Now that the primary is finally over, we can all sit back and assess what we’ve learned from this campaign. I, for one, have learned a couple of very important things: Phil Angelides is a scumbag developer who wants to raise taxes, and Steve Westly is a Schwarzenegger-suckup who takes money from crooks.
The governor’s race was hardly the only campaign to descend into the muck. In the Oakland mayor’s race, voters got two pre-recorded messages attacking candidate and former Congressman Ron Dellums. One of the canned calls says, “Ron Dellums left office eight years ago to become a Washington lobbyist. He quit representing the people so he could lobby for big corporations and foreign dictators. Now, he sold his DC mansion and moved back to Oakland just to run for office. But Oakland needs a real mayor, not a fat-cat lobbyist.”
Not that accuracy matters to the people behind these kinds of calls, but Dellums, for the record, didn’t represent “foreign dictators” (although he did rep big corporations like AT&T and Rolls-Royce). He lobbied for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s former democratically elected president.
So who’s behind the calls? As of this writing, no one knows. Both of Dellums’ top rivals, council members Ignacio De La Fuente and Nancy Nadel, said they had nothing to do with them. That means the calls were likely financed by a so-called independent expenditure committee.
While state and city laws require campaign committees to identify themselves on broadcast ads and brochures, they need not do so in pre-recorded phone calls attacking or supporting candidates. De La Fuente says he plans to introduce an ordinance requiring such disclosure in the future — something Nadel said she’d support. De La Fuente says the identity of the person or group bankrolling campaign calls “should be declared … for the good ones and the bad ones.”
By the “good ones,” he means the pro-Dellums robocalls from poet Maya Angelou that also don’t say who paid for them. The campaign calls featuring one of the country’s greatest living poets had Angelou waxing unpoetic, telling voters to cast their ballots early at “the registrar of voters, 1225 Fallon Street.” It was reminiscent of the Saturday Night Live spoof in which Angelou did a pitch for a popular cereal brand: “Fruity loops, Fruit Loopies, swimming in the churning, frothy mother sea of milk, Kellogg’s appreciates consumer comments, P. O. Box 221, Battle Creek, Michigan, a prism of fruity color, a cornucopia of over forty fruity tastes.”
Why was a Sacramento-based political action committee so interested in the Oakland mayor’s race? The PAC, Californians United, financed at least six mailers backing multiple East Bay candidates, but most prominently Ignacio De La Fuente. Campaign finance reports provide a clue as to the PAC’s keen interest: At least $260,000 of the $574,500 it raised this year came from people and businesses who have donated in the past to Oakland state Senator Don Perata, De La Fuente’s best friend and closest political ally.
The Perata tie raises the question of whether the independent PAC was really independent from the De La Fuente campaign as legally required. Perata has denied any involvement with Californians United, and De La Fuente insisted he knew nothing about the group. Paul Kinney, a media consultant who acts as the PAC’s president, says Perata is not involved in its activities. “I’ve never even talked to him about this thing, and he’s a good friend of mine,” Kinney sniffs.
Perata’s fingerprints, however, show up all over the place. One of the PAC’s mailers, for instance, touts De La Fuente’s support of Oakland Parents Literacy Project, a nonprofit co-founded by Perata, who still sits on the organization’s board. Meanwhile, Oakland developer Phil Tagami, who cut a $10,000 check to Californians United in January, said Chris Lehman, a former Perata aide and consultant, hit him up for the donation. Tagami says Lehman told him the money would go to help Democratic candidates in the state and on behalf of Prop. 82.
The Perata trail doesn’t end in Oakland. Two weeks ago, Tom Umberg, a Democratic state candidate in Orange County, filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that the “independent” committee was really controlled by Perata in violation of state campaign law. As evidence, he noted that regular Perata campaign consultants Sandi Polka and fund-raiser Connie Emerson were also on the payroll of Californians United. Then there’s the fact that Paul Kinney is father of Perata damage-controller Jason Kinney.
The PAC has devoted most of its resources to attacking Umberg, who ran against Perata’s handpicked candidate in the primary, Lou Correa. One particularly nasty mailer called Umberg a liar and hammered him for an extramarital affair.
Why would Perata, the state’s top Democrat, want to slam another Dem in what most experts believe is the only Senate seat the party could lose to the GOP in November? The conventional wisdom is that Perata, who recently co-hosted a fund-raiser for Correa in the capital — Emerson helped organize it — felt that Umberg’s affair would cost the Dems in the general election. Of course, if Umberg does manage to win the nomination, he’ll have been mortally wounded by his own party’s boss, so the only thing Perata will have achieved is drumming up business for his consultant buddies. (Hmmm, knowing Perata’s rep as a rainmaker, maybe that’s the point.)
A funny footnote: A Californians United mailer directed at women voters in Oakland invoked the suffragette movement with an old black-and-white photo below the heading, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” On the backside it continues: “It’s been going on forever. We do the work. Someone else steals the spotlight, the credit and the power. The ‘old boys club’ stays in charge. … Things won’t change until we take charge.”
Then it goes and tells readers to vote for boys-club member De La Fuente.