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Is there a 'problem' with council campaign contributions?

Original post made on Jul 31, 2007

Concurrent with the start of the City Council campaign season preceding the Nov. 6 election, a proposal for voluntary limits on contributions and expenditures is in the works at Palo Alto City Hall.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (35)

Posted by ProBMRs
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2007 at 1:55 pm

I was in the audience and heard John Barton say that. I was surprised at his demagogry quoting imaginary people who talk about "those people." I have never heard anyone even remotely talk like that.
In trying to pump himself up, he created a straw man to look down on. Shame on him.

Posted by ProBMRs
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2007 at 2:06 pm

The above should have appeared under the story about Alma St housing.
Don't know why it is here.

Posted by Free Market
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 31, 2007 at 2:11 pm

Why does the playing field in our town have to be level all the time?
look what a "level playing field" has done to our tax base in our city--there are no good grocery stores in town because of the unwritten 20,000 square foot rule in order "to protect" stores like JJ&F. There are also no stores for doing regular shopping at because most of those are chain stores and in order "to keep a level playing field" and protect independent owners we cannot have them in town. So our tax dollars go to our neighboring cities.
As far as city council elections--look at the quality of our city council now, with a level election playing field--very sad.
Maybe we need a free market approach to this.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2007 at 9:27 pm

Limit union contributions to the limit for one person.

Posted by Where's the beef?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2007 at 2:24 pm

This article is interesting but it is so general, it is hard to understand. Can you tell us who received major contributions after the election, and from whom?

Who made large non-monetary contributions, and to whom? This is public information so why not share it.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2007 at 4:40 pm


While I do not view the guest opinion as overly general, it is true that the specifics are not matched up to names. My goal was primarily focused on how we can make things better without getting sidetracked by potential finger pointing.

Some of your questions can be answered in the spreadsheet I created. Anyone can receive it by e-mailing me at [email protected] .

But some information you requested is not there, because:

• The document I created identifies some groups (PACs, unions, etc), but not individuals or companies, and

• The final reporting period begins 16 days before the election, so contributions listed in this category are not exclusively post-election.

You are correct that all the information is publicly available, so here are some details related to your questions including some not in the spreadsheet.

The 2005 Morton campaign received 13 monetary contributions after the November 8 election. 11 of the 13 brought in over $5,000. The 11 included:

11/9, Marilyn Tarlton, $500
11/15, Roxy Rapp (of Rapp Development), $1,000
11/20, Michael Powers (of McNellis Partners), $250
11/20 John McNellis (of McNellis Partners), $250
11/20, Richard Jacobsen, $300
11/20, Doug Ross (of 909 Alma Development), $500
11/20, Curtis Peterson $500
12/13, Richard Peery (of Peery and Arrillaga), $250
12/13, John Arrillaga (of Peery and Arrillaga), $250
12/13, Jim Baer (of Premier Property), $1,000
12/19, Loren Brown (of Vance Brown Inc), $275

5 of the 11 had already contributed over $250. They included Roxy Rapp, Michael Powers, John McNellis, Richard Perry, and John Arrillaga, each of who had already contributed $275.

With regard to large non-monetary (i.e., “in-kind,” fair market value) contributions mentioned in the guest opinion:

• Service Employees International Union Local 715 contributed over $3,300 to both the 2005 Peter Drekmeier and John Barton campaigns for a political mailing

• In 2003, “Yes on Measure C” contributed a $700 mailing for the Bern Becham campaign, over $1,800 for precinct walks for Skip Justman’s campaign, and over $2,500 for a mailing and other literature distribution for Dena Mossar’s campaign

• In 2003, Dan Dykwel contributed over $3,000 as a non-monetary contribution for catering and beverages at Dena Mossar’s 2003 campaign kickoff.

• Other large non-monetary contributions went to several campaigns for professional services such as graphic design, advertising, and public relations. I was confused by these in-kind contributions, because my research indicates that personal volunteer services need not be counted as non-monetary contributions.

Posted by Where's the beef?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2007 at 7:47 pm

Mr. Balin you are doing astonishing work. I am flabbergasted at some of the above. When they were discussing campaign limits Mr. Morton said, "WE ARE ALL HONEST SO WHY DO WE NEED LIMITS."
Those major contributors are ALL developers and real estate traders. I guess they know the rules and how to get around them.
I'll probably have more questions but I need to study these. It seems some of us are more honest than others of us.

Posted by Where's the beef?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2007 at 10:40 am

In addition to Morton, another sanctimonious council member, Judy Kleinberg said she only received money over the informal limit ($250 I think) from her father. She said she could never say no to her father (from giving her money).
Can you find similar data on her contributors?

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 3, 2007 at 6:39 pm

The 2003 Kleinberg campaign received monetary contributions of over $250 from two individuals: one was for $500 and the other for $300. So if the council member’s statement about not receiving monetary contributions above $250 from “anyone” except her father applies to individuals, it is very close to accuracy.

Her campaign did also receive monetary contributions of $500 from each of three political action committees, Tri-County Apartment Association, California Real Estate PAC, and Santa Clara & San Benito Counties Building & Construction Trades Council. (In 2003, these three PACs also contributed a total of 7 additional $500 monetary contributions to other candidates.)

In total, monetary contributions over $250 were 5 percent of the 2003 Kleinberg campaign monetary-contribution total, less than half the overall average for candidates in both 2003 and 2005.

With regard to reportable non-monetary contributions, the 2003 Kleinberg campaign received none.

The campaign came into 2003 with about $1,200 in the bank, raised about $20,000, and spent about $21,000. After the election and before the end of the year, the campaign donated about $5,400 among 17 civic groups, effectively depleting all remaining funds. So in essence, less than $16,000 was spent on the campaign, about half of what is proposed today as a cap.

The overall balance sheet from this vantage point today looks pretty good.

All this material is taken directly from my Excel document, which, as mentioned, is available to anyone who emails me at [email protected] .

Posted by Kurt
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2007 at 2:16 pm

Thanks for your interesting work. Just a quibble, I wouldn’t call Kleinberg’s contributions of 4 times $ 500 and one of $300 as “close to accuracy.” It is not accurate in five instances of over $250.
The source of the contributions from the county real estate and construction industries does shed some light on her votes. They get more than their money’s worth.
This kind of study should be of interest to the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, although I do not recall that the chapter shows any serious interest in fair elections in money or voting machines. At least not in Palo Alto. From what I recall their primary energy goes to support major developers. Seems like a strange focus for a chapter of such a highly regarded organization.
Have they ever done a study of money in local elections? It is a big issue nationally, but apparently not around here.

Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 6, 2007 at 5:35 pm

Fred, my only response is, "so what?"

first, its all public information, widely reported by local papers as soon as available

second, you (perhaps unintentionally) imply that the candidates you listed were the only ones receiving donations from those real estate interests, when you surely know that many of the donors you list are very active in local politics, and have supported many candidates.

third, do you really think that Morton et al are for sale for $250? Please...

Posted by Where's the beef?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2007 at 5:56 pm

Nobody said anyone was for sale for $250. He was answering my question which came about because Morton said WE DON'T NEED RULES because WE ARE ALL HONEST. I wondered whether that was true.
Turns out he is not honest, not even remotely. And it isn't 250, just read the post above. It is MANY times 250.
But the real point is that that is where Morton's support comes from, not the friendly I'm just your neighbor facade he puts on on public occasions.

Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 7, 2007 at 1:39 pm

OK, so you've just accused a public official of dishonest behavior in a public forum, and implied that he takes bribes. Back it up

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 7, 2007 at 2:55 pm


Pardon me while I duck under the missiles and respond to your earlier post of yesterday, which was addressed to me.

1. Contributions made after the election are not reported until the following year. These late contributions, at least in 2005, were not covered in the local press. Late contributions are a potential loophole for problems. Candidates who adhere to a cap on contributions from a single source would plug it.

2. With further detail in regard to the extent of contributions from the real estate interests cited above:

• I did write that the 3 PACs that contributed $500 each to the 2003 Kleinberg campaign also made $500 contributions to 7 other campaigns that year. To be more specific: 2 went to the Becham campaign, 2 to Justman’s, 1 to Lytle’s, and 2 to Mossar’s.

• Also in 2003, “Yes On Measure C,” the supporters of the 800 High Street project, made 3 non-monetary (“in-kind”) contributions to candidates: $703 for mailings for the Beecham campaign, $1,875 for precinct walkers for Justman’s, and $2,578 in a mailing and literature distribution for Mossar’s.

• In the 2005 campaign, one of the 3 real-estate-oriented PACs mentioned above made no contributions. But the other two made a total of 6 (2 to Barton’s campaign, $1500 total; 1 to Drekmeier’s, $500; 1 to Justman’s, $1,000; 1 to Klein’s campaign, $1,000; 1 to Morton’s, $1,000.

• Also, in 2005, of the 11 “late” contributors to the Morton campaign listed above, 2 also gave $500 contributions to the Justman campaign ($500 each from McNellis and Powers).

3. Do large contributions – monetary or non-monetary, from individuals or from groups, before or after an election, as a one-time contribution or yearly aggregate – influence candidates? I am confident each would say “No” as did Peter Drekmeier and John Barton after each accepted an SEIU Local 715 in-kind contribution of over $3,300 to appear in a four-color endorsement mailing just before the 2005 election.
Web Link

But I don’t like the look and feel.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 7, 2007 at 3:17 pm

"But I don’t like the look and feel."

Fred, you should probably forget about politics, if that is your belief. Politics IS about special interests, and we should celebrate that fact. If money is limited, then "in-kind" contributions will proliferate. With the elctronic media, emails, web sites and automated phone banks will dominate.

PACs and lobbyists are a good thing, not a bad thing. They have modulating effects on extremist pressures. They force a major consensus in order to make sea-change decisions.

I could care less what a PA council member receives in campaign funds. I only pay attention to their views on the issues to which I subscribe. All the campaign signs and propaganda won't change my vote. For instance, I support all those council members that supported the Mayfield agreement. I think it was a very good deal. You did not support it. Yoriko voted against it. Are you saying that you would NOT support Yoriko, if she had major money/"in-kind" behind her?

Get real, Fred.

Posted by Anna
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 7, 2007 at 6:02 pm

It's not surprising that incumbent politicians and well-known establishment insiders support spending and contribution limits. They already have a forum for their views via the local press.

Any outsider would have to spend more than the incumbents to get out an insurgent message. Do we really want to limit outsiders who want to radically change the system or the council?

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 7, 2007 at 9:34 pm

Anna, I certainly agree that incumbency can yield advantages. Of course this year, there are no incumbents, which provides an ideal opportunity to discuss and deal with this topic.

Craig, I want to make sure readers are clear on the subtle but important difference between non-monetary (in-kind) contributions and “independent expenditures,” a topic which confused several council members at recent public hearings.

A non-monetary contribution of $50 or more for goods and some services is a reportable contribution in a Palo Alto council candidate’s disclosure form. This can include items, such as the fair market value of food or beverages at an event, postage and supplies, and printing costs.

Where matters get tricky are with items such as mailers and precinct walkers. If an outside group such as a PAC, union, or other organization creates a mailer or walks a precinct in coordination or cooperation with a council campaign, the campaign must report it as a non-monetary contribution.

However, if the outside group does not coordinate or work with the candidate and the mailer goes to people outside of its membership, it is an independent expenditure, and is reported by the outside group, not the candidate.

The Courts have ruled that independent expenditures cannot be limited, and such a limitation is not part of the proposal heading to the city council in September.

In 2005, the SEIU 715 mailer for Drekmeier and Barton were in-kind contributions, because there was coordination with their campaigns.

In 2003, three candidates received in-kind contributions from “Yes on Measure C” (Beecham, Justman, and Mossar) as mentioned earlier. “Yes on Measure C” also did a mailer for the Kleinberg campaign, but it was an independent expenditure, not within the campaign’s control.

In 2003, the fire department contributed a $1,000 to the Lytle campaign, a reportable contribution. But in what turned into a brouhaha in the final days, they also did a mailer as an independent expenditure supporting 2 candidates (Lytle and Cordell) and opposing one (Mossar).

Web Link

Craig, you may be right, that limiting monetary and non-monetary contributions will lead to more independent expenditures by various groups in support of, or opposed to, one or more council candidates.

But at least, the public will know that for a candidate who accepts and abides by the contribution cap pledge, these advocacy efforts, when in excess of the cap, will have gone forward without his or her cooperation, communication, or authorization.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 8, 2007 at 9:13 am


Isn't it true that a wealthy candidate can spend whatever they care to spend of their own money? If so, isn't it possible for such a person to accept no contributions, yet run an expensive campaign? Such a candidate could (in fact, probably would) claim the he/she is completely free of outsides influences, unlike other candidates, who have been forced to list all of their contributors. In other words, the reporting laws inherently favor the rich and punish the non-rich. Certain good potential candidates may decide not to run, because they could be accused of being on the take. Wouldn't we be better off with no reporting laws for city elections?

Posted by twinky
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 8, 2007 at 1:06 pm

Does it really matter who makes it to Council, on whatever platform? What mandate can any Council member possibly fulfill, unless one has consistent agreement from 4 other Council members?

Platforms in a governance-by-consensus model are designed to appeal to specific demographics, in order to garner votes - just like in any election. But, after the election is over, that's where the similarity between municipalities that elect mayors, and those that don't, come inot play. The latter usually plod along, reacting to crisis, rather than innovating and "making ithings happen".

btw, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that platforms in a city with the governance model like Palo Alto's mean very much. They're nice as far as they go - and they define interest, focus, passion - and the person - but from election day forward, don't count on a platform being fulfilled unless the electee is truly an extraordinary collaborator.

Finnaly, here's the rub: How much vision is lost or tamped down through the need for constant collaboration - especially in times when fast decision making is needed, and at a premium?

Posted by Money matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2007 at 3:41 pm

Eric trivializes the importance of campaign donations. He's in good company though. Council member Kleinberg tried to trivialize the problem by talking about cups of coffee. She didn't think she would be influenced by having a cup of coffee with anyone. Good debater's ploy, but not everyone was fooled.
People and organizations support candidates they think will support their views. Also, it gives donors easier access to talk to them when they are elected. Do you give money to people who oppose your views? Not likely.
So for example when Kleinberg receives substantial donations like $500 from the Tri-County Apartment Association, California Real Estate PAC, and Santa Clara & San Benito Counties Building & Construction Trades Council, we understand more about her votes and her values than we learn by listening to her emoting for children and the poor. She's also working for the major corporate and development interests all over the state.
When Morton receives that many big of donations from local developers, (especially after the public isn't watching) they know he'll vote for their projects and they are expressing their thanks. Just ask McNellis (Alma Plaza), Jim Baer, Roxy Rapp, and Doug Ross/C Peterson (800 High St) etc.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 8, 2007 at 4:12 pm

"People and organizations support candidates they think will support their views. Also, it gives donors easier access to talk to them when they are elected. Do you give money to people who oppose your views? Not likely."

Money matters,

Exactly! What is wrong with that? You seem to imply that each councilmember must value each citizens opinion equally. That would be nonsense. An environmental activist councilmember is not going to give equal weight to arguments from developers, compared to environmental groups.

We don't need virgins as politicans in our city. We need people who represent a set of ideas about the future. If, on balance, I agree with a given politician's ideas, I will vote forhim/her.

There is a strong smell of innuendo in the comments that our local politicians that take campaign contributions are, in effect, taking bribes. I reject that notion. I think they are being supported by those who agree with them...and there is nothing wrong with that.

Jack Morton, for example, should tell his critics on this issue to go stick it. Same for Kleinberg.

Posted by Money matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2007 at 5:23 pm

Craig, you are so missing the point, I'll try to spell it out for you.
No one is implying bribery. As I said, people give money to those they think will support their views.
However, it is important that people know who else is supporting their representatives. When large contributions are made when no one is paying attention, we do not find out where the real power is coming from.
And yes, they are supposed to represent us, not the building /real estate trades. It's just an old fashioned idea about representative government.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 8, 2007 at 6:11 pm

" it is important that people know who else is supporting their representatives"

Money matters,

Why? If Peter or Yoriko vote for wind farms, green building codes or global warming hysteria, does it matter that the Sierra Club supports them? I don't need to know anything about their support from the Sierra Club. Do you?

Why not just evaluate the ideas and proposals of candidates and incumbents? Then vote accordingly.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 8, 2007 at 9:39 pm


With regard to your earlier question and comments about candidates spending their own money:

As per the City Attorney’s research (made public in a memo to the 7/10/07 Policy and Services Committee meeting), courts have held that you cannot limit contributions made by a candidate to his or her own campaign. You are correct that a wealthy candidate can spend as much of his or her own money as desired.

Restriction on a candidate’s contributions or loans to his or her own campaign is also not part of the Policy and Services Committee recommendation.

And yes, I agree, if a candidate self-funds a campaign and forgoes all other contributions, he or she can justifiably claim complete independence of outside influences.

This argument holds for candidates of lesser means and/or elaborate campaign plans as well. In 2003, LaDoris Cordell funded virtually her entire campaign with a $3,000 loan, which she later forgave, except for $11. In 2005, Roger Smith jump-started his campaign with loans totaling over $10,000. He might have recouped much or all of it from the more than $10,000 in monetary contributions he received and even more that could have come his way. But he withdrew from the race on Sept. 26, and, taking a very honorable course, returned all monetary contributions, and wound up out of pocket $8,886.

So on one edge of possibilities, a candidate can agree to the proposed spending and expenditure cap, contribute up to $30,000 of his or her own money, take no other contributions, and still honor the pledge.

Beyond that, since the proposal is for a voluntary system, any candidate can say, “I don’t agree with it, and I won’t follow it.” And then members of the public can factor the importance of that view into their voting decisions.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2007 at 12:37 pm


Thank you for your accurate and studied responses.

Here is one more question for you. What is the administrative costs of monitoring the reporting laws and rules? For instance, I know that a financial report must be made to the city twice per year. Are these reports checked for accuracy and compliance, or just filed for public review? How many hours are devoted to this subject by our city attorney? How many hours are soaked up by concerned officials over this issue? For that matter, how many hours did you devote to researching your guest column? I am sure that you think it is an important issue (I do not, btw), but it still costs you (and others) time to focus on this issue.

I notice that Vic Ojakian is wondering why there ae not more candidates for city council. Well, unless they are wealthy, and can afford to self-fund, they will be the target of columns like the one you offered. The implication of your column, as well as some responses to it on this site, is that candidates are beholden to their sponsors. Why would any sane person want to subject themselves to such abuse?

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2007 at 10:09 pm

You’re welcome, Craig.

With regard to your questions and comments:

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), authorized by the state’s Political Reform Act of 1974 (and most recently updated this year), specifies the filing dates for campaign disclosure forms. In a non-election year, Disclosure Form 460, which is used by local campaign committees and advocacy groups, must be filed semi-annually as you noted. In a pre-election year, however, additional filings are required, hence the 4 statements for each council candidate in 2003 and 2005 that I reviewed. Still another filing is required for contributions made to candidates and for independent expenditures made by groups in the amount of $1,000 or more in the final 16 days before an election.

Each campaign committee provides one original and one copy of the disclosure form to the city clerk’s office by each submission deadline. I believe one set is sent on to the state and then later stamped and returned to the city to indicate it was received.

So, in my tally, our city clerk receives the disclosure forms, sends one set to the state, and files papers.

I do not believe it is the city’s role to verify these reports for accuracy. The clerk may comment if a deadline is missed, as was the case in 2003 when the firefighters union did not make a timely filing of an end-of-campaign independent expenditure statement.

See Paragraph 21 at Web Link

Bottom line: Minimal work for the city clerk on disclosure forms, and, in any case, the tasks are mandated by the state.

With regard to the city attorney’s office, a non-trivial amount of time and effort has been spent to tackle this complex topic.

As for the time I spent, it was considerable, but spread out over a period of time. I certainly could not have studied the disclosure forms if I were still working in a cubicle in the Valley. But now self-employed for several years, I was able to procure some flextime to go to the clerk’s office for a few hours at a shot on some weekdays.

I disagree with your assessment that this effort “costs” others. At a minimum, I hope, it informs interested residents about an important issue.

I also disagree with your conclusion that what I’ve written implies that candidates are beholden to major contributors. I have made no such claim. I do, however, believe that large contributions, especially in a small community like ours, are not a positive, and maybe that is the primary nature of our disagreement.

In any case, I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to research and analyze the issue, report and comment in a Guest Opinion column, and on this forum. I’ve had the chance to publicly state just about everything that I found significant in this effort. And so on that note, I’ll retire from the airwaves here.

See you in council chambers on Sept. 10, Craig?

Posted by Anonymous Coward
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 10, 2007 at 12:14 am

Why not consider altering the charter, and paying City Council members something like 1/3 of the median Palo Alto salary?

This would enable persons who might be able to make important contributions, but who otherwise can't afford to leave their place of employment to spend the necessary hours.

Some will disagree, claiming that there are working Council memners (Morton, Cordell, Kleinberg, Barton, etc.). Still, it's somethig that should be considered, as many individuals of lesser means, with much to offer, might be stimulated to run if they knew that the compensation would keep the rent paid.

Posted by Money matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2007 at 1:14 pm

Just to clarify why money matters, and that its source is important. When a candidate receives donations from people they clearly represent, there isn't anything surprising.
What is of interest to the public is when money comes from unexpected sources. And really interesting when the donations are made after the reports aren't publicized, after the election. And when they come from a homogenous group, then you really know something is going on.
If you saw the 60 Minutes story a couple of weeks ago they reported about a large number of congressmen and their staffs who went to work for big Pharma right after the pharmaceutical drug bill passed. Something like 10 or 15. And that doesn't take into account the huge amounts they received in donations.
If the public really knew about these huge donations and promised jobs, they might have been better informed about who was going to be the big beneficiary.
The amount of money (that we know about) in Palo Alto isn't comparable but it is informative. When the construction industry supports someone who doesn't make major development part of their platform, that is useful information because construction here is controversial. The residents are very divided about it.
Citizens don't have the hundreds of thousands of dollars or the expertise to counter the professional literature and other campaign expenses that for example the Yes on C unnamed people did. As I recall they spent something like $400,000. No ordinary citizens can raise anything like that amount. Yes, money matters.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 11, 2007 at 2:22 pm

Money Matters,

Not so fast on your follow-the-money theory, especially in local elections. If I had a particular cause, and plenty of money, I would donate to the campaigns of those that I clearly agree with, as well as those that are less bad, compared to the alternates. I would cover the field, and hope for the best. However, I would not expect any special influence, because candidates that get elected tend to get a mind of their own about issues, once in power.

I think you are trying to talk about political influence, and you are (incorrectly) focusing on monetary contributions. I think you would be better off focusing on non-reported contributions, namely organized groups that push a given candidate, usually in an unofficial way. Such groups are oftentimes informal, but are heavily influences by stronger personalities. For example, if bicyclists want bike lanes, they can talk among themselves, and vote for someone that represents their interests. This is called democracy in action, and there is nothing wrong with it. However, it is not required to be reported, and it represents much greater behind-the-scenes power, compared to political money contributions.

I celebrate political influence, special interests, PACs, etc., even if I disagree with them. The only reason I responded to this thread is that I think monetary reporting is a complete waste of time, and it misses the point that it intends to make. It casts innuendo on non-rich (non-self-funded) candidates, and it tends to discourage some potentially good candidates. It costs public money, and takes up way too much time and energy by everybody.

Instead of marching like sheep over the abyss, PA officials should be challenging such reporting laws, at the state level, if necessary. Instead of slavishly trying to outdo each other by complying with these rules, they should stand up and say, "I'm not for sale. If you say I am, prove it!".

For myself, I will count it as a negative factor when I hear a candidate talk about "clean beyond perception".

Posted by Money matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2007 at 4:11 pm

I agree with much of what you say. Organizations or groups that form in order to support candidates are a strong influence. I'm guessing we might not be thinking of the same list. Candidates who support bicycle lanes usually say so publicly. I don't see any problem there. Candidates who support the construction industry usually don't.
I have never heard anyone use the phrase "clean beyond perception".
No one says limiting campaign finance is the only way to clean up elections, that would be silly. I do say that it provides some information.
The jobs and consultancies people (or their families) get are important, but harder to find out about. And much more. Why not make a start, instead of saying it isn't a cure-all. The proof is, the council members who objected to limiting donations even voluntarily, are the ones with the interesting donations.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 11, 2007 at 5:15 pm

"Candidates who support the construction industry usually don't."

Money matters,

Actually, I think they do. They say, "We need a bigger tax base". Some takea a more nuanced stand and say, "We need more housing, especially along transporatation corridors, and with BMRs". It is this latter group that I would also give money to, if I was in the contruction industry (I am not).

Many PA politicians have said that they need to be so clean that they are beyond the perception of fraud or undue influence. I think this is nonsense. If we force local politicians to take loyalty oaths to policitcal virginity, we will only get nuanced answers that mean next to nothing. It is the opposite of actual political transparency, which is simply taking a stand on the issues.

BTW, I think the real power comes from groups that do not form around a specific issue or candidate. The groups are pre-existing, and they have their own interests. However, a strong personality can influence such groups, and a certain 'group think' can take over. The strong peronalities may well be connected to a particular candidate or incumbent, if only in a social context. Beyond such direct connections is the social scene in general. If, for instance, a generally liberal PA politician, has an idea that is generally unpopular among his/her social group (e.g. a free-market thought), he/she will constrain the thought in a public setting, like an evening party. This social constraint on free speech is quite common. It helps to explain why it is so hard to get straight answers from candidates on potentially controversial is much easier to go with the flow, and keep quiet about one's actual feelings.

Tracking the money is a waste of time, when the real influence is beyond money.

Posted by Money matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2007 at 10:16 am

>>If we force local politicians to take loyalty oaths to policitcal virginity..
Well if you reduce the subject to loyalty oaths, there isn't much point in this discussion.
Rather than virginity, I propose honesty as one of the ways to judge people. You know, there really are honest people! But when someone says we are all honest so why do we need rules, or someone who talks about cups of coffee, you know you are dealing with someone who has a lot to hide.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 12, 2007 at 4:19 pm

"I propose honesty as one of the ways to judge people"

So who, on the current council, is dishonest? On what do you base that charge, if, indeed, you are making that charge. It sure sounds like you are making that charge.

Posted by Yet another anonymous coward
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2007 at 7:28 am

Following this just for the generic interest, since I have no vote at all in PA.

I really like much of what you are saying, Craig. If makes sense. Particularly if someone is self-funding a campaign from personal funds, it seems silly to think that the money didn't come from SOMEWHERE and may "influence" the politician if elected.

I wish we could just have clear and public accounting of where funds come from, without limits, without innuendo, with simply an acknowledgement that the support is likely coming from like minded people. If the candidate did not agree with the person or group donating, they wouldn't take the money. Taking the money doesn't mean they are bought, it just means that they agree with the aims of the donor and will likely vote in ways that support the donor's goals.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with this AT ALL. It is the way we get funded if we can't self fund, and it shows who our support base is. Big deal!

But, it must be totally open BEFORE the election, with nothing coming in after.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2007 at 11:58 am

Yet another,

I agree with much of the tone of your post, however, I still don't think that reporting of contibutions (monetary or in-kind) yield much of interest.

Let me take this from the point of view of someone who IS on the take. It seems fairly easy, to me, to beat the system. The simplest way is for the candidate to self-fund. Then the actual donor, who is buying the vote, simply hires the candidate for a job or pays for conulting services or gives a raise (if the candidate is already employed by the donor). If a local campaign cost about $30k, it would be pretty easy to hide those funds across several years. Another way to do it is to agree to buy the candidates home for $30k more than what the candidate is actually asking (some congressmen on the take have done this).

I think it is much better to challenge a candidate on the issues, during the campaign. Get them to go on record. If they change their vote to go against their stated goals, and it is a pattern, I would then think there is a dead rat in the room. At a minimum, I would not vote for that person again; local newspapers and blogs could shed light on the inconsistencies. An actual criminal investigation might even happen.

A fairly simple way to determine how a candidate will vote is to determine who they associate with. Are they a member of the Chamber of Commerce? Actera? Sierra Club? "Peace" organizations? Veterans organizations? Private clubs? Sports groups? Neighborhood assosciations?...etc. I don't think there are a lot of surprises in council votes. This is a good thing, because it suggests that voters knew what they were voting for.

I remain convinced that the 'follow-the-money' approach is, at best, a waste of time; at worst, it inhibits potential candidates from entering the race.

The late Jesse Unruh is famous for his saying, "if you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, take their money and then vote against them, you should get out of politics."

I judge Jesse on what he accomplished in politics, not what he accomplished in his personal life...even if if was all paid for by lobbyists!

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