Independent expenditures factor into local election | News | Palo Alto Online |


Independent expenditures factor into local election

Groups target measures E, F and one council candidate for support, opposition

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Independent expenditures in Palo Alto political races have had a spotty presence in recent elections, but this fall, significant amounts have been spent to support one City Council candidate as well as to support and oppose measures E and F.

Independent expenditures are undertaken by groups unaffiliated with the candidates or the committees running campaigns. The independent groups typically send mailers on behalf of the candidate or issue, buy advertising, host websites or otherwise advocate for their chosen cause. By definition, independent expenditures are made without coordination with the person or committee the group is supporting, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

City Council candidate Alison Cormack has received the support of two committees: Innovation for Everyone and the California Apartment Association Housing Solutions Committee. The former, co-founded by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group's President and CEO Carl Guardino and two others (as individuals and not in their professional capacities), provided campaign mailers valued at $23,130.

"We look for people who share our belief that the innovation economy should benefit everyone in society. There's so much work to do around education, traffic and housing, and we look for which candidates best reflect positive actions on those issues — and folks who share values of integrity and public service," Guardino said. He noted that the committee relied on the answers candidates for office throughout the Santa Clara County provided on a publicly available questionnaire implemented by the Leadership Group.

A mailer sent by Innovation for Everyone, which arrived in Palo Alto mailboxes on Oct. 31, notes, "Alison Cormack supports regional College Promise initiatives," citing her answer to a question posed in the Leadership Group survey.

"Your vote can support education in Palo Alto," the mailer declares above a photo of a yellow school bus. (Though someone receiving the flyer might think the City Council makes policy decisions for the Palo Alto Unified School District, it does not.)

This is the fourth election that Innovation for Everyone has participated in through independent expenditures, Guardino said. The committee also chose this fall to advocate on behalf of the Sunnyvale mayor and a Sunnyvale council candidate and County Supervisor candidate Susan Ellenberg, he said.

The California Apartment Association Housing Solutions Committee, meanwhile, provided mailings valued at $13,280 for Cormack in October. The association is a statewide trade group representing rental home and apartment owners and managers, according to its website.

"The California Apartment Association Housing Solutions Committee is committed to supporting candidates who work collaboratively with housing providers in the community — candidates who support equitable and sustainable approaches to providing housing that working professionals and families can afford," wrote Joshua Howard, senior vice president of the association's Tri County branch in San Jose, in an email.

"Alison Cormack is highly regarded in the community for her leadership ability in bringing stakeholders together to tackle tough issues and big projects. She demonstrated those skills when she championed Measure N where she led the effort to get the community to invest $76-million in Palo Alto's libraries.

"CAA believes Alison will provide the needed independent voice when the council addresses tough issues," Howard stated.

A mailer sent by the association, which some Palo Alto voters got in the mail last week, focuses on endorsements Cormack has received from current Democratic elected officials, from Mayor Liz Kniss to Rep. Anna Eshoo.

Howard said that Housing Solutions Committee is making independent expenditures in seven Santa Clara County races; the association's separate political action committee is also supporting dozens of candidates in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

Local Housing Solutions Committee members evaluate and choose the candidates based on "meetings, campaign materials, and the candidate's record," Howard said.

Cormack, when reached by phone, said she was not familiar with the organizations that have thrown their support behind her and has not been contacted by them. These expenditures enhance the $67,078 Cormack's campaign committee raised as of Oct. 20.

The last time independent expenditures factored into a Palo Alto election was 2014; there were no such expenditures in 2016 or 2012, according to NetFile, the database of expenditures available on the City Clerk's page of the city of Palo Alto website.

That year, a committee called Palo Altans for Good Government spent $7,270 to support a slate of City Council candidates: A.C. Johnston, Greg Scharff, Nancy Shepherd and Cory Wolbach. Separately, Palo Alto resident Roger Smith made an expenditure of $11,880 in 2014 in support of Measure D, which advocated for the shrinkage of the council from nine members to seven. (The measure passed, leading to next January's debut of a seven-member council.)

This year, another measure -- F -- is being fought with megabucks in independent expenditures. Measure F would keep health care providers from charging expenses in excess of 115 percent of "reasonable costs for direct patient care" while placing the enforcement responsibility in the hands of the city of Palo Alto. Independent expenditures have surpassed $1 million on each side.

The group Protect Our Local Hospitals and Health Care bought $1,479,600 in campaign literature, according to its Form 496 filed on Friday. The group's major funding is from the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Stanford Health Care and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan.

Meanwhile, the group SEIU-UHW-West Political Issues Committee, which is aligned with the union that placed the Measure F on the ballot, has spent $1,030,813 on website services, literature and postage, according to its disclosure form.

On a smaller scale, the committee Palo Alto Hotel Council Against Measure E has expended $20,644 as of Sunday to defeat the ballot measure that, if approved by a majority of voters, would increase the city's hotel tax rate from 14 percent to 15.5 percent. No contributions in advocacy of Measure E had been reported as of Oct. 20.

According to Guardino, the independent expenditure committee, unlike the political action committee, is "the most transparent" form of political financial participation. A report of an independent expenditure, called a Form 496, must be filed within 24 hours, "so the voters in that jurisdiction have access to information about all payments, both contributions and independent expenditures, made in connection with the particular election," according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

For complete 2018 election information, check out the Palo Alto voters' guide.


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50 people like this
Posted by Double standards
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 5, 2018 at 7:35 pm

It was reported a few weeks ago that Ms Cormack spoke against sizable campaign gifts. She judged $5000 from individual residents as ‘inappropriate’. Yet she does not appear to be too bothered about receiving gifts of ‘outside’ money (many multiples of this amount) from sources that have an economic interest in the election outcome.

It’s a little rich.

35 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 5, 2018 at 8:24 pm

It’s very concerning these regional organizations are that interested in buying Ms. Cormack’s seat. You got to ask why?

It’s way too easy for Ms. Cormack to say “I don’t know”.

41 people like this
Posted by Seems Sneaky
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2018 at 9:14 pm

Glad I already voted against Cormack. What's to stop developers who want to support her from just giving to these other funds instead? Cormack can then say she wasn't taking money from developers but know full well that they are backing her anyway.

We need a City Council that's not beholden to developer interests if we're ever going to solve our traffic, parking, and affordable housing problems.

31 people like this
Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2018 at 10:32 pm

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

It's not really clear from the article whether an endorsement survey from the California Apartment Association or Silicon Valley Leadership Group was submitted by Ms Cormack. As a candidate, I received requests to complete an endorsement survey from both organizations. I did NOT submit a response. I assume all candidates were contacted by them.

If a candidate sought the endorsement by completing the endorsement surveys, they should not be surprised by support if they are endorsed.

3 people like this
Posted by What about PASZ?
a resident of University South
on Nov 5, 2018 at 10:56 pm

What about PASZ? is a registered user.

I'm interested in how much the Palo Altans for "Sensible" Zoning spent this election season. I've seen many PASZ ads and PASZ literature. Why no reporting on PASZ ad spend?

32 people like this
Posted by How it works
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2018 at 11:11 pm

PASZ is a group of miscellaneous citizens interested in clean government.
It does not have financial interests in candidates, like those development interests have in Cormack. Or, for that matter, in Wolbach.

Thanks to Tom DuBois for explaining how that works.

No thanks to the slippery lady who answers nothing but smiles alot.

2 people like this
Posted by What about PASZ?
a resident of University South
on Nov 5, 2018 at 11:38 pm

What about PASZ? is a registered user.

Homeowners don't have a financial interest in land-use policy decisions? Not true. When housing is scarce, prices go up and homeowners benefit with high property values.

Just because you believe in the cause of one PAC doesn't mean their expenditures shouldn't be subject to the same scrutiny as other groups.

Jocelyn Dong mentions Palo Altans for Good Government. How is PASZ different? Why is PASZ not included here?

30 people like this
Posted by Facts Matter
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 5, 2018 at 11:58 pm

@What About
Campaign reporting records show that the Filseth and DuBois campaigns declared the full amounts of PASZ expenditures on their behalf as “in kind” contributions so PASZ contributions are transparent parts of their declared campaign incomes and are not independent expenditures.
So much for your “what aboutism”.
Another big difference is that Wolbach’s union cash (and about half of his $75,000 in contributions) and Cormack’s big business support are from outside of of Palo Alto donors, whereas Filseth and DuBois got almost all of their contributions from Palo Alto residents.
Enough said.

Like this comment
Posted by What about PASZ?
a resident of University South
on Nov 6, 2018 at 12:18 am

What about PASZ? is a registered user.

I suppose that's fair that it's not an independent expenditure if Dubois/Filseth are reporting spending within each of their campaigns, but I still find it strange that I haven't seen any reporting on the total amount of funding from PASZ.

I've seen a ton of PASZ advertising, so it seems strange I've missed the reporting on the group's spending in the weekly. Perhaps I just misunderstood and they have been reporting PASZ spending all along. Did the values reported here Web Link already include the PASZ contributions? My understanding of a PAC lead me to believe that PASZ expenditures would be separate from ~$37,000 Dubois/Filseth had raised at the time this was published.

7 people like this
Posted by Infallible
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2018 at 7:00 am

Because SPAZ is holy, you cannot question anything about them, their funding, or their slate politics.

That’s why I vote against all of them.

16 people like this
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 6, 2018 at 8:04 am

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

@What about PASZ?
Palo Altan(s) for Sensible Zoning has contributed $6,012 total to the DuBois and Filseth campaigns (split evenly) in in-kind advertising this election season, according to the group's FPPC filings. The donations aren't by law considered "independent expenditures" because they were made directly to the candidates.
And yes, these amounts have been included in the previously reported totals for DuBois and Filseth.
You can see PASZ's filings by going here Web Link. Under "Search by Committee ID" type in 1359196, the group's ID number.

34 people like this
Posted by StarSpring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 6, 2018 at 9:30 am

StarSpring is a registered user.

Most important to vote against everyone who voted for -any- increased office cap in the past. We can get rid of the remaing ones next election. Palo Alto for Palo Altans!

20 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2018 at 12:06 pm

Annette is a registered user.

It's not in the least surprising to read that Ms. Cormack is highly regarded; she has excellent credentials. But this:

"CAA believes Alison will provide the needed independent voice when the council addresses tough issues," Howard stated . . .

is oxymoronic. If they believe she has an independent voice, why the need to support her with PAC money? These outside endorsements and contributions so easily lead to alignments and there's nothing independent about that.

10 people like this
Posted by Jessica H.
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 6, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Measure F, which will inevitably increase patient costs by forcing practitioners out and impose unreasonable and expensive burdens on local taxpayers by forcing the city with the need to hire a staff of experts to oversee the charges being made by almost all medical professionals practicing in Palo Alto including individual practitioners, dentists and orthodontists. This will directly reduce access and increase costs for families in Palo Alto, and is totally inappropriate for local regulation. Structural issues with heath insurance costs should be properly regulated at the federal or state level.

I encourage all to vote NO on measure F.

12 people like this
Posted by Pants on fire
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2018 at 1:21 pm

> Cormack, when reached by phone, said she was not familiar with the organizations that have thrown their support behind her

She doesn't know Carl Guardino?
[Portion removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 6, 2018 at 2:13 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

In an interview Monday, Guardino said he met Cormack for the first time over the weekend at a civic function. According to him, he said "Hello" and told her he couldn't talk with her until after the election.

3 people like this
Posted by Pants on fire
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2018 at 2:50 pm

She pretends she doesn't know who he is?

I never met him either but I certainly know WHO he is.
He has been a public person in the county for years. And often comes to Palo Alto when there is something going on that he is interested in.
Just part of her hidden agenda.

4 people like this
Posted by Special interest money on Z
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2018 at 2:52 pm

Why no mention of the outsized donations for Measure Z, the school bond?

Ever since the threshold was lowered to 55%, over 80% of California schools measures pass. It's hard to lose. In Palo Alto, it's virtually impossible, even when the last time the district put forward a measure, it made all kinds of promises about what our kids needed and what it would do, and immediately spent the money on further round of administrative and teacher raises.

Measure Z is even more vague, and it's just not that hard to predict that it won't do nearly what the campaign promises claim. The process is wrong, first of all, the district is asking for a giant pot of money, and only then figuring out how to spend it. A lot of voters commenting on these lists seem to think that Measure Z is for operational and upkeep expenses, which is not the case, we already approved a bond for that.

If voters are really sure they want all of our district schools modernized as well as they possibly can be for the sake of our kids, they should vote NO on Z, and insist the district provide a plan, roughly cost it out, run a capital campaign for donations first, and then ask the voters to be generous (and it will be granted as it always is). But stating specifically what the money will be for in the measure is the only way to ensure it will accomplish what is promised, and Measure Z does not do that.

Yet, unbelievably, there were over $130,000 in donations for promoting Measure Z, virtually all of it from construction and other interests who stand to benefit (from the measure not being spent well) and virtually none from ordinary individuals giving small amounts as in typical local races.

But there is no way to counter a bad measure like Measure Z, and it's guaranteed to be repeated in a few years when the money is all gone and the district still looks like it has a few nice big new buildings and mostly a lot of dilapidated tired old spaces that could have been remade new if the community had looked at this unfortunate process, starting with voting NO on Measure Z.

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