In an Oakland election season where candidates have attacked mayoral frontrunner Don Perata about the influence of money in city politics, campaign finance debates are now trickling down to the City Council level.
The latest salvos come from three of the seven candidates vying to replace District 4’s Jean Quan, who has represented the Montclair, Laurel and Dimond neighborhoods on City Council since 2003. Quan, who is running for mayor, has made the sharpest criticisms of Perata’s campaign spending. Now, it’s the candidates looking to replace Quan on City Council that are crying foul in the days leading up to the Nov. 2 election.
On Oct. 27, Libby Schaaf’s District 4 campaign sent out a press release singling out approximately $44,000 worth of campaign mailings that the Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda County PAC sent on behalf of her opponent, Jill Broadhurst. Schaaf described these mailers as an attempt by Joe O’Donohue, a San Francisco developer who wants to build a condominium near Oakland’s Lake Merritt, to sway the election.
“It’s unfortunate that outside interests, and in particular a single San Francisco developer, are trying to influence our elections in Oakland,” Schaaf said.
O’Donohue’s $44,000 independent expenditure endorsing Broadhurst means that District 4 Council candidates no longer have to abide by campaign spending limits set by the Oakland Campaign Reform Law (OCRA). Schaaf, who criticized the mailers, said she intends to abide by the pledge that candidates made to spend less than $116,000 in the campaign. She has raised $102,000 from donors, and will receive $14,000 in matching funding from the city for abiding by OCRA spending limits.
“I look forward to continuing to run a positive, issue-based campaign that focuses on Oaklanders, and the issues that matter to them,” added Schaaf.
Broadhurst will not receive $20,000 in public financing since she has already spent more than $20,000 of her own money in the campaign. But she criticized Schaaf and other candidates for accepting public campaign money at a time when Oakland faces serious budget shortfalls. She characterized her decision to bypass matching city funding and to finance her campaign through private donations, including her own, as a sign of fiscal responsibility.
“I cannot in good conscience take taxpayer-funded money to pay for my campaign while police officers are being laid off, roads are crumbling, and we are reducing hours at our libraries,” Broadhurst explained.
Schaaf disputed Broadhurst’s characterization of public funding, describing it instead as a “clean elections practice” that organizations like the League of Women Voters have supported. Schaaf pointed out that all 440 of her campaign donors have contributed less than $700 each.
Meanwhile, another candidate has criticized Schaaf as the beneficiary of financial support from an outside source. District 4 candidate Ralph Kanz, a former chair of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission, criticized the mailer Alameda County Central Democratic Committee (ACCDC) sent to voters featuring former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown endorsing Schaaf. According to Kanz, the mailer did not include a notice providing certain information about who has paid for it, a requirement under Oakland law.
“I believe it is imperative for everyone to follow campaign laws,” Kanz declared. “Without this required information, the voters are denied a transparent and ethical election process.”
Kanz said it’s possible that the ACCDC mailer violated state election laws as well. The California Secretary of State has not received a “late filing” from the ACCDC regarding the campaign mailer supporting Schaaf. Kanz said that it’s possible that the ACCDC sent its filings to Oakland’s City Clerk and Secretary of State by fax on Oct. 29, but if not, it would represent another campaign violation.
“It’s ironic that two days after Ms. Schaaf condemned an opponent [Broadhurst] who received the benefit of a legally reported independent expenditure, she has benefited from a mailer that violates OCRA and possibly state law as well,” said Kanz. “I will be filing complaints concerning any and all violations surrounding this mailer.”
Schaaf responded that she had not seen the mailer, but that she was expecting the Democratic Party to communicate its endorsement of her to its members—registered Democrats—something that she says is allowed under campaign finance laws.
“Organizations are allowed to make communications to their members, which are not counted as an independent expenditure,” she said. “ If an organization like the California Nurses Association—which also endorsed me—wanted to communicate that to their union members, they would be allowed to do that.”
City Council elections have an additional wrinkle this year, as Oakland votes for the first time under the ranked-choice voting system. Voters in District 4 will be able to rank their top three choices among the seven candidates, and it’s almost certain no candidate will receive a majority in the first tally of votes. It will likely come down to counting voters’ second or third choices for the District 4 seat, and it could take several days to determine the winner.