Following the money

When Marie Gilmore unexpectedly lost her bid for re-election as Mayor in 2014, there were some who blamed organized labor for not providing her with the level of financial support necessary to ensure her victory.

Well, no one’s going to be able to accuse the unions of falling down on the job this year.

The second round of pre-election campaign disclosure statements was due last Thursday.  The Merry-Go-Round reviewed all of the statements filed with the City Clerk by candidates for local office as well as the statements filed with the Secretary of State by the so-called “independent expenditure” committees.

Today, we present our findings – and a few comments.

First, the big picture.

Through October 22, union PACs have contributed $36,845.69 to two candidates for Council (Malia Vella and Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft) and $24,640.00 to three candidates for School Board (Gray Harris, Matt Hettich, and Jennifer Williams).

In addition to these monetary contributions, the PACs run by the Alameda firefighters’ union (IAFF Local 689) and the grocery workers’ union (UFCW Local 5) have spent $11,639.21 and $3,240.93, respectively, to print and distribute mailers supporting, among others, Ms. Vella, Ms. Ashcraft, Ms. Harris, and Mr. Hettich.

And, through October 20, the committee formed by IAFF Local 689 and UFCW Local 5 and funded by out-of-town unions and real-estate developers – the misnamed “Alamedans United” – has lavished $15,396.31 on the Fab Four (and two other local candidates).  It also paid $12,974.82 for mailers trashing incumbent Councilman Tony Daysog.

Add it all up and the total spent to date by unions to elect local candidates comes to $105,126.96.

This amount is double the amount spent by organized labor on all of the local races held in 2010, when the firefighters’ union worked overtime to put its candidates on the Council dais.  It also exceeds union spending during both of the last two complete election cycles.

Here’s how the union spending stacks up, candidate-by-candidate.  Council first:

        Total contributions        Union contributions Union     % “Independent expenditures”
Vella $48,355.67 $31,985.67 66.15% $9,071.15
Ashcraft $31,038.70 $4,860.02 15.66% $4,126.52
Tam $25,152.27 $0.00 0.00% $0.00
Roloff $12,845.74 $0.00 0.00% $0.00
Daysog $3,662.00 $0.00 0.00% $0.00

As we noted when the first pre-election campaign disclosure statements were filed, the union contributions to Ms. Vella are extraordinary, both in their dollar amount and as a percentage of total contributions.  Her campaign already has gotten more bucks from organized labor than the previous leader in the clubhouse, Councilman Jim Oddie, did during the entire 2014 election cycle.

Moreover, funding two-thirds of a Council campaign with union money is unheard of in Alameda.  Even Mr. Oddie got only around 40 per cent of his campaign funds from his friends in organized labor, and union PACs were responsible for less than 10 per cent of the contributions to his mentor, State Assemblyman Rob Bonta, in his successful run for Council in 2010.

Now, School Board.  We didn’t analyze spending by the Alameda teachers’ union, which devotes its resources primarily to supporting its own endorsees for the School Board, but rather looked at spending by unions that also backed candidates for other local offices. Excluding the AEA from the totals, here’s how the union spending stacks up, candidate-by-candidate:

          Total contributions        Union contributions Union      % “Independent expenditures”
Harris $25,965.00 $14,840.00 57.15% $3,029.68
Hettich $8,697.77 $7,000.00 80.48% $2,890.58
Williams $24,366.02 $2,800.00 11.49% $282.44
Dailey $2,240.00 $0.00 0.00% $0.00
Popalardo N/A N/A N/A $1,379.66
McKereghan N/A N/AR N/A N/A

Unlike the Council candidates, there is a divergence here between the candidate with the most dollars (Ms. Harris) and the candidate with the highest percentage (Mr. Hettich).  The likeliest explanation, we think, is that Ms. Harris faced an easier task raising money from individuals than Mr. Hettich did.  As a former president of the teachers’ union (not to mention a close personal friend of the current president of the firefighters’ union), Ms. Harris already was relatively well-known when she started soliciting campaign funds.  By contrast, and with all due respect, Mr. Hettich was a total unknown before this election; it’s small wonder that he needed to get most of his money from his union backers.

Ms. Harris is following in the footsteps of current School Board president Solana Henneberry (wife of UFCW Local 5 communications director Mike Henneberry), who took in $9,368.47 from labor organizations other than the teachers’ union during her successful run in 2014.  In the two School Board races before that, the only monetary contribution from a union other than the AEA was $500 from the firefighters to Margie Sherratt in 2010.  Indeed, before 2014, most of the people who sought a seat on the School Board didn’t even need to file campaign disclosure statements – because they weren’t soliciting or accepting contributions from third parties.

And now for a few comments:vella-sidebar

Lena, we hardly knew ya

How far out of favor with the unions has former Councilwoman Lena Tam fallen!

Once upon a time, organized labor regularly filled Ms. Tam’s campaign coffers with cash.  When she ran as part of the IAFF Local 689 slate in 2010, she took in $4,650 from union PACs, and she was one of the featured players in the slate mailer paid for by the firefighters’ union.  After the election, the firefighters rewarded her with another $2,500 contribution to her campaign committee.  (It did the same for Mr. Bonta).

The firefighters’ union contributed $5,000 to Ms. Tam during the 2013 off-year, and, then, when she ran for the BART board in 2014, it shelled out another $5,000 toward her campaign.  The union PAC also gave Ms. Tam a place on that year’s IAFF Local 689 slate card.

But this time?  She’s gotten zilch from organized labor – nothing from the firefighters’ union, nothing from any other union PAC.  (If we didn’t know how careful our local labor leaders are to adhere to the law, we’d almost suspect there was a boycott going on).

Neither Ms. Tam nor any union leader has spoken publicly – as far as we know – about the reasons for the rift.  But it is public record that, unlike virtually every other politician upon whom the firefighters’ union had bestowed cash, Ms. Tam failed to support Ms. Harris for appointment to the School Board last year.  That failure probably didn’t sit well with some of the folks at 2027 Clement Avenue.

Ties that don’t bind

During her campaign appearances, Ms. Vella assures the public she has not “taken any money” from any organization doing business with the City of Alameda.

A cursory review of the campaign disclosure statements might raise questions about that assertion.  But it is, in fact, literally true – even if it’s not entirely, well, “transparent.”

Yes, “Alamedans United,” the organization funded by out-of-town unions and real-estate developers, has reported spending $7,409.05 on Ms. Vella’s campaign.  But Alamedans United itself doesn’t do business with the City; it’s one of its funders, the limited liability company formed by Tim Lewis Communities to develop the Encinal Terminals, which does.

And, yes, the IAFF Local 689 PAC has reported a “non-monetary contribution” of $285.67 to Ms. Vella.   But those funds weren’t paid to her campaign; they were spent on food and drink for her kickoff fundraiser.

And, yes, the firefighters’ union PAC recently reported another “non-monetary contribution” of $1,199.11 to Ms. Vella.  But, again, those funds didn’t go into her campaign account; they represent her share of the cost of printing and distributing the mailer promoting the IAFF Local 689 slate.

And, yes, Ms. Vella has reported receiving a $1,500 cash contribution from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union with whom Council just approved a three-year contract for employees of Alameda Municipal Power.  But the local representing the AMP workers is Local 1245; the local contributing the cash was Local 595.

And, yes, Ms. Vella has reported receiving a $1,000 cash contribution from Operating Engineers Local 3, which, Assistant City Manager Liz Warmerdam confirmed, assists the Alameda City Employees Association in its negotiations with the City.  But OE3 is not a party to the contract; ACEA is.

So, yes, as to taking money from unions, Ms. Vella is as pure as Caesar’s wife.  Or so she can say.

A little help from their friends

It’s not surprising that politicians contribute to each other’s campaigns, but lately State Assemblyman Rob Bonta has begun playing the Santa Claus role for local politicians.

In 2014, Mr. Bonta gave his district director, Mr. Oddie, a running start in his race for Council with a $1,000 gift from the Assemblyman’s campaign committee.  The Bonta for Assembly committee later contributed another $6,500 to Mr. Oddie’s campaign; even Mr. Bonta’s mother kicked in $100.  (Mr. Oddie’s IAFF Local 689 slate-mate, Stewart Chen, D.C., also got $1,000 from the Bonta campaign committee; so did School Board candidate Solana Henneberry).

This year, Mr. Bonta again is helping the union-backed ticket.  The current iteration of the Bonta for Assembly committee already has given $1,000 to Ms. Vella; two separate contributions of $1,000 apiece to Ms. Harris, and $1,000 to Ms. Williams, one of the two other School Board candidates endorsed by the teachers’ union.

The real surprise to us came when we saw the name “Doric Realty” appear in the campaign disclosure statements.  Doric Realty, of course, is the company owned and run – at least at one time – by Ron Cowan, the developer of Harbor Bay Isle who once was known as a major player in local Democratic circles.

Mr. Cowan has been keeping a low profile lately – Doric didn’t even contribute to Marie Gilmore (or any other local candidate) in 2014 – but this year the company has given $1,500 apiece to two of the School Board candidates endorsed by the teachers’ union, Ms. Harris and Ms. Williams.  So far, Doric has not handed any cash to any of the candidates running for Council.

Why has Mr. Cowan suddenly taken an interest in the local School Board?  Who knows?

Waiting for the other shoe

The totals reported at the beginning of this piece include only a token monetary contribution ($390 to City Auditor candidate Mike McMahon) and a mere $1,451.77 in non-monetary contributions (all for food and drink at fundraisers) from the Alameda firefighters’ union to individual candidates.

The IAFF Local 689 PAC also has given $8,358.42 to the City of Alameda Democratic Club, which the Club in turn spent on a mailer supporting the candidates who won its endorsement, including Ms. Vella for Council and Ms. Harris for School Board.  And, as usual, the firefighters’ union PAC has put out its own slate mailer.

But if the past is prologue, individual candidates who crave funds from the firefighters ought not to worry.  The best – or the most – is yet to come.

During the last three election cycles, the firefighters’ union has waited to drop the really big bucks into the race until the candidates had filed their last required pre-election campaign finance disclosure statement.  Then,

  • In 2010, the IAFF Local 689 PAC contributed $3,300 in cash to Ms. Gilmore’s campaign for mayor, followed by $2,500 in cash to Mr. Bonta’s bid for Council.
  • In 2012, the PAC paid $10,000 to print and distribute mailers and door hangers promoting Dr. Chen;
  • In 2014, the PAC spent $8,872.64 to send out mailers touting Mr. Oddie.

What will happen in 2016?  It may be just a coincidence, but, in each of the last three elections, the candidate benefiting from the firefighters’ union’s 11th-hour beneficence was running for office for the first time.  That may suggest that Ms. Vella can count on getting additional IAFF Local 689 PAC money very soon.

But we don’t think the firefighters’ union has favored first-time candidates with last-minute cash because it has a soft spot for newcomers.  Rather, the likely reason is that these were the union-backed candidates whom the polls showed needed it the most.  We’ll bet the polls will dictate the magnitude, and manner, of spending this time, too:  The candidate who’s facing the toughest contest  – Ms. Vella or Ms. Ashcraft, for Council; Ms. Harris or Mr. Hettich for School Board – will get the biggest bucks.

We wouldn’t even rule out a last-minute hit piece against Mr. Daysog, Ms. Roloff, or even – hold your breath – Ms. Tam if it looks like one of them is close to taking a Council seat away from an IAFF Local 689 slate member.   It’s happened before – just ask Doug deHaan.


Campaign disclosure statements for the local candidates,”Alamedans United,” and the IAFF PAC are available on the City website:

Campaign disclosure statements for the UFCW Local 5 PAC are available on the Secretary of State’s website:




About Robert Sullwold

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

18 Responses to Following the money

  1. Eric Strimling says:

    Why so much negative attention to Union contributions, and so little on Realty Company contributuons. $750,000 raised and $250,000 spent so far on no on M1 by the CAA. And then there’s Alamedans for Fair Rents which reports that 1/2 of its money comes from a single LA Realty firm.

    So, you write about how unions are corrupting Alameda politics but Realty Companies, who are spending twice as much, get a pass?


    • dave says:

      The difference is the real estate interests are fighting only for their rights, the same property rights that you have and that renters have. They aren’t after public funds.

      The unions, most notably the IAFF, are actively trying to buy politicians for the express purpose of siphoning significant amounts of public funds (aka tax dollars).

      Both are acting in their financial interests, as everyone does (including renters, including you) but only the latter is a corrupting influence. The former is just trying to hold its legal rights,

    • RJS says:

      I presume you are talking about the CAA program to defeat all 5 of the rent control ballot measures in the Bay Area? Their funds are NOT solely directed at M1, even though you continue to say this. And, when I looked at CAA expenditures, I didn’t see the $250,000 you are saying above. Where did you find this number?
      Secondly, I presume when you are talking about ‘Alamedans for Fair Rents – you really mean Alamedans For Fair Rent Control (AFFRC.ORG) – and while 1/3 of their money did come from California Association of Realtors – it was actually because of local real estate agents asking for some of their own money back to fight your local measure. I don’t think you can rightly say this is outside money – unlike what ARC has received from (guess who) unions again.
      I think I see why you are so defensive.

    • RJS says:

      I looked at this some more. If you look at CAA funding in detail, you get:
      CAA 496-1 – expenditure for printing is $2,500.
      CAA 496-4, (this is an amendment of 496-2) expenditure is a total of $54,750.
      CAA 496-3 – expenditure of $2,733.32.
      CAA 496-5 – expenditure of $18,917.00 for on-line advertising
      CAA 496-6 – expenditure of $16,633.33 for on-line advertising
      The total of all of these CAA expenditures to fight M1 is $95,533.65 not the $250,000 you stated.
      Get your facts straight, Eric. The CAA is indeed spending big bucks – but it is also fighting 5 rent control ballot measures in the BAY area, and yours is only 1 of the 5.

  2. Jeff DelBono says:

    These big bad nasty firefighters making $43.00/hr! How dare they support council candidates that support their values. How dare they protect their medical and retirement plans. How dare they demand fully funded programs like water rescue and technical rescue. How dare they demand good equipment to protect the citizens of Alameda. These big scary goblins and witches that work overtime and think they are entitled to be paid for the hours they work. This must be a trick. Or is it a treat? Happy Halloween Bob! Maybe one day you will get over the fact that we didn’t support Jane (your wife) when she ran for council. I’m sure glad we didn’t! I had a feeling when she came to us seeking our endorsement that she held the same sentiment towards working families that you hold. How disingenuous that she even tried asking us for our support.

    • dave says:

      At $43/hour you’re putting in more than 6000 hours per year. That’s some impressive stamina.

      • Jeff DelBono says:

        David Howard, the man that just took 20,000 of outside money to try to kill a tax that supports our children and schools. I hope people that read the garbage on this blog realize who the indiviuals are who support it. Yes, that is what they pay me. It’s amazing how you continue to put out false info.

      • Rich Gozynya says:

        Is this the same Dave Howard, who Trolls blogs and cherry picks information to make his personal attacks against certain groups he dislikes. He even has a page solely dedicated to bully those people or groups that think differently. Tell people about your true agenda, since transparency is what you preach. So Please be transparent and share your arrest record for domestic violence.

      • dave says:

        My last name is Hart, not Howard. I am a tireless supporter of the school district, including large amounts of volunteer time for parcel taxes, several thousand dollars donated and volunteering to tutor ESL students.

      • RJS says:

        Nice work, Dave. I think it is time we all took a look at what these city employees make – seems pretty outrageous to me. And, then they contribute to those who will assure they get more? I think we need to put some brakes on here. Sounds like Wisconsin.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is the $43 an hour net or gross?

    • People have a right to know who is funding which candidates. Especially if the majority of the money is coming from off island, Those who can’t handle scrutiny should retire from public service.

  3. AN says:

    Anything about the funding of Save! our City? Alameda? Who is funding him? Is he being paid?

  4. Steve Gerstle says:

    Another $10,000 contribution to Alamedans United from the real estate industry. This check is from Danville.

    Also, got another Tony Daysog hit piece in the mail today comparing him to Donald Trump. Didn’t see any FPPC info and it was mailed with stamps. It may have only been sent to registered Democrats.

  5. Steve Gerstle says:

    Now this is interesting. A $5000 check from PG&E to the Firefighters’ PAC.
    Corporations funding union PACs? Unions and real estate developers joining forces? What’s next, unions lobbying to lower the minimum wage?

  6. Rich Gozynya says:

    Oh Steve, seems like your being a little bit entitled and hoarding all of alameda to yourself. Every single comment I read here from you is so negative and always bashes the people puttting in the work to improve this community. Can only Local Alamedans contribute to politics? Or should money only come in when it benefits your agenda? Even local money is special interest, like Daysog receiving contributions after his “No” vote on the senior living facility. Folks that live, work, or do business should be able to have a voice in this community. Not everybody has to be 3rd generation Alamedans to be heard. BTW-if you had any clue of unions, you would never have asked “what’s next, unions lobbying to lower the minimum wage?” That was dumb!

  7. Mark says:

    So some residents appreciated Tony on his well reasoned vote that seniors in memory care facilities really are residents, in an area zoned NO residential.
    The developer hired a PR firm to make a slick video of all these seniors that just cannot wait to get to an Alzheimer’s facility! Has anyone ever met someone excited to go to a senior care, Alzheimer’s facility. That was very amusing.

  8. MJane says:

    What does a contributor’s arrest record for domestic violence have to do with campaign funding, provided the issue isn’t about funding battered women’s programs or some such where that MIGHT be relevant? Looks to me like intimidation, embarrassment, general besmirching of character as a means of silencing someone who doesn’t agree with you. The form of political “discourse” made acceptable by Trump…

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