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”|
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”|
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.
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: http://docs.ci.alameda.ca.us/WebLink8/Browse.aspx?startid=310100&row=1&dbid=0.
Campaign disclosure statements for the UFCW Local 5 PAC are available on the Secretary of State’s website: http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/default.aspx.