Big Donors Lose Sway in Oakland

The City Council defeats a proposal that would have increased the amount of money that donors and PACs give to local candidates.

For a time, it looked as if this year’s Oakland mayoral campaign might become a victim of big-money politics. First, City Attorney John Russo proposed to double the city’s campaign contribution and expenditure limits. But when his plan failed to garner enough support, Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Jane Brunner backed a “compromise” proposal to raise the donor cap from $700 to $1,000. The new proposal also would have increased the contribution limit on political committees from $1,300 to $1,600, but it died last week when it too failed to earn enough votes.

Although the Brunner-De La Fuente plan would have maintained the cap on what candidates can spend in the mayoral race at about $370,000, it would have increased the power of big-ticket donors. After all, the typical $50 to $100 donation would be dwarfed by a $1,000 or $1,600 check. The proposal would have helped ex-state Senator Don Perata, a close ally of De La Fuente, who has depended heavily over the years on large donors.

Not surprisingly, Perata’s main opponent in November, Vice Mayor Jean Quan, voted against the compromise plan. Quan is running a grassroots campaign and will depend on small donations to get elected. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who has launched an exploratory run for mayor, also voted against raising the limits. In her 2008 campaign for council, Kaplan relied heavily on small donations in her win against Perata’s former chief of staff Kerry Hamill.

Both Russo’s proposal and the compromise plan also were rejected by the Oakland Public Ethics Commission. And their defeat means that this year’s mayoral and council races will use the existing donation and expenditure caps, which limit the power of big donors. Voting with Kaplan and Quan were Councilwomen Nancy Nadel and Pat Kernighan, who is up for reelection this year. Voting with Brunner and De La Fuente was Councilman Larry Reid. The final council member, Desley Brooks, who also is up for reelection, missed last week’s vote.

Mayor Ron Dellums, who has not yet announced whether he plans to seek reelection, also made a rare appearance at last week’s council meeting to cast a tie-breaking vote. The council had deadlocked 4-4 on a plan backed by Quan and Brunner to use $100,000 of the city’s public campaign financing fund for additional voter outreach for ranked-choice voting. Kaplan and De La Fuente had wanted to use the entire fund, arguing that the money the city and county already plan to spend is not enough to teach voters how to rank their choices on the November ballot. However, Dellums sided with Quan and Brunner.

Brown Retakes Lead Over Whitman

Jerry Brown has retaken his lead over Republican frontrunner Meg Whitman in the newest Rasmussen Poll. The poll showed the former Oakland mayor, who led Whitman in most polls throughout 2009, was ahead of the ex-eBay CEO 44 percent to 38 percent. The results may be significant because Rasmussen is generally considered to be a right-leaning poll by political observers.

Whitman’s sudden popularity plunge — after taking a lead over Brown in March — could be the result of recent reports of her extensive ties to Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street giant sued by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud. Brown also has made news by agreeing to release his tax returns, a move that the wealthy Whitman and her GOP rival Steve Poizner have refused to make, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

However, Brown’s new advantage could be short-lived. The Los Angeles Times reported that Brown also has ties to Goldman Sachs. When he was mayor of Oakland, his administration renegotiated an “interest-rate swap” deal with the current poster child for Wall Street greed that is now costing the cash-strapped City of Oakland $5 million a year.

USA Swimming Denounced

A new seven-point plan by USA Swimming to address sex abuse by its swim coaches was lambasted last week by three lawyers representing three alleged victims of abuse. The attorneys say the plan was thrown together “for public relations purposes,” and “does not truly address the issue and does not prevent or minimize the risk of sexual misconduct and sexual abuse directed toward young female swimmers by USA Swimming swim coaches.”

As the Express reported earlier this month, USA Swimming didn’t institute a background check policy for coaches until 2006, long after coaches like Andrew King had been abusing swimmers for years. King was a longtime swim coach in the Bay Area who was sentenced to forty years in prison in January for child molestation. Moreover, the 2006 policy and the new seven-point plan from USA Swimming would not have stopped King from coaching because he had never been charged with or convicted of a crime.

Three-Dot Roundup

The Berkeley school board approved a compromise plan that will protect college-prep science labs but will slash three science teaching positions at Berkeley High School, the Berkeley Voice reported. … The Oakland school district plans to keep schools open during the April 29 teacher strike. The teachers’ union is holding a one-day walkout to protest the cash-strapped district’s decision to unilaterally implement a contract with no raises. … The Oakland school district also put the allegedly abusive teacher who prompted a one-day parent strike at Lazear Elementary School on unpaid administrative leave, pending an investigation. … And the San Leandro City Council gave final approval to ranked choice voting in this year’s election, joining the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, according to the Hayward Daily Review.

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