The Merry Go-Round has reviewed the first batch of campaign disclosure statements filed by the candidates for Alameda mayor, city council, and school board.
Here are the highlights from the reports covering the first six months of 2018:
- Their friends in organized labor have continued to stand by Council members Jim Oddie and Malia Vella despite (or perhaps because of) the criticism leveled at them for lobbying the city manager to give the fire chief’s job to the former union boss being pushed by the firefighters’ union. But the flow of funds slowed to a trickle after delivery of the investigator’s report into the scandal.
- Former Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C., elected in 2012 and defeated for re-election in 2014, once again demonstrated his fund-raising prowess, leading all reporting candidates in total campaign contributions. Nearly three-fourths of his cash came from non-Alameda residents and businesses.
- Making her first bid for public office (Alameda school board), Mia Bonta, the wife of State Assemblyman Rob Bonta, collected the second highest amount of campaign contributions, getting most of her money from outside Alameda. Donations by state legislators – and the cottage industry they feed – boosted her take.
- Likewise making his first bid for elective office (Alameda city council), former Planning Board member and Inner Ringleader John Knox White followed a different path than either Dr. Chen or Ms. Bonta. Mr. Knox White got 80 percent of his total campaign contributions from Alameda residents, the highest percentage in that category for a first-time candidate since Jane Sullwold ran for Council in 2012.
We’ll begin with Mr. Oddie and Ms. Vella.
As we reported previously, after the story broke last October about the two Council members’ alleged interference in the selection of the new fire chief, the unions rallied to their defense– and put their money where their mouths were. Through the end of the year, labor organizations donated $6,500 to Mr. Oddie’s 2018 campaign fund and funneled $14,000 to Ms. Vella – even though she wasn’t up for re-election until 2020. (The duo’s political buddies were right behind the unions, giving Mr. Oddie $6,000 and Ms. Vella $4,000.)
It appears that the two Council members used the money to pay a portion of their legal bills owed to the estimable San Francisco law firms of Keker Van Nest & Peters (for Mr. Oddie) and Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass (for Ms. Vella) for representing them in the investigation.
The spigot continued to run in 2018, at least until the Jenkins report was delivered to Council. From the beginning of the year through April 9, unions (including two that represent City of Alameda and Alameda Municipal Power employees) contributed $15,700 in cash to Mr. Oddie. Three local union honchos kicked in another $550. But Mr. Oddie received no further cash donations, from unions or anyone else, from then through June 30.
Not so for Ms. Vella. Through April 17, labor organizations (including the same two that represent City and AMP workers) contributed $13,250 in cash to Ms. Vella, and local union officials added $700. And the release of the Jenkins report didn’t make the unions put away their checkbooks for the Vice Mayor: the sheet metal workers’ local PAC gave her $2,500 on May 21, followed by $500 from the hotel and food service industry union PAC a month later.
Again, it appears the money went primarily for legal fees. In fact, Mr. Oddie established a separate “legal defense fund” and transferred $11,000 as a “loan” from his campaign account to the new account in March.
Next, Dr. Chen.
In 2012, the good doctor led all candidates in cash contributed by third parties (i.e., excluding funds he put into the campaign himself). In 2014, he likewise got more money from individuals and businesses than any other candidate, although Mr. Oddie was the top fund-fundraiser overall thanks to contributions from union PACs. In both races, the majority of Dr. Chen’s donors were from outside Alameda: 53% of the cash he received in 2012 came from out-of-towners. For 2014, the percentage was 62%.
The pattern continues in 2018. Of $34,088.35 in total cash contributions, Dr. Chen got all but $750 from individuals and businesses, and 72 percent came from donors outside Alameda.
Notably, although more out-of-town individuals than businesses gave money to Dr. Chen, the aggregate amount given by the latter was half again as much as the aggregate amount given by the former. Dr. Chen’s detractors should hold off, however, on labeling him the lackey of the landlords. None of his business donors were the same as those listed in the campaign disclosure statement filed by Alamedans in Charge, the organization formed to promote the ballot measure putting the rent stabilization ordinance into the City Charter. Nor were there any “Wall Street predators” – i.e., hedge funds and private equity firms – in the group.
Next, Ms. Bonta.
Far be it from us to suggest that Ms. Bonta is seeking to ride her State Assemblyman husband’s coattails into public office, but her campaign disclosure statements do suggest that closeness to a politician with friends in the local Democratic party and the state legislature helps with raising cash.
Of $25,056 in total cash contributions, Ms. Bonta got only 11 percent from individuals and businesses located in Alameda. Five of her local donors were Alamedans with political ties: one is her mother-in-law; one is a “labor organizer” and former Planning Board member; one is a union lawyer and current Hospital Board member – and two are sitting Council members (our readers can guess who they are; hint: Assemblyman Bonta made a special public appearance before Council last October to vouch for their honesty and integrity).
Ms. Bonta also did quite well with sources connected to state government. Through their re-election accounts, six Assembly members donated a total of $3,500 to her Alameda school board campaign. Five of them are from southern California, including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. Moreover, Ms. Bonta took in $1,000 from two Sacramento-based political consultants; $750 from two Sacramento-based political fundraisers, and $1,000 from a Sacramento-based lobbyist (that’s the job listed on the disclosure statement, not our characterization).
Finally, Mr. Knox White.
His campaign disclosure statement presents a dramatic contrast with those we’ve just been discussing: He got no money from unions. He got no money from political action committees (except for $1,000 from Mr. Bonta’s). And he got no money from businesses, located either in or outside Alameda (unless one counts the $230 contribution from Bohol Circle, which describes itself as a Filipino-American social organization).
Instead, Mr. Knox White received $16,805 in cash contributions from individuals. Of this amount, $12,700 came from 63 Alameda residents, some of whom gave more than once. The list contains a smattering of Alameda Democratic party stalwarts as well as a gaggle of local self-proclaimed “activists.” Most of the contributions were for $100 or less; only one donor gave as much as $1,000.
Mr. Knox White’s out-of-town contributors included 10 individuals from the Seattle area, four of them with addresses on tony Mercer Island. Closer to home, among the out-of-town donors were BART director Robert Rayburn and someone listed as “Marie Robinson” with a Livermore address. We’re guessing that this Ms. Robinson is none other than former Alameda Mayor Marie Robinson Gilmore, who appointed Mr. Knox White to the Planning Board in 2012 and re-appointed him in 2013.
Thus far our analysis.
Our readers may have noticed that we haven’t referred to any cash contributions by the Alameda firefighters’ union, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise. As we reported previously, and discuss further below, the union appears to have forsworn giving cash directly to Alameda council and mayoral candidates and instead decided to pay for fundraisers, mailers, and phone banking on their behalf. Through June, the only local beneficiary of this kind of largesse was Assemblyman Bonta, for whom the Local 689 PAC bought “food and beverages” for a May fundraiser. (The union also picked up a similar tab for gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom.)
But if anyone believes the firefighters intend to stand on the sidelines this November, well, we’ve got a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center we can arrange to sell you.
Myths about Malia
Allow us to offer three facts about Vice Mayor Malia Vella:
- She recently was named “Woman of the Year” for State Assembly District 18 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta.
- Displaying her independence from organized labor, Ms. Vella eschewed any financial support from the Alameda firefighters’ union in her successful campaign for Council in 2016.
- Demonstrating the irreproachability of her official conduct, Ms. Vella was “cleared” by investigator Michael Jenkins for her role in the selection of the City’s new fire chief.
Only the first of these “facts” is true. The Merry-Go-Round has been reading, and hearing, the latter two assertions repeated so often we can’t stand it anymore. So today let us clear up the record.
Ms. Vella herself has led the effort to deny any financial ties to the firefighters’ union. Indeed, in a recent op-ed in the East Bay Express, she declared, “Even though I turned down money from corporations, the local firefighters, and developers that my colleagues accepted, critics complain that I have been influenced by the very contributions I declined.”
There are two problems with that statement.
One is the suggestion that Ms. Vella’s colleagues accepted cash contributions from the firefighters’ union in 2016. In fact, none of them did, and they couldn’t have done so even if they wanted to, because the union didn’t give any cash to any council candidate that year (or, for that matter, in 2014, either). Indeed, as we have reported previously, the IAFF Local 689 PAC has moved away from donating cash directly to local office-seekers in favor of paying for fundraisers, mailers, and phone banking on their behalf.
Which brings up the second problem: Ms. Vella in fact benefited from just this sort of financial support from the firefighters’ union in 2016. According to the IAFF Local 689 PAC’s campaign disclosure statements, the union paid $285.67 for food and drinks for a Vella fundraiser in March 2016 and later sent out two mailers touting its endorsed slate, which included Ms. Vella. The “non-monetary contribution” to Ms. Vella reported by the union for these mailers amounted to $1,199.11 for the first and $550.70 for the second.
And then there’s the $18,706.32 spent to promote Ms. Vella’s candidacy by the “Alamedans United” PAC, which was co-founded by IAFF Local 689’s political director and which received a $1,750.60 contribution from the union for telephone lines used for phone banking.
Before the Jenkins report was released to the public in May, we suspected that, however critical it turned out to be, the two Council members involved (or their apologists) would claim that they had been exonerated. So far we haven’t seen or heard such a boast from backers of Mr. Oddie. But Ms. Vella’s defenders are beating the drum hard.
Take Blogging Bayport Alameda. “Malia Vella . . . was cleared by the independent report,” Ms. Do wrote on June 20. “Louder for the folks in the back: CLEARED BY THE INDEPENDENT REPORT.” (caps in original)
The folks in the front may want to look at what the report actually says in the section laying out Mr. Jenkins’s conclusions about each Council member (pages 59 through 62). The report shows that, when Mr. Jenkins wanted to exculpate someone, he knew how to do so in plain and unequivocal language. For example, he wrote that, “There is no evidence that Councilmember Matarrese attempted in any way to influence or interfere with Keimach’s Fire Chief appointment.”
Mr. Jenkins’ assessment of Ms. Vella is more, well, nuanced. At the outset, he appears to be on his way to finding no fault with the Vice Mayor’s conduct, praising her “measured approach” to her communications with Ms. Keimach. But then he gets to the bottom line, and this is what the report says:
Vella did not give sufficient consideration to how Keimach would react to her attempt to influence the selection, especially under the totality of circumstances. That accounts for her very different impression of the outcome of the August 16 meeting than was left with Keimach. She should have been more aware that Keimach would be intimidated by and react adversely to her expressions of opinion even if her concerns were, as she described them, focused on process and not outcome. But, on balance, Vella’s conduct fell short of attempting to interfere with Keimach’s performance of her job or attempting to influence the appointment.
From our perspective, it’s a stretch to characterize this conclusion as a vindication. Rather, it’s more like the case in which a jury renders a verdict of “not guilty”: the verdict doesn’t necessarily mean that the jurors found the defendant to be “innocent”; it may mean only that the prosecution hadn’t presented sufficient evidence to convince them of her guilt. And, of course, when the jury doesn’t get to hear all of the evidence – like a tape recording of a key conversation – this result would not be unexpected. In either case, the defendant gets to walk away a free woman.
Now, we’re not so naïve as to believe that the facts we’ve cited will matter to any of Ms. Vella’s partisans. We only hope that, by pointing them out, we won’t prompt Mr. Bonta to dash off another op-ed describing us, like others who stint on praise for our “talented and inspirational” Vice Mayor, as “disgusting, misogynistic, and sexist.” But who knows? That’s what passes for political discourse these days.
Oddie semi-annual campaign finance disclosure: 2018 – 1st semi
Vella semi-annual campaign finance disclosure: 2018 – 1st semi
Chen semi-annual campaign finance disclosure: 2018 – 1st semi
“Alamedans in Charge” semi-annual finance disclosure: 2018- 1st semi
Mia Bonta semi-annual campaign finance disclosure: 2018 – 1st semi
Knox White semi-annual campaign finance disclosure: 2018 – 1st semi
“Alamedans United” campaign finance disclosure: Alamedans United 496-21