Independent groups pump cash into Assembly campaign

Contributions from political action committees boost Berman's bid to replace Rich Gordon

With the crowded race to succeed Assemblyman Rich Gordon in the 24th District heading into the final stretch, independent political action committees are throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars into the contest in hopes of influencing the outcome.

Palo Alto City Councilman Marc Berman has been the chief beneficiary of these political action committees, with groups funded by dentists, Realtors, car dealers, poultry farmers and pawnbrokers collectively contributing thousands of dollars to his campaign in the month leading up to the June 7 primary.

Berman, an attorney who until last fall worked as development director at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, benefited from huge infusion of cash from EdVoice Independent Expenditure Committee, the political arm of the Sacramento-based education-policy nonprofit. Last week, the committee made a series of expenditures totaling $368,291 to support Berman's bid for the Assembly.

The group paid for several flyers, one touting Berman as "one of our region's innovative leaders" and crediting him for "(leading) the charge to transition Palo Alto toward cleaner energy" and for helping to close the achievement gap in public schools.

Berman said the EdVoice expenditures were made completely independently from his campaign.

"We had no coordination with (EdVoice) whatsoever," Berman said.

The California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee, based in Los Angeles, is also backing Berman with fliers and contributions. Last week, the group issued several fliers urging voters to support Berman, one touting his "proven record of fighting for us" and another referring to him as a "progressive focused on fiscal responsibility."

Meanwhile, another independent group, Californians Allied For Patient Protection Independent Expenditure Account, paid for an ad that takes a swing at Vicki Veenker, who is also vying for the Assembly seat. The flier criticizes Veenker for not having held an elected office and for having "never been seen at council meetings." In an obvious allusion to Donald Trump, the flier states that Veenker "sounds like someone we know running for President, doesn't it."

The attack ad drew an immediate rebuke from the California chapter of the National Women's Political Caucus of California, which has endorsed Veenker. Angelica Ramos, president of the group's local chapter, issued a statement that blasted the ad for implying to Peninsula women and girls that "despite all the hard work they do behind the scenes, like Vicki, they are unqualified for advancement as well.

"This is the kind of institutional sexism that discourages other qualified women from running for office, and it shows," the statement read.

(Berman told the Palo Alto Weekly that his campaign had nothing to do with the mailer and that negative attacks have no place in the race.)

Veenker is also backed by numerous political action committees, though she lags far behind Berman in contributions from these groups. Last week she received one $4,200 contribution from the Women's Political Committee and another $4,200 contribution from the Women In Power Political Action Committee. And last month, she received $8,500 from the California Nurses Association Political Action Committee; $2,500 from the Mountain View Professional Firefighters Political Action Committee; and $1,000 from D.R.I.V.E., a political action committee of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Earlier this year, Veenker also benefited from an $8,500 contribution from the California Teachers Association, one of her top backers.

Veenker is also the only candidate in California who is being directly opposed by the Californians Allied For Patient Protection Independent Expenditure Account. The group has raised money to support numerous candidates for the state Assembly, including Joaquin Arambula in District 31; Matt Dababheh in District 45; Bill Dodd in District 3; and Raul Bocanegra in District 39. It has also raised $32,501 specifically to oppose Veenker, according to its campaign statement.

Political action committees have largely refrained from contributing to the campaigns of Mountain View council members Mike Kasperzak and John Inks; or to Menlo Park Councilman Peter Ohtaki, the sole Republican in the race. And Cupertino Mayor Barry Chang, who has raised close to $300,000, did so largely by relying on contributions from individuals and area companies (the sole exception was the $2,250 that Chang received from the Associated Builders and Contractors Northern California Chapter PAC).

In a campaign statement filed earlier this month, Chang listed dozens of major contributions that collectively totaled $289,000. Many of these contributions were in the form of $4,200 and $8,500 checks from companies that are based outside the district and that gave more than once. Tropicana Russell, Inc., based in San Mateo, contributed a pair of $4,200 checks. So did Tiptoe Properties, LLC; Marina Brothers, Inc.; and Bayca Inc. -- all companies based in San Jose. According to Chang's statement, he received two more $4,200 contributions from Caixing Xie, owner of Bayca. Similarly, Chang received donations totaling $42,000 from Campbell-based firm South Bay Construction, in addition to separate contributions from the company's partners.

Chang's tendency of getting separate contributions from a business and from its owners is unusual, given that the city's campaign finance laws treat donations from a firm's controlling partner as an individual donation and that many of his donors had already made the maximum allowed contribution in their capacity as individuals. And while Chang only reported these contributions in his "late contributions" filing earlier this month, many of them were made last year (in some cases, going back to last July).

When asked about this irregularity by the Mountain View Voice (the Weekly's sister paper), Chang explained that he had made an extra effort this campaign cycle to adhere to elections rules, which he described as "complicated." He pointed out that these large donations had been included in his committee's standard campaign-finance report submitted last month.

Chang, who was sanctioned by the Federal Political Practice Commission for his failing to disclose 160 contributions to his 2014 campaign for the City Council, also told the Voice that he had recently retained a Sacramento accounting firm to serve as his treasurer. He was notified only then that he should file additional paperwork for the large donations.

"I'm glad I had (my accountant) because she's the expert," Chang said. "To the best of my knowledge I filed them, and I filed them correctly. But she said we had to file them again."

The two remaining candidates, retired engineer Seelam Reddy and community activist Jay Cabrera, are running low-budget campaigns and have not formed committees for their respective Assembly bids.

Mountain View Voice staff writer Mark Noack contributed to this report


Related content:

• To watch candidate interviews, click here.

• To read candidate profiles on Barry Chang, John Inks, Jay Cabrera and Marc Berman, click here.

• To read candidate profiles on Mike Kasperzak, Peter Ohtaki, Seelam Reddy and Vicki Veenker, click here.

• For an interactive online presentation showing the candidates' stances on top state issues, go to


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53 people like this
Posted by SUPERPAC Tuesday
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2016 at 8:57 pm

Hey, today was the first day in weeks that I didn't receive yet another SUPERPAC funded mailing from the Berman campaign. These Berman ads also seems to have taken over all the paid ads on my computer. I kind of get the commonality of interests between realtors, car dealers, and pawn brokers, but I am still working on the chicken farmer special interest group angle. At some point you would think that the environmentally sensitive residents of the district would get tired of these mailings. The "Californians Allied For Patient Protection Independent Expenditure Account" anti-Veenker smear mailer was so deliciously stupid and bad (being a member of the water board prepares one for the Assembly?, what has this PAC been smoking?; and the reference to Donald Trump was cringe worthy) that I suspect that it will get Veenker plenty more votes than it costs her. Enough of this PAC trash, I am supporting Veenker based on issues (it doesn't hurt being the only woman in contention in this race).

9 people like this
Posted by South PA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2016 at 10:44 pm

The article doesn't mention the $4,200 that Veenker received from the Trial Lawyers of California PAC and the $8,500 she has recently received from individual trial lawyers from Los Angeles to San Francisco: Web Link. I suspect this steady stream of trial attorney money will continue through the primary.

I find it fascinating when people cite support for Veenker based on issues, when only very recently did she add a very brief issues page that is light on substance and much less detailed than what the other top tier candidates have up on their websites. I think issues like education, the environment, and housing affordability should merit more than a short paragraph each from a serious candidate.

22 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 23, 2016 at 11:05 pm

One of the appealing things about Veenker is that she does not come across as a political hack, like Berman does. She seems independent minded and reasonably smart. Berman seems more calculating.

It may be that Veenker will get bored or disgusted with the grind of legislative work, or will just be ineffective. But her upside potential seems a lot higher than Berman. I can see reasonable people deciding either way, but personally I would like to take a chance on Veenker. Don't worry - if she doesn't work out, Berman will still be waiting the next time around.

9 people like this
Posted by Neighbor U Don't Know
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2016 at 2:17 am

To run for the Assembly, a candidate must be a registered voter in the district at the time nomination papers are issued. According to Article 4, Section 2(c) of the California Constitution, the candidate must have one year of residency in the legislative district and California residency for three years -- prior to entering a contest for a state assembly seat.

Chang lived in a house in Assembly District 28 and only moved to his current rental property address in February 2016 and re-registered as an elector thereafter. This unlawful "qualification" disqualifies him as a candidate for the Assembly District 24 contest.

5 people like this
a resident of College Terrace
on May 24, 2016 at 3:43 am

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

Last night at city hall, there were a number of Palo Alto citizens gathered to express concern about the airplane noise around us.

The airplane noise is a top issue for 24th assembly district. The other top issues are

- special interest groups influencing Sacramento
- mental health improvement for our school children
- environment and issues surrounding quality of life
- wage stagnation and equal pay for 24th assembly female citizens
- housing shortage

You deserve better than empty promises and special interest groups.

You have on the ballot people with tons of experience in the industry that want to represent you without taking donations from people to run for office.

Ultimately, it is you that want change or keep status quo.


12 people like this
Posted by Boo, Hiss!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2016 at 8:28 am

Boo, Hiss! is a registered user.

Chang appears to attempting to run for two districts at once, all while trying to remain mayor of Cupertino ( he's actually fighting a recall). He appears to have a hair trigger temper, and is proposing some ill-thought-out taxes , like the $1,000 per employee tax on companies employing more than 100 people.

It seems something is not okay with Chang's mind and mental processes. For heaven's sake, don't vote for him!

6 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2016 at 11:12 am

Every time I hear or see a quote that uses the words "He/She/I have been fighting for us/you," I run the other way. The Berman reference reminds me of Hillary Clinton who keeps telling potential voters that she has been "fighting for you her entire career," yet when her staff is asked to name an accomplishment or specifically indicate legislation she has authored to improve life in the U.S., they can't and wind up shrugging their shoulders. Just because you or your minions say it, doesn't make it true.

3 people like this
Posted by WillowsResident
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 24, 2016 at 2:58 pm

I agree that NextGen airplane noise impacts is a top priority that needs to be addressed by politicians at all levels of government, as the FAA appears intransigent. I haven't seen any of the candidates state their interest in this issue. I know, however, that Peter Otahki has done absolutely nothing on the issue as Menlo Park's council member on the FAA's SFO committee and he will definitely not be getting my vote!

10 people like this
Posted by About Marc Berman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2016 at 6:49 am

See Web Link Marc Berman donated $100K to his own campaign. Also see the donations from Palo Alto developers.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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