With two months to go until Election Day, Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Tanaka has amassed an overwhelming financial advantage over the rest of the field, having reported more than three times as much in contributions than the second-highest recipient in the 10-person race, according to financial disclosures.
Tanaka, whose reelection campaign reported $14,669 in contributions as of June 30, has received at least $50,000 since then, including a $10,000 check from developer Roxy Rapp; $5,000 each from developers Charles "Chop" Keenan, John McNellis and Brad Ehikian; and $1,000 from electric car maker Tesla, which is headquartered in Palo Alto. Just this week, Tanaka's campaign reported receiving $2,500 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee and $5,000 from Zachary Bogue, managing partner at Data Collective Venture Capital, which has offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco.
To date, Tanaka has received more than $70,000 in contributions, as well as increased scrutiny about some of his earliest campaign supporters. Some of the funding from developers came in the beginning of the year, well before he established his reelection committee in July, triggering a complaint against him with the Fair Political Practice Commission (FPPC). The anonymous complaint claims that he violated a state law that prohibits candidates to spend on their reelection efforts before forming a committee.
Candidates are allowed, however, to receive money after they win the election. Tanaka called the complaint baseless and said that the money he had received at the beginning of the year was contributed toward his 2016 campaign and used to support his ongoing council work, not his reelection effort. The FPPC, which functions as a state watchdog for election spending, had not determined as of Thursday, Sept. 3, whether to launch an investigation against Tanaka.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Lydia Kou, the only other incumbent in the race, reported $20,013 in contributions, which includes $14,213 that she received prior to June 30 and $5,800 that she has reported since then.
In contrast to Tanaka, whose list of major financial supporters is dominated by CEOs, developers and investors (he received a $10,000 from Richard Karp, an investor with the company Tictrain), Kou received most of her contributions from local residents, including vocal critics of recent and proposed developments. She also gathered contributions from residents who have been at the forefront of grassroots efforts to fight airplane noise and oppose new wireless communications facilities.
The vast majority of her contributions are for $500 or less, though $1,000 from Jeanne Fleming, whose group United Neighbors has been advocating for more stringent development standards for wireless equipment. She also received $500 from Councilman Eric Filseth and $200 from Vice Mayor Tom DuBois.
Kou also received $1,000 checks from Joe Hirsch, a member of the group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, which supports slow-growth land-use policies, and from local residents Lazlo Tokes and Rita Vrhel. Leaders of the group PNQLNow (Preserve Neighborhood Quality of Life Now), which has been leading the fight against Castilleja School's proposed campus reconstruction, also have donated to Kou's campaign, with Mary Silvester contributing $500 and Andie Reed giving $200.
The two incumbents are facing eight challengers for four open seats. The two others are of Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who is terming out at the end of this year, and Mayor Adrian Fine, who is not running for reelection. Of the eight, Planning and Transportation Commission Chair Cari Templeton and social justice advocate Raven Malone are enjoying an early edge when it comes to cash raised.
Templeton's campaign has reported $11,030 in contributions, with a solid portion of these funds coming from some of Palo Alto's most passionate housing advocates. Supporters of Templeton's campaign include Kelsey Banes, regional executive director of YIMBY Action (who contributed $100 to Templeton's campaign); Elaine Uang, co-founder of Palo Alto Forward (who gave $250) and John Kelley, co-founder of OnRisk ($250). She also received $500 contributions from Kniss, Councilwoman Alison Cormack, former Mayor Bern Beecham and Palo Alto Unified School District board member Jennifer DiBrienza.
Malone, an engineer and an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement, reported $4,575 in contributions in an Aug. 16 filing and then reported additional contributions in subsequent filings that totaled about $5,000.
Her financial backers include Carolyn Blatman, a nonprofit organizer; engineer Nadia Ahlborg; Leah Cowan, government relations manager at Sutter Health; and Reginald Williams, systems administrator at U.S. Geological Survey. Each of them contributed $1,000 to Malone's campaign.
Former Mayor Pat Burt also reported close to $9,000 in contributions, including $7,820 that he received before June 30 and another $1,000 that he reported on Aug. 27 (candidates do not have to report contributions that are less than $1,000 and that were made after June 30). The total includes $2,000 that Burt contributed to his own campaign and $1,000 that he received from Darrell Benatar, executive chairman at San Francisco-based UserTesting.
Burt, a tech CEO who served on the council between 2008 and 2016, also received contributions from bike advocate Penny Ellson ($400); downtown resident Neilson Buchanan ($250); Sheri Furman, co-chair of Palo Alto Neighborhoods ($250) and Craig Lewis, executive director of Clean Coalition ($500).
Trailing them in the financial standings, according to the campaign disclosures, are former Human Relations Commission member Steven Lee, attorney Rebecca Eisenberg and Planning and Transportation Commission member Ed Lauing.
Lee, an attorney who has criticized the council for not doing enough to address homelessness, gender discrimination and social issues, reported $5,000 in major contributions, including $1,000 contributions from employees at Oracle, Facebook and the U.S. Navy.
Lee said that he has received $34,365 in contributions, though most of them don't have to be disclosed until later this month because they are less than $1,000. The list of contributors, which he provided to this news organization, includes software engineers, community activists, housing advocates and elected officials, including school board members DiBrienza, who contributed $500, Shounak Dharap, who contributed $263, and Ken Dauber, who contributed $350. His list of supporters also includes Human Relations Commission member Patti Regehr, who gave $100 to Lee's campaign, and former Councilwoman Gail Price, president of Palo Alto Forward, who gave $50.
Eisenberg, a vociferous critic of the council's recent budget decisions and land-use strategies, reported $4,960 in contributions, including $3,960 that she received before June 30 and $1,000 that she received in August from James Ausman, technical project manager at Twilio. Her financial forms list small contributions from attorneys, software professionals and business executives from both within Palo Alto and from other cities and states. Her top contributors include Kristen Lee, a resident of Pebble Beach and local resident S.V. Vasudevan.
Eisenberg told this news organization that her campaign has raised almost $15,000, though only one donation reached the $1,000 threshold for disclosure. She said she has received more than 110 donations, with the average donation totaling about $120.
Lauing, an executive recruiter and veteran of two local commissions, reported $2,883 in contributions. His campaign documents indicate that he received $1,883 prior to June 30, a total that includes $500 from Filseth, $250 from former Mayor Greg Scharff and $300 from Suzanne Keehn, a member of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning. He reported an additional $1,000 in late August from investor Yogen Dalal.
Lauing is one of three candidates that has received Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning's endorsement, along with Kou and teacher Greer Stone. Stone, a former member of the Human Relations Commission, and Ajit Varma, a Crescent Park resident who was the last to declare his candidacy, both joined the race after June 30 and had not filed any financial disclosure forms, which suggests that they had not received any contributions greater than $1,000.