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|
|Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft||$24,605.00|
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: http://docs.ci.alameda.ca.us/WebLink8/Browse.aspx?startid=310100&row=1&dbid=0. Here are the state filings for the CAA committee: form-410; form-460