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.