Four out of five candidates for seats on the Palo Alto City Council have now each raised more than $50,000 for their respective campaigns, underscoring the growing role of money in local politics.
Councilman Cory Wolbach, who is seeking a second term, and Alison Cormack continue to lead the field, with total reported contributions of $73,824 and $67,078, respectively. But their edge over Councilmen Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth has shrunk, with both members of the council's wing that favors slower city growth bringing in significant contributions over the past month, according to the latest campaign-finance disclosures.
DuBois received $22,209 in contributions between Sept. 23 and Oct. 20, according to the legally required documents, more than any other candidate, bringing his total to $59,634. Filseth saw $14,358 in contributions during the same period and now has $51,731 in his campaign chest.
Pat Boone, the fifth council candidate, received contributions totaling $919, according to the documents.
The new numbers reflect the changing nature of campaigning in Palo Alto. In 2014, when Filseth, DuBois and Wolbach were first elected to the council, each raised less than $30,000 for his respective campaign: Filseth received $26,127, Wolbach brought in $25,586 and DuBois raised $23,859.
The topic came up in recent debates, where all candidates disparaged the growing role of money in council campaigns and voiced general support for campaign-finance reform measures that would limit contributions.
In the meantime, however, the fundraising season remains in full swing, with all four candidates receiving big checks in the weeks leading up to the election. Wolbach, who continues to lead the pack, has seen his re-election campaign bolstered in the past month by contributions from various labor groups, both local and regional. Palo Alto Professional Firefighters has contributed $1,000 to Wolbach, as has the political action committee of Laborers Local Union 270, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 332. Sprinkler Fitters and Apprentices Local 483 contributed $500, while Service Employees International Union Local 521, which represents about half of Palo Alto's city employees, gave $250.
Wolbach also received $250 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee — California Association of Realtors.
Most of Wolbach's other contributions in the latest reporting period come from local residents, including economist Stephen Levy, co-founder of the citizens group Palo Alto Forward ($250), former council member Gail Price ($75) and former Architectural Review Board member Lee Lippert ($100). Wolbach also received a $250 check from planning commissioner Michael Alcheck, which he then returned.
Unlike Wolbach, Cormack received all of her contributions in the latest reporting period from individuals, most of them from Palo Alto. Engineer Shilpa Singhal contributed $1,000 to her campaign; every other donation was for a smaller amount. Susan Thom, who worked with Cormack on the 2008 campaign to pass a library bond, contributed $250; Grace Mah, a board member at Santa Clara County Office of Education, contributed $99. Josh Becker, a Menlo Park resident and chairman of Lex Machina, gave $125, while Owen Byrd, general counsel at Lex Machina, gave another $100.
Cormack also received contributions from retired attorney Hal Mickelson ($100), housing advocate John Kelley ($100) and Stanford University career and leadership coach Cindy Greig ($100).
DuBois and Filseth received the biggest lift in the past month, with many local donors making equal contributions to each of them. Palo Alto residents Kat Gibbs, Judy Koch, Roger McCarthy, Robert McIntyre and William Quackenbush each donated $1,000 to each of the two candidates.
The top contributor to any campaign in the past month was Jeff Hoel, a longtime advocate for expanding Palo Alto's fiber-optic ring, who contributed $5,000 to DuBois. This was the only contribution of more than $1,000 reported in the latest period, in contrast to the prior period (which stretched from July 1 to July 22), in which several local families made $5,000 contributions to both DuBois and Filseth.
Palo Alto residents Paula Rantz and Michael Rantz, who gave thousands of dollars to council candidates in 2016, this year contributed $950 and $850, respectively, to both the DuBois and the Filseth campaigns.
In addition to the influx of cash, both DuBois and Filseth have received support from the political action committee Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, which has been running ads in support of both candidates. The group, which was created in the aftermath of the 2013 citizen referendum on a proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue, advocates for slow city growth policies and has endorsed both candidates.
According to the latest campaign finance documents, the group spent $1,485 on ads in the Weekly to support of DuBois and another $1,485 to support Filseth. Further underscoring the alliance between the two competing candidates is the $500 contribution that Filseth made to DuBois' campaign.
DuBois' strong fundraising month was also bolstered by $500 contributions from local residents Doria Summa, Sally Rudd, Thomas Rindfleisch, Janet Dafoe, Neilson Buchanan and Malcolm Beasley.
Filseth raised $14,358 in the latest reporting period, with almost all of his contributions coming from Palo Alto residents. Gale Johnson, Megan Barton Rindfleisch, Rudd each contributed $500 to Filseth, while Allen Akin, Jennifer Fryhling, Sheryl Klein and Lisa Berkowitz Landers each gave $250.
Boone, meanwhile, has consistently said he is proud of the fact that he is not raising as much cash as the others, highlighting it as one of the main differences between himself and the other candidates. The two contributions he received in the latest filing period both came from Palo Alto residents, Cindy Goral ($99) and Suzanne Keehn ($150).
The five candidates are vying for three spots on the City Council, which is set to see its number of seats reduced from nine to seven next year. Council members Karen Holman and Greg Scharff are both terming out and are now vying for an open seat on the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District board.
For complete 2018 election information, check out the Palo Alto voters' guide.