Campaign quiz

One of our favorite columnists, Gail Collins, occasionally presents her Saturday column in the New York Times in the form of a multiple-choice quiz.

Today, the Merry-Go-Round will follow Ms. Collins’s lead, but we’ll confine ourselves to three questions.  The topic is politics, money, and the 2018 election in Alameda.

So here goes:

Question No. 1:  How much per vote did Jim Oddie spend to obtain the third-place finish that enabled him to creep back onto Council for another two years?

a.  $1.01

b.  $2.11

c.  $3.75

d.  $5.92

e.  $8.04

Question No. 2:  How much of her own money did Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft put into her successful campaign for mayor?

a.  $10,775

b.  $15,000

c.  $27,315

d.  $35,100

e.  $46,300

Question No. 3:  What percentage of the money raised by John Knox White was contributed by Alameda residents?

a.  5.96%

b.  16.21%

c.  65.10%

d.  97.08%

e.  100%

And now for the answers (and a little commentary):

Question No. 1:  The correct answer is (e):  $8.04.  Mr. Oddie spent $85,026.71 on his campaign and got 10,576 votes.

Where did the money go?  The Alamedans whose mailboxes were stuffed this election season with mailers making all sorts of claims about Mr. Oddie’s virtues already can guess:  his major expenditures were for “campaign literature and mailings” ($32,694.48) and “postage, delivery, and messenger services” ($30,121.11).  Another $3,942.61 was spent on unspecified “campaign paraphernalia.”

The size of Mr. Oddie’s spending on his re-election bid gives him bragging rights over organized labor’s other favorite Council member, Teamsters’ lawyer Malia Vella, who spent a mere $49,212.57 on her first-time campaign for Council in 2016.  (In fairness to Ms. Vella, she had to spend less herself because she benefited from $19,303.94 spent on her behalf by the union/developer PAC known as “Alamedans United”; Mr. Oddie had to make do with $5,904.48 spent by the Alameda firefighters’ union.)

In fact, the $8.04 figure actually understates how much Mr. Oddie paid for his votes.  For purposes of consistency with other candidates, we computed the figure using the data from the four campaign disclosure statements filed by Mr. Oddie’s re‑election campaign committee in 2018.  But Mr. Oddie formed the committee in October 2015, just a year after he originally had been elected to Council, and he has been spending money contributed to that committee ever since:  $4,386.85 in 2015, $731.87 in 2016, and $35,326.91 in 2017.  If these sums are added to the 2018 numbers, each vote Mr. Oddie got in November turns out to have cost $11.86.

(Now it’s true that the money Mr. Oddie spent in 2017 and 2018 included attorneys’ fees paid to the Keker law firm – a total of $27,097.50 directly, plus $11,000 “loaned” to a newly established legal-defense fund – for defending him in the probe into his violation of the City Charter.  But these fees were paid by Mr. Oddie’s campaign committee with campaign funds.  Under the Government Code, payment of defense costs, including attorneys’ fees, by a campaign committee is legal only if the litigation is “directly related to activities of a committee that are consistent with its primary objectives or arises directly out of a committee’s activities or out of a candidate’s or elected officer’s activities, duties, or status as a candidate or elected officer.”  Since Mr. Oddie (or his lawyers) apparently concluded that the Keker fees met this standard, we think it’s entirely proper to include them in his campaign spending totals.)

We didn’t pick the other choices for this question out of the air:  They represent the amount spent per vote by the other four Council candidates: Tony Daysog ($1.01), Robert Matz ($2.11), John Knox White ($3.75), and Stewart Chen, D.C. ($5.92).  Mr. Matz, running for office for the first time, came within 605 votes of beating Mr. Oddie, an incumbent, out of a third-place finish that would have gotten him a seat on the dais.  If he had managed to pull it off, the three new Council members would have been the three candidates who spent the least money per vote on their campaigns.  Ironic, ain’t it?

* * *

Question No. 2:  The correct answer is (d):  $35,100.  Ms. Ashcraft loaned herself $100 when she set up her mayoral campaign committee in April 2018.  She then loaned the committee another $35,000 on November 28, 2018, three weeks after she was elected mayor.

The other choices for this question reflect the amounts of her own money Ms. Ashcraft put into her four previous Council races:

  • In 2004, she and her husband made donations and loans totaling $10,775, which represented 38% of the total amount she raised for the campaign.
  • In 2010, she donated, in her own name, $46,300 (73% of the total raised).
  • In 2012, she donated $27,125, and her husband kicked in $190 (together, 59% of the total raised).
  • In 2016, she loaned her campaign $15,000 (32% of the total raised).

The timing of Ms. Ashcraft’s loan to her 2018 mayoral campaign may seem puzzling, since she put $35,000 of her own money into the till after the election was over.  But the disclosure statements suggest the likely reason:  she had a stack of bills to pay and not enough funds in the campaign account to pay them with.

Ms. Ashcraft spent $70,386.48 on the mayoral race, but she managed to raise only $35,798.12 in cash contributions from unrelated third parties.  Unless she wanted to begin her stint in the mayor’s chair by pulling a Donald Trump and stiffing her creditors, she needed to make up the shortfall herself.  As it happens, she’d bailed out her campaign similarly once before, in 2016, when her expenses ($49,478.68) exceeded her cash contributions from unrelated third parties ($31,755).  To pay down the deficit, she made herself the $15,000 loan in two installments at year-end.

The $35,100 of her own money Ms. Ashcraft put into the 2018 mayoral campaign is second only to the $46,300 she donated to her Council campaign in 2010.  Those two races have something in common:  In neither of them did Ms. Ashcraft receive a dime from the Alameda firefighters’ union, or, for that matter, from any other labor organization.

The explanation for the unions’ ignoring Ms. Ashcraft in 2010 is fairly benign (relatively speaking):  That was the year the firefighters’ union decided to take over City Hall by getting its own slate of candidates (Marie Gilmore for mayor; Rob Bonta and Lena Tam for Council) elected to office.  Naturally, those three were the candidates who got the cash contributions from the firefighters’ union ($13,300 for Ms. Gilmore and $2,500 apiece for Mr. Bonta and Ms. Tam).  There simply wasn’t any reason for IAFF Local 689 to give any money to Ms. Ashcraft as well.  So she had to use a lot of her own.

The explanation for the unions’ snubbing Ms. Ashcraft in 2018 is also straightforward (although we’d consider it less benign).  As Michael Jenkins, the City-hired investigator, recounts in his report, when Fire Chief Doug Long announced his retirement, the firefighters’ union leader(s) sought to get each of the three Council members whom the union previously had supported to pressure City Manager Jill Keimach to hand over the job to the union’s former president.  Two of the elected officials – Mr. Oddie and Ms. Vella (arguably to a lesser extent) – played ball.  The other – Ms. Ashcraft – did not.  As a result, she became what the East Bay Citizen, the union’s house organ, later described as “persona non grata to the firefighters.”

So it’s no wonder that the firefighters’ union didn’t turn on the spigot for Ms. Ashcraft in her mayoral campaign.  (We can’t resist quoting, once more, union president Jeff DelBono’s explanation for the decision to “sit out” the mayor’s race:  “We have high standards when it comes to endorsing candidates that are going to make sure the community is safe.”)  But no other union PAC donated to Ms. Ashcraft’s campaign, either.  It’s as if the firefighters had set up a picket line around her candidacy that no one in organized labor would dare to cross out of fear of offending Capt. DelBono.

The boycott didn’t derail Ms. Ashcraft’s campaign – she still won.  But it meant that she had to dig deeper into her own pocket to do so.

* * *

Question No. 3:  The correct answer is (c):  65.10%.  Mr. Knox White raised a total of $50,723 in cash contributions from unrelated third parties.  (We included in this group donors whose names sound like relatives of his, but we don’t presume to know his family tree).  Of this amount, $29,540 came from individuals with Alameda addresses.

The other choices to this question represent the percentage of funds raised from Alameda residents by the other four candidates.  We aren’t surprised that Mr. Knox White did far better in this regard than either Dr. Chen (16.21%) or Mr. Oddie (5.96%):  As in his previous races, Dr. Chen got the bulk of his cash contributions from individuals and businesses located outside Alameda, and, as we have previously commented, we can’t understand why any Alamedan who read (or even heard about) the Jenkins report would vote for, much less give money to, Mr. Oddie.

But Mr. Knox White did fall short of matching the perfect record set by Councilman Tony Daysog (100%) and almost equaled by newcomer Mr. Matz (97.08%).  His 65.10% is still a very respectable showing, but it prompted us to look into where Mr. Knox White got the rest of his campaign cash.

These days, it’s standard for a candidate pandering to “progressive” voters to pledge not to take any contributions from corporate political action committees, and a few – Congressmen Ro Khanna and Beto O’Rourke come to mind – have gone so far as to state that they won’t accept any PAC money, even from PACs sponsored by unions.  As far as we know, Mr. Knox White made no such pledge during his 2018 campaign.  In any event, he did rake in $5,149 in cash contributions from PACs, plus another $1,000 from the Rob Bonta for Assembly 2018 campaign committee.

Mr. Knox White’s supporters can take heart that all but one donation he accepted from a PAC came from one of the “good” PACs – i.e., those sponsored by a labor organization or other worthy.  (For Mr. Knox White, the union benefactors were IBEW Local 595, Transport Workers Union, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, United Here, UA Local 342, Bricklayers, and AFSCME; in addition, the East Bay Animal PAC gave him $500).  But then there’s the $250 he took from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee (aka “CREPAC”).

CREPAC is sponsored by the California Association of Realtors; its purpose is to “support state and local candidates to further the goals of the real estate industry.”  Mr. Knox White wasn’t the only Council candidate to get CREPAC money; Dr. Chen, Mr. Matz, and Mr. Oddie each received $250 as well (as did all three mayoral candidates).  But we suspect he won’t be bragging about it the next time he sees Eric Strimling or any of the other leaders of the Alameda Renters’ Coalition.

And what of the firefighters’ union?  Herein lies a mystery.

Mr. Knox White’s campaign disclosure statements don’t report any contributions, monetary or otherwise, from the IAFF Local 689 PAC.  But the PAC’s own filings tell a different story.  They state that the firefighters’ union PAC made a “monetary contribution” of $385 to Mr. Knox White on September 22, 2018, and that it gave him “non-monetary contributions” totaling $7,711.97 for mailers and phone banking.  In addition, they disclose that the PAC made an “independent expenditure” of $2,019.20 for door hangers supporting his candidacy.

All told, the financial support for Mr. Knox White from the firefighters’ union, as shown by the PAC’s own reports, comes to $10,116.17.  We’ll leave it to the accountants for the Vice Mayor and the union to sort out the discrepancy between their respective disclosures.  We just hope that the books get cleaned up before Mr. Knox White is called upon to vote on the next request by the fire department for additional staffing or salary and benefit increases.  We wouldn’t want to see him proclaiming, mistakenly, that he got no financial support in his campaign from the union who would benefit if Council approved the request.

* * *

Here ends the quiz.  We’d thought about including a bonus question for those of our readers who answered all three questions correctly, but we’re running out of space.  Ah, hell, we’ll make it a simple one:

Since 2010, how many candidates have spent more than $25,000 to get elected to the School Board?  (Hint:  The candidates’ husbands also are well-known political figures.)

Post a comment with your answer and we’ll tell you if you’re right.


Campaign disclosure statements for the 2018 election may be found at

Campaign disclosure statements for prior elections may be found at



About Robert Sullwold

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

9 Responses to Campaign quiz

  1. Steve says:

    Ummm. Mia Bonta?

  2. Kurt says:

    Good job, Robert. Answer: Bonita and Harris

  3. Janet C Gibson says:

    Yes, It is Mia Bonta and Gray Harris (Only one had a husband helping her campaign. When Ms. Harris campaigned for AUSD School Board, Jeff DelBono was her “significant other”. They married last year. Thanks, Bob for providing such good information in a fun format.

  4. dave says:

    Re: JKW’s PAC support.

    Here’s a rather long thread from last campaign season on Next Door. in which White describes his pledge of recusal on votes that affect his benefactors. One may find a word search on “recus” which catches both recuse and recusal to be a helpful navigation tip.

    Whether one supports him or not, one has to respect his ability as a gymnast….

    • carol says:

      Dave, I guess this MGR post answers your Next Door query [Oct 25] “Do campaign mailers ever accomplish anything?” For Oddie, apparently they were crucial.

      The fallout from events around this election: We lost our City Manager [Keimach], a deputy CM [Jennifer Ott], assistant CM [Warmerdam], and the City Attorney [Kern]. What does this say about the work environment for senior women staff in the City of Alameda? Our male CMs used to stay on forever [e.g. Weller, Wonder, Norton]. Why do our women leaders have such short tenures?
      I think it’s time the City of Alameda had a woman fire chief. Does the IAFF have any women in leadership positions?

  5. Allan Mann says:

    The League of Women Voters of Alameda has created some handy charts indicating who gave what to whom during the election. Charts show contributions by location, type of contributor an size of contribution along with listing the top contributors to each local candidate and Measure K. They’ll be doing the same for the April election once the next reports are filed Feb. 28.

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