysog – he’s self-funding a minimalist campaign again this year – was also an Alameda resident.

Here’s the data graphically:


And, again, on a historical basis Ms. Vella’s low percentage of local contributors is extraordinary.  Former Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C., was known for raising a lot of money from outside Alameda, but even he got 23.20 percent of his itemized monetary contributions from local residents or businesses in 2012 and 14.12 percent in 2014. Likewise, Mr. Bonta, who put the arm on friends across the country to finance his 2010 run for Council, nevertheless raised nearly 20 percent of his campaign funds from Alamedans.

(Another historical note:  Ms. Ashcraft’s high percentage of Alameda contributors is not unusual, since she has a track record of funding her campaigns locally.  She got 93.20 percent of her itemized monetary contributions from Alamedans in her losing 2010 campaign and 78.58 percent in her winning 2012 run.  Of course, she also spent a good chunk of her own money – $46,500 in 2010 and $27,315 in 2012 – on her bids for office.)

As of September 24, Ms. Vella had a $36,138.86 balance in her campaign account, which should pay for quite a few mailers and door hangers expounding upon her vision for a robust and vibrant Alameda.  And if that isn’t enough, Ms. Vella also can rely on the “independent expenditures” likely to be made by “Alamedans United,” our second example of the effort by out-of-town special interests to sway local elections.

As we reported last month, “Alamedans United” is a “primarily formed committee” sponsored by the Alameda firefighters’ union and Local 5 of the grocery workers’ union, whose avowed purpose is to place labor-friendly candidates on Council and the School Board and in the City Auditor’s and City Treasurer’s offices.  PACs established by firefighters’ unions in Sacramento, San Francisco, Hayward, San Jose, Contra Costa County, and Oakland provided the group’s initial funding.

“Alamedans United” remains an alliance of out-of-towners, but it’s not just for firefighters’ unions anymore.  Locals from the electrical workers, grocery workers, sheet metal workers, and sprinkler fitters unions now have kicked in cash, bringing the total amount raised from organized labor to $32,000.

We have no reason to expect that “Alamedans United” has seen its last check from a union, but it may be opening its arms – and coffers – to a second special-interest group:  real-estate developers connected to projects in Alameda.

As we previously reported, Tim Lewis Communities, the Roseville-based developer of the Del Monte warehouse project, gave “Alamedans United” $5,000 (through a limited-liability company) on September 9.  Tim Lewis will be seeking approval from the next Council for a project featuring 589 new housing units and a 24-story high-rise at the Encinal Terminals site behind the Del Monte building.

A little while after the contribution by Tim Lewis, another real-estate developer, James D. Falaschi, threw his own $5,000 into the pot.  According to his Bloomberg profile, Mr. Falaschi is the president of two real-estate development companies and the co-managing partner of a third.

Why would Mr. Falaschi want to join “Alamedans United”?  Maybe because, as Alameda Magazine has reported, he is acting as a “project advisor” for a “mixed-use” project – including 670 new housing units – proposed for the site of the Alameda Marina.  Any development on this site, too, would require approval from the next Council.

The contributions by the two real-estate developers, together with funds contributed by three other non-union entities, bring the total raised by “Alamedans United” through September 23 to $46,500.  Thus far, the group has spent close to $9,000 on “data for voter outreach,” website hosting, design and printing, and “consulting.”  Among the candidates “Alamedans United” is backing, Ms. Vella has been the biggest beneficiary of its largesse, with $1,622.32 spent on her behalf.

Simply subtracting reported expenditures from reported contributions, “Alamedans United” appears to have plenty of dough left in the bank.  So don’t be surprised if you see another glossy brochure or two with the group’s logo – remember, we were the ones who told you to expect the first one – between now and November 8.

Our final example deals with the organizations involved in the battle over the two competing rent-control measures on the November ballot.

Two of those entities – the Alameda Renters’ Coalition and Alamedans for Fair Rents – were formed locally, but each has attracted contributions from outside special interests.

Through September 24, ARC, which sponsored the M1 rent control initiative, got more than half of its $10,300 in itemized monetary contributions from organized labor:  $6,000 from the Alameda Labor Council and another $550 from two union locals.  During the same period, AFR, which supports L1, the Council-drafted ballot measure, and opposes M1, raised nearly all of its $11,050 in itemized monetary contributions from Alameda individuals and businesses, including real estate agents and their firms.  Then, last Thursday, the California Association of Realtors dropped $4,000 into the AFR bucket.

But the real big-money player in the battle over rent control is the California Apartment Association.

At the end of August, CAA formed a “general purpose committee” whose goal is to oppose rent-control initiatives throughout the Bay Area.  The organization targeted not just Alameda’s Measure M1, but similar ballot measures in Burlingame, Mountain View, Richmond, and San Mateo.

Through September 29, the CAA-sponsored committee raised a whopping $776,898.96 in cash contributions (including loans).  The contributors were apartment building owners and property management companies (i.e., the type of outfits Councilman Daysog likes to blame for the “rent crisis” in Alameda).  One $25,000 contributor, whose address is listed as Mill Valley, is “Tower Alameda LP”; our guess is this partnership owns the 76-unit apartment complex known as “Tower Apartment Homes” on Shoreline Drive.

Thus far, the CAA-sponsored committee has spent $59,983.40 specifically to oppose the ARC initiative, including $40,000 for television advertising and $14,500 for polling.  But, as of September 29, the cash balance in the committee’s account was $266,445.86.  We would be shocked if no additional spending, and no additional contributions, occurred during the five weeks remaining before the election.  We’ll bet that a bunch of the money will end up in Alameda.

So what should the average Alameda voter make of all this out-of-town special-interest money flowing into the City to influence the outcome of local elections?  Like it or not, it’s perfectly legal, and, as a Stanford Law School professor quoted by Jeffrey Toobin in this week’s New Yorker points out, it’s not likely to change even if the composition of the Supreme Court changes:  “a more liberal Court would probably allow some state-based experiments in public funding of campaigns, but the Court certainly would not take a leading role in limiting the influence of money in politics.”

Maybe all we on the Island can do is consider ourselves flattered that unions, real-estate developers, and apartment owners think our votes are worth all this cash.


The campaign disclosure statements for local races are available on the City website:  Here are the state filings for the CAA committee: form-410form-460

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in City Hall, Firefighters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Invasion of the Auslanders

  1. wordist45 says:

    Good article, to which I would ad that the CAA committee raised $547,000, all from off-island realty sources, specifically to defeat Measure M1. Over a half-million dollars to undermine the city’s democratic right to self-govern.

    With this lopsided level of funding, a Cabal of a score of wealthy real estate interests can overwhelm the electorate with lies and distortion. Well, I will do my best to expose them. When people see how they’re being manipulated, they’re likely to react and help spread the word.

    Big money and lies can backfire.

    • RJS says:

      This is simply not accurate, and has been continuously reported by ARC associated activists. Sure, the CAA has raised a good deal of money, as Robert reports above, but that is on the contribution side, not the expenditure side. The $547,00 you state above is certainly not targeted at just M1. CAA expenditures to date against M1 specifically are $60,287.62 as of 9/26/16 – just about what Robert says above, and mostly ($40,000) for a TV message – which is pretty straightforward, and not filled with ‘lies and distortion’ as you say. Seems like the lies and distortion are on your side – Monty.

      • Jon Spangler says:

        Robert, Sorry, but you are in the wrong. Outside real estate interests had poured about $750,000 into the Yes on L1/No on M1 campaign through various organizations as of the last reporting period. (I expect CAA and other out-of-town corporate landlords to have orchestrated a $1 million effort to oppose fairness for renters by the end of the campaign.)

        This flood of corporate vote-buying is clearly an attempt to overwhelm the home-grown Alameda Renters Coalition grassroots effort that was born following successive annual rent increases of 20 to 35 per cent over the last 5 years. Where is your outrage over this egregious financial carpet-bagging by outside interests? The CAA and their ilk make the union expenditures look puny by comparison–and remember, union expenditures at least represent people who WORK for a living instead of those who live off the capital generated on the backs of working people and renters. (But then again, you apparently do not really care about the fate of low-income renters, do you?)

  2. Kinda on the attack against against Vella, aren’t you? Big graphs, lots of inches devoted to her relatively small, in terms of dollars, off Island support (at least it is mostly East Bay) then a below the fold overview of a half million dollar war chest from interests from far afield.

    I also don’t think you quite grasp the size of the difference. As a I added up the three filings (496-4 is a revision of 496-2) I get $596,796.90 total contributions against M1. And that doesn’t include the Alamedans for Fair Rents front group.

    So, could you please publish a large graph comparing the $6500 in union support for M1 against the $596,796.90 against it? Or comparing the Off Island contributions to Vella vs those against Rent Control?

  3. Monty & Eric,

    I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that CAA has received $597K specifically to defeat Measure M1. I realize that this may be the sum you get when you add up the Form 496s filed with the City clerk. But the Form 460 filed electronically with the Secretary of State shows the same contributors as the Form 496’s. My interpretation remains the one in the piece — i.e., that CAA has received @$777K to fund its campaign against all five rent-control initiatives, which it can allocate among the cities as it sees fit. According to the Form 460, its “cumulative” spending to date specifically against Measure M1 is $59,983.40.

    That being said, your interpretation is reasonable, too, and your underlying point remains unaffected if the actual numbers are different than the ones you use.

    • David says:


      Indeed, the contributors on the form 460 should match the contributors on the form 496s. The 496 forms are ad-hoc 24-hour-within-receipt reports of contributions, to accelerate transparency.

      The form 460 filing is essentially a roll-up of all those 496s.

      To add up all the money reported on the 496s and add it to the money reported on the 460 would be to count it twice.

  4. Paul S Foreman says:

    A couple of distinctions are in order. The fact that any Council candidates receive contributions from non-residents does not in any way mean that they are being influenced to make decisions favoring outside interests . It may mean that they have friends and family living outside Alameda that wish to support them. However, candidates who have a history of accepting contributions from organizations that contract with the City or hope to do so are opening themselves up to voter concern that they will prioritize their decisions as Councilmembers in favor of those interests.

    With regard to outside funding of the rent control initiatives, I see nothing nefarious about an outside agency funding a campaign to educate voters and convince them to vote for or against them, so long as the agency bias on the issue is evident and its campaign materials do not misstate facts. ARC spokesmen want us to assume that an outside agency’s funding of opposition to M-1 automatically makes them guilty of “lies and distortions” and incapable of telling the truth. However, lies and distortions about L-1 and M-1 are quite capable of being propagated by home grown advocates and truth telling on this issue is not the exclusive province of local residents.

    • carol says:

      Sorry, Paul. Being financed by a group of unions is not the same as being financed by “friends & family living outside Alameda”. Mary Hatsume Vella
      aka Malia, looks more like a union puppet than one who has much of a genuine connection with grass roots Alamedans. She couldn’t have lived here while Attending Wellesley or Santa Clara law school [the commute’s a bitch]. Maybe she was born here, but she been gone most of her life.

      • Paul S Foreman says:

        Carol, I must not be making myself clear. I am in agreement with you. My reference to “candidates who have a history of accepting contributions from organizations that contract with the City” was meant to refer to public employee unions, developers, etc.
        Ms. Vella is the prime example of such a candidate. In this Council election, only Mr. Daysog and Ms. Roloff have never accepted contributions from these contractors, and have affirmed that they will not do so..

  5. Steve Gerstle says:

    If this information is correct, it looks like Malia Vella moved to Alameda sometime between March and December 2013.

    Malia Vella
    San Leandro, CA 94577 California State Senate/District Director, Assembly Member Bill Quirk $409 01/29/2013 – 03/15/2013

    Malia Vella
    Alameda, CA 94501 California State Senate/District Director, Assembly Member Bill Quirk $100 12/10/2013

    • Flash80 says:

      I doubt she was even born here. Most persons born here fondly recall their doctors who helped their mothers at birth. As in my doctor was so and so. Born in Alameda – my foot.

    • Jon Spangler says:

      Editor’s Note:

      This will be the last comment from Mr. Spangler posted on this site.

      He is free to call me, or anyone else with whom he disagrees, a racist and otherwise to indulge his penchant for name-calling on the local blog where such conduct is welcome. But he will no longer be allowed to sling his mud here.

      Steve– So WHAT if Malia Vella is a recent immigrant? Were YOU born and raised in Alameda?

      (Steve, you and I both moved to Alameda within the last 30 years. Does that disenfranchise us from participating in Alameda politics? At least I can claim my second-generation California native status as justification for being granted a “permanent resident alien” card by the residents of the City of Alameda…)

      Ms. Vella moved here legally and you are treating her as if she is some kind of alien being who has no right to move here or run for office. But nothing in the US Constitution, the state constitution, or Alameda’s City Charter denies the right of full participation to Alameda”immigrants” (from off-island), recent or otherwise.

      Given Ms. Malia’s ethnic heritage, her occupation, and her gender, your comments and Mr. Sullwold’s blog seem to be “dog whistle” racism wearing a very thin disguise. That is something I did not expect to see in our local politics…

      • dave says:

        Your page, your rules, Mr. Sullwold, but I think you should let him continue. Giving self-righteous finger pointers a place to openly point is a valuable public service. It helps the rest of us know who we’re dealing with.

  6. A Neighbor says:

    To John Spangler—-Because Steve Gerstle is not running for political office, there is no need to state where he was born or raised. Most (if not all) candidates do state where they were born or raised. There’s no reason for anyone not running to state such things.

  7. carol says:

    Jon Spangler’s comments about racism and criticism of Tony Daysog strike me as ironic, given that Tony’s parents are Japanese and Filipino. Why is a negative opinion about Vella “dog whistle racism”, but a negative opinion of Daysog is not racist at all?

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