Council candidates take the money -- and run

From zero to $30,000, campaign-donation totals reveal degrees of support and differences in philosophy

With nearly $22,000 in donations at the end of last month, Palo Alto City Council candidate Sid Espinosa is emerging as the race's frontrunner -- at least financially.

Candidates Pat Burt, a planning commissioner, and Dan Dykwel, a real estate agent, have collected $13,854 and $13,595, respectively. Yiaway Yeh, a public finance consultant, wraps up the top four with $9,465.

"We're thrilled," Espinosa said. "It was totally unanticipated."

The 35-year-old director of philanthropy at Hewlett-Packard and community volunteer has never run for public office before.

Eleven candidates are vying for four seats on the nine-member council, in a race marked by diplomacy and notable for its lack of female candidates.

Last Thursday, Sept. 27, was the first major filing deadline for the Nov. 6 election, and all candidates were required to submit a form, whether or not they raised any money.

Espinosa was the only candidate to report any sizable non-monetary contributions. By pricing his Web site,, at $5,000 and including T-shirt, cheese platter and postage stamp donations, Espinosa's grand total topped $30,400.

Espinosa said he won't spend more than $30,000 -- of strictly monetary donations -- for the race.

"I'm really focused on running a transparent campaign," Espinosa said, adding that if there was any question about reporting something, it was included.

No other candidate included the cost of a Web site; Dykwel said he plans to report his during the next reporting period, which ends Oct. 20.

Currently, candidates can accept and spend campaign donations of any amount. On Sept. 10, the City Council struck down a proposed voluntary regulation plan that would have capped contributions at $300 and spending at $30,000.

Candidate Greg Schmid, a former school-board member, has tallied $6,055, comprised primarily of contributions from Palo Alto individuals.

"I don't think we're running a race for money," Schmid said. "Ultimately what the key is are the ideas."

Attorney Bill Ross reported $4,200 in contributions; $200 from himself and $4,000 from Palo Altans William and Candace Osborn, also strong supporters of presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Ross could not be reached for comment Monday.

Candidate Mark Nadim, a foothills resident, investment advisor and engineer, has raised $3,448.

Nadim said more money would make campaigning easier.

"(But) when you don't have enough you end up managing the money really well," he said.

Candidate Tim Gray reported donating $300 to his campaign. He said he eventually intends to spend $5,000 to $7,000 of his own money.

Gray wants his supporters to donate to the Palo Alto Library Foundation or join the PaloAltoGreen electricity program instead of financing his race for office.

"It was more important that my campaign do something good for the city right away," Gray said, explaining his unconventional donation strategy. He said he also wants to emphasize his independence.

Candidate Smokey Wallace is not accepting donations; he has said he's hoping to garner voters via word-of-mouth.

Victor Frost, who did not report any donations or spending, turned in his form Monday, four days after it was due. In a handwritten note, he explained he had been sick and "in isolation."

Stella Marinos, the only woman in the race, submitted her form a day late. She didn't report any donations or spending.

The forms, which list of names and amounts, provide insight into the candidates and their supporters.

Burt said he is only accepting contributions under $250 and turning away contributions from organizations, including unions or political action committees (PACs), even those he supports such as the League of Conservation Voters.

"I think it was the right thing to do, but it makes fundraising considerably more difficult," Burt said.

Dykwel said he's accepting all contributions, though he doesn't rule out the possibly that he might reject one if he found it improper.

"I do not consider it a problem," Dykwel said.

His largest contribution, from someone other than himself, is from John Dawson, an Old Palo Alto neighborhood resident who lists his occupation as "manager." Dykwel said he is a friend he has worked with on school issues.

Dykwel said he's a little off his fundraising target but still intends to spend less than $30,000.

Espinosa said he's accepting donations less than $300 from individuals and $500 from organizations. He isn't ruling out taking money from a particular category of organization, but he said it's possible he would turn away a donation.

Yeh has the largest proportion of donations from outside of Palo Alto. Only 23 percent of his $9,465 came from within city limits.

He was not available for comment Monday.

State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) gave $50 to Espinosa and Burt, but he wrote a check for $100 to Yeh.

The forms also show candidates Espinosa and Dykwel traded donations. Dykwel and his wife, Sunny, both gave Espinosa $75; Espinosa reciprocated with a $150 donation several days later.

They are personal friends who have worked on several community efforts together, Espinosa said.

The mandated forms weren't devoid of traces of humor.

Janelle Fodor, who donated $250 to Burt, listed her profession as "Mother" and her employer as "The Kids."


Like this comment
Posted by witness
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 4:49 pm

Frost had a sign up seeking donations for signs. I saw someone give him funds. I guess there is more than one definition of "none" in the political world.

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