News

State will not investigate Tanaka's campaign contributions

Fair Political Practices Commission accepts explanation that councilman spent funds on office expenses

Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Tanaka is looking to secure a second term this fall. Courtesy Greg Tanaka.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission has decided to not investigate a complaint that was filed against Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Tanaka for accepting campaign contributions from developers well before he formed a reelection committee in July.

Galena West, chief of the Enforcement Division for the state commission, which oversees campaign-expenditure laws, informed Tanaka in a letter Monday that the agency has opted not to move ahead with the anonymous complaint.

The complaint asserted that Tanaka violated state law by receiving $25,000 in contributions from local developers between New Year's Eve and Jan. 14 of this year, despite the fact that he didn't file his candidate election statement, known as Form 501, until July 11. State rules require candidates to file a Form 501 "before soliciting or receiving any contributions or making expenditures from personal funds," according to the Commission's Campaign Disclosure Manual.

The manual states that the form "must be filed for each election, even if the candidate is running for reelection to the same office."

The complaint alleged that Tanaka was illegally accepting contributions to his reelection campaign and that his failure to comply with state law, along with his failure to disclose three campaign contributions in 2016, demonstrate "persistent attempts to shield the sources and amounts of his campaign contributions from public scrutiny by voters in his current elections."

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

State rules do, however, allow candidates to spend the campaign money even after they are elected. Tanaka had maintained that he was doing just that.

The funding he had received earlier this year, Tanaka told this news organization, was used to pay for ongoing expenses that he is incurring as a council member, including his weekly office hours, which he broadcasts on Facebook. His major contributors include local developers Roxy Rapp, who gave $10,000, Charles "Chop" Keenan, Brad Ehikian and John McNellis, each of whom gave $5,000. He has also received a $2,500 contribution on Sept. 2 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee.

West wrote to Tanaka's attorney that the Commission's determination not to investigate his campaign was based on his explanation that "most of the expenditures identified in the complaint are related to Mr. Tanaka's office holder duties as a Councilmember of Palo Alto."

"The expenditures were related to constituent outreach challenges in response to the pandemic," West wrote.

The FPPC also found that one of the expenditures to Google for $67.64 for canvassing costs was mislabeled. But because the expense was under $100 and, as such, did not require itemization on the campaign statement, the agency will not pursue this matter further, West wrote.

Tanaka is one of 10 candidates vying for four open seats on the council this year. The list also includes his council colleague Lydia Kou, who is also seeking reelection, and eight challengers: former mayor and council member Pat Burt, attorney Rebecca Eisenberg, Planning and Transportation Commissioner Ed Lauing, former Human Relations Commission member Steven Lee, systems engineer Raven Malone, Gunn High School teacher Greer Stone, Planning and Transportation Commission Chair Cari Templeton and Ajit Varma, product management director at WhatsApp.

View the Fair Political Practices Commission's letter here.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

State will not investigate Tanaka's campaign contributions

Fair Political Practices Commission accepts explanation that councilman spent funds on office expenses

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Sep 14, 2020, 7:58 pm

The California Fair Political Practices Commission has decided to not investigate a complaint that was filed against Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Tanaka for accepting campaign contributions from developers well before he formed a reelection committee in July.

Galena West, chief of the Enforcement Division for the state commission, which oversees campaign-expenditure laws, informed Tanaka in a letter Monday that the agency has opted not to move ahead with the anonymous complaint.

The complaint asserted that Tanaka violated state law by receiving $25,000 in contributions from local developers between New Year's Eve and Jan. 14 of this year, despite the fact that he didn't file his candidate election statement, known as Form 501, until July 11. State rules require candidates to file a Form 501 "before soliciting or receiving any contributions or making expenditures from personal funds," according to the Commission's Campaign Disclosure Manual.

The manual states that the form "must be filed for each election, even if the candidate is running for reelection to the same office."

The complaint alleged that Tanaka was illegally accepting contributions to his reelection campaign and that his failure to comply with state law, along with his failure to disclose three campaign contributions in 2016, demonstrate "persistent attempts to shield the sources and amounts of his campaign contributions from public scrutiny by voters in his current elections."

State rules do, however, allow candidates to spend the campaign money even after they are elected. Tanaka had maintained that he was doing just that.

The funding he had received earlier this year, Tanaka told this news organization, was used to pay for ongoing expenses that he is incurring as a council member, including his weekly office hours, which he broadcasts on Facebook. His major contributors include local developers Roxy Rapp, who gave $10,000, Charles "Chop" Keenan, Brad Ehikian and John McNellis, each of whom gave $5,000. He has also received a $2,500 contribution on Sept. 2 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee.

West wrote to Tanaka's attorney that the Commission's determination not to investigate his campaign was based on his explanation that "most of the expenditures identified in the complaint are related to Mr. Tanaka's office holder duties as a Councilmember of Palo Alto."

"The expenditures were related to constituent outreach challenges in response to the pandemic," West wrote.

The FPPC also found that one of the expenditures to Google for $67.64 for canvassing costs was mislabeled. But because the expense was under $100 and, as such, did not require itemization on the campaign statement, the agency will not pursue this matter further, West wrote.

Tanaka is one of 10 candidates vying for four open seats on the council this year. The list also includes his council colleague Lydia Kou, who is also seeking reelection, and eight challengers: former mayor and council member Pat Burt, attorney Rebecca Eisenberg, Planning and Transportation Commissioner Ed Lauing, former Human Relations Commission member Steven Lee, systems engineer Raven Malone, Gunn High School teacher Greer Stone, Planning and Transportation Commission Chair Cari Templeton and Ajit Varma, product management director at WhatsApp.

View the Fair Political Practices Commission's letter here.

Comments

What Bunk
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:39 am
What Bunk, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:39 am
37 people like this

What is the FPPC smoking anyway? So much for enforcing California campaign laws. Ask Liz Kniss - the FPPC still hasn't dealt with the 8 cases pending against her for hiding developer money donated 3 1/2 years ago for her election.

Here the FPPC takes a pass on Tanaka's campaign fundraising and spending, hilarilously finding that raising around $39,000 in 6 months (or $6,500 per month) is just for office expenses during covid in spite of spending only about $60 per month in prior months. Isn't covid making his office cheaper to run - zoom meetings, less utlities, more working from home, rather than more expansive? Who's kidding who here?

As Vice Mayor DuBois said, "If I received a $10,000 donation for non-campaigning uses, I could fund my expenses for about 50 years."

And then there is Tanaka's $2,700 in expenditures (many times more per month than usual) - all itemized and not to be made until he filed an Intent to be a Candidate Form. Items such as voter roles from the Registrar of Voters that candidates need. But the Fair Political Practices Commission didn't care.

It seems all one must do is as Tanaka has done, just say - I raised $39,000 after having raised nothing for years, and then, Bam, it suddenly occurred to me to run again for City Council. But these two things had nothing to do with each other. Uh huh.


Graffiti on the wall
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:56 am
Graffiti on the wall, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:56 am
16 people like this

So why does this website publish unsubstantiated articles based on anonymous complaints? It seems like FPPC complaints are the new attack ad in our city. It is like printing graffiti and calling it news.

Candidates are allowed to take money in their old campaign for their re-election. Perfectly legal and very common even among other council members.


Double standard
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Sep 15, 2020 at 1:11 am
Double standard, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 1:11 am
20 people like this

Tanaka did nothing wrong but gets a lot of negative press for being the only one to hold regular office hours. He goes out of his way to listen and I appreciate that.

On the other hand, funny how Dubois makes accusations about donations but thinks it is okay for himself to take massive checks. Seems like a double standard.


Douglas Moran
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2020 at 4:39 am
Douglas Moran, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 4:39 am
28 people like this

@Double standard : "On the other hand, funny how Dubois makes accusations about donations but thinks it is okay for himself to take massive checks. Seems like a double standard."

What DuBois is quoted as saying is 'As Vice Mayor DuBois said, "If I received a $10,000 donation for non-campaigning uses, I could fund my expenses for about 50 years." '

First, note that DuBois' statement is a hypothetical, not a statement of fact, as you would have readers believe.
Second, note that the statement is an observation, not an accusation, although it might be used by someone in making an accusation.


writing wrongs
Registered user
University South
on Sep 15, 2020 at 8:59 am
writing wrongs, University South
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 8:59 am
45 people like this

Does anyone really believe that it costs thousand and thousands of dollars to
host Zoom meetings for his office hours? The FPPC has become as unreliable as the CDC. And why would the contributions for any council expenses just happen to be donated so near the campaign and not throughout his prior
3 1/2 years on council.

Tanaka has a long pattern or deceit and deflection. The public is being fooled by a trickster. Or perhaps worse yet, defended by others who seek to gain by support of him.

FACT: Tanaka deflected questions from the Southgate Women's Club interview recently. The question: do you support a business tax. He would only speak to the unanimous vote this year that was a unanimous vote to delay due to the Corona Virus. He has consistently voted and spoken against a business tax of larger corporations in Palo Alto. southgatewomen.com

FACT: In that same interview he deflected once again when asked about his vote against code enforcement during the budget hearings. He deflected to make it all about building inspections, an entirely different matter. He did so repeatedly and said the group had been misinformed about his lack of support for code enforcement.

FACT: While he opposes a business tax that could be used at least partially to support businesses especially in times such as these, he proposes taxing the public by allowing restaurants to add a corona virus surcharge to bills.

FACT: During Democrat endorsement interview, he said he supports renter protection. But his voting record is clear that he has never supported it and always voted against it.

FACT: Just last night, he again voted against renter protections by casting
a NO vote on state legislation that would allow local jurisdictions to create ordinances that would provide protections.

FACT: He spoke last night about weakening Palo Alto's groundfloor retail protections saying that vacancies are detrimental to retain viability...while ignoring his negative impact on retail by promoting opaques windows in retail corridors. Those blank windows are the same as a vacant store to the shopper.

FACT: Tanaka's campaign practices continue to be "irregular". He posts support on his website from organizations that have not yet endorsed (Asian Dem Party), e.g. which is a carryover from last election. There is much to be learned about a person post-election, and it can never be assumed that an endorsement 4 years ago assures one now.

I see a lot of Tanaka campaign lawn signs in the community....many if not most planted illegally on public space rather than on private property which is the requirement. Posting in the parking strip gives higher visibility, giving his campaign advantage over those rule-abiding campaigns that plant signs on private land inboard of the parking strips. He is not a first time candidate. He has no excuse other than self promotion. How can everyone know the rules but him? The FACT is that he does know and scoffs at the rules just as he scoffs at the truth.

The FPPC is playing right into his hands by denying the public an evaluation of his honesty that would be provided by an investigating of the FACTS. Instead they have accepted his word alone just as he expects the Southgate Women Club members to do. We are smarter than that.


Plain language
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 15, 2020 at 9:13 am
Plain language, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 9:13 am
21 people like this

As quoted in the article, under the plain language of the FPPC disclosure manual:

State rules require candidates to file a Form 501 "before SOLICITING OR RECEIVING ANY CONTRIBUTIONS or making expenditures from personal funds”.

The FPPC letter declining to investigate accepts Tanaka’s dubious explanation that a sudden exponential increase in spending leading up to election season (and BEFORE the pandemic hit) for routine “office-holder expenses” Is unrelated to his current campaign.

And doesn’t address AT ALL the tens of thousands in donations received In the months before he filed his intent to run (501 form)

Even after filing his 501, Tanaka continued to report all his fundraising under the name of his former, 2016, campaign committee.

As @Bunk points out, in light of the FPPCs inaction on the Kniss cases FOR THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF HER TERM, this latest development makes clear that voters are on their own to police campaign $$ shenanigans.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 15, 2020 at 9:21 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 9:21 am
31 people like this

It would be very special if the Palo Alto Weekly and other media pressed the FPPC why -- after all these years -- they STILL haven't ruled on Kniss and also why she's still allowed to serve and groom our "leaders" for decades to come.


What Bunk
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2020 at 10:07 am
What Bunk, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 10:07 am
20 people like this

See this recent candidate interview with Tanaka in which a mild-mannered but persistent moderator allows him to reveal himself as not telling the truth on his vote on the business tax. You also will see his wildly strange manner exhibited throughout. More reasons not to re-elect him.
Web Link


Citizen
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 15, 2020 at 10:27 am
Citizen, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 10:27 am
10 people like this

Glad to hear the campaign contributions were disclosed and no action need be taken.


Barron Park dad
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2020 at 11:20 am
Barron Park dad, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 11:20 am
6 people like this

This sure sounds like a witch hunt to me. Tanaka's explanation seems sensible and plausible to a reasonable reader. It's kinda obvious his opponents are simply using this open-and-closed investigation for political attacks.


Novelera
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:34 pm
Novelera, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:34 pm
23 people like this

Just because the FPPC isn't taking action doesn't mean voters shouldn't continue to wonder whose interests Tanaka would serve should he be re-elected.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:38 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:38 pm
1 person likes this

Well, that smear tactic didn't work. Of course the astroturfers complaining about the result are out in force.

Seriously people. Try winning on issues.... or maybe you can't.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 15, 2020 at 2:21 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 2:21 pm
23 people like this

Mr. Tanaka is claiming endorsements from 350+ organizations and individuals including ME when I never endorsed him. The least he could have done was spell my name right.

Check and see if you're there and, more importantly, if you should be there!


No on Tanaka
Registered user
Community Center
on Sep 15, 2020 at 4:41 pm
No on Tanaka, Community Center
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 4:41 pm
16 people like this

Tanaka has been spending this money on Facebook advertising. He is calling it "outreach" while it is blatant campaign advertising. He is gaming the system. Unethical.


Douglas Moran
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2020 at 7:09 pm
Douglas Moran, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 7:09 pm
4 people like this

First, as to the requirement to file a statement of candidacy before soliciting or receiving contributions, I would have expected the article to explain what sort of abuse that requirement was addressing. I would need to know this for me to judge whether this was a serious error by Tanaka.

Second, a number of previous comments have challenged Tanaka's explanation that the contributions in 2019 and early 2020 were used to cover on-going office expenses. The data given in those comments were summaries and I wanted to see the details.
For similarly curious people, I downloaded the reports from that section of the City Clerk's website (Web Link) and combined them into a single PDF. The PDF's bookmarks allow you to jump to the beginning of the reports. The summary of contributions and expenses begins on page 3 of each report with details following.

The reports covering the first 3.5 years of Tanaka being in office are filed semi-annually.
Download: Web Link

Totals of the expenses reported in each of these semi-annual reports:

2017H1: $ 121
2017H2: $ 461 + $783 for what appear to be fines for campaign violations: total $1244
2018H1: $ 208
2018H2: $ 275
2019H1: $ 322
2019H2: $ 301
2020H1: $2277


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.