Business Group Says It Won’t Buy Oakland Election, After All

After some serious arm-twisting by Mayor-elect Ron Dellums, the Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s PAC agreed Thursday morning to halt its plan to pour tens of thousands of dollars into a pivotal City Council campaign. “We have a very compelling and persuasive mayor coming into office,” Michael Colbruno, chair of OakPAC, the chamber’s political action committee, said during a press conference with Dellums. The chamber had planned to spend at total of $58,000 to re-elect incumbent Councilwoman Pat Kernighan
in her tough battle against progressive Aimee Allison. Neither Dellums nor Colbruno, who is also a vice president at Clear Channel Outdoor, revealed exactly how the incoming mayor convinced the business group to back off. But after the press conference, it became clear that Dellums, at the very least, had threatened to denounce the chamber publicly if it had refused to stop its ad campaign for Kernighan.

Tony West, an aide to Dellums, said OakPAC had not agreed to the mayor-elect’s demands until Thursday morning, even though the press conference was announced on Wednesday. When questioned as to whether Dellums used the press conference, which was attended by every major Bay Area newspaper, TV, and radio station, as leverage to get OakPAC to stop its plans, West responded, “Both sides had leverage at the bargaining table.” Dellums was clearly angry about OakPAC’s plans to flood Kernighan’s district with glossy mailers and paid workers between now and November 7. Dellums called OakPAC’s plans “inappropriate,” adding that “the message they send is inappropriate” as well.

OakPAC has already spent nearly $15,000 on Kernighan’s behalf in a glossy six-page mailer that went out last weekend. Colbruno said it was too late to stop a second mailer for Kernighan, because he said it had already gone to the post office. OakPAC won the right last week to spend as much as it wanted on Kernighan in a controversial court decision that suspended an Oakland campaign finance law that governs political action committees. The law had limited the amount of money political action committees can raise and spend on behalf of a candidate. But a federal judge granted OakPAC’s request to suspend the law just before the election, ruling that it’s likely an unconstitutional infringement on free speech to limit PAC expenditures.

Kernighan and Allison, who both attended the press conference, praised the agreement between Dellums and OakPAC, as did Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who was also on hand. “It’s a marvelous example of what’s to come,” said Lee, who was Dellums chief of staff while he was in Congress. “Ron is a unifier, not a divider.” Allison said she was “very pleased,” adding that it would have been unfair to change the campaign finance rules just before the election. Kernighan, who was endorsed by OakPAC and is a close ally of council President Ignacio De La Fuente , said she never asked the chamber for help. But she refused to denounce the chamber for what it had already spent.

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