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Election Cost

Original post made by Annette, College Terrace, on Oct 7, 2016

It strikes me as fundamentally wrong that local elections are so expensive that candidates are building hefty war chests, developers are contributing handsomely to candidates deemed friendly to their cause, and PACS form to combat that. This is local government for goodness sake! No wonder state and national campaigns are an unholy mess. A seat at the table should be for the purpose of SERVING the community, not personal benefit or gain. When the $ factor becomes substantial it is time to ask serious questions. The only answer I have at this point is to pay close attention to endorsers and contributors and cast an informed vote. Several years ago LaDoris Cordell eschewed the pricey campaign routine. More candidates should do that - I'll bet most of the mailers go straight into the recycle bin anyway - what a waste. Better the money spent on glossy mailers and biased or negative ads be donated to a charity dedicated to improving society. What's happening now is absurd.

Comments (20)

Posted by stakes
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2016 at 11:53 pm

I'm not surprised in the slightest. The stakes are extremely high in this election, particularly for City Council which will be reduced in size from 7 to 9 members in the future. If the developers could re-gain a majority on the CC with the PAF-sympathetic candidates (Tanaka, Kniss, Fine and McDougall) to whom they've contributed (Web Link they stand to gain millions in profits from new high-density developments. I'm also not surprised that the Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of businesses that would like to expand their office space and provide housing for the influx of new worker would endorse this same slate of candidates (Web Link Hopefully Palo Alto residents also realize how great the stakes are in this election and VOTE.

Posted by wealthy candidates
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2016 at 10:55 am

The candidates endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce are very wealthy and they represent their own class.
The big donations reflect those interests.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2016 at 12:48 pm

Never vote for a candidate who sends more than 2 mailers.

Posted by Observer
a resident of University South
on Oct 8, 2016 at 4:17 pm

PASZ was a PAC long ago and took in contributions in 2014 (though not so many as now.)

We need to recognize that PASZ started this by forming a slate in 2014, continued it by setting up three candidates with the same campaign manager, and provoked this reaction. It's just crazy to blame this on anything else.

Things have been so divisive since Measure D. I want my Palo Alto back.

Posted by Dark Money Not Sensible
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2016 at 7:51 pm

The idea that a group of Palo Altans would create a dark money PAC is just gross. When I saw the PASZ email that encouraged people to donate $49.99 to candidates so names aren't disclosed, it didn't feel like the right way to behave in the community I know and love.

Well now it turns out PASZ raised a lot of money from only a couple of people in the last few weeks. Why are we looking the other way when 5 or 6 rich families pay $5000 a piece to a PAC to influence our community in such a shadowy way? Why didn't the weekly write about this? Search under Palo Altans For Sensible Zoning:
Web Link

Posted by This PASZ PAC is Funny
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 8, 2016 at 8:17 pm

It's a shame that politics has gone so far downhill in Palo Alto that a few of the candidates--Kou, Keller, and Stone--have decided to rely on a shadowy PAC funded by a handful of people, and that a handful of rich families are donating $5,000 a piece to this PAC.

Why is this even necessary, and why can't the candidates stand by their super-rich donors?

Have a look at the PASZ candidates' own campaign finance reports and look at the handful of $49 or $999 contributions. Why would a group of candidates interested in transparency and standing by their donors need to rely on these tricks to avoid hitting campaign finance reporting thresholds?

You'd think candidates in Palo Alto would be better than these kind of dirty tricks.

Posted by PASZ a PAC-- Dark Money? Outrageous.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2016 at 8:40 pm

I cannot believe that Palo Altans are okay with" Palo Alto for Sensible Zoning" being a PAC or supported by PAC financing! And then people try to cover up by distracting and saying that the Palo Alto Forward folks "are rich". None of them strikes me as "rich". At least one rents. Lydia Kou, on the other hand, is a real estate broker.... then shouldn't she be described as "rich"? So Kou, Stone and other residentialist candidates are supported by "dark money"? PAC IS dark money, it is what we complain about when we talk about Citizens United and how it is corrupting our political system. The money funneled into campaigns is secret. The financial supporters get to hide who they are. It's not good to try to hide who your supporters are whether you are the Koch brothers or some other corporation or PAZX. If I remember correctly, City Council sent out a letter stating that it supported getting rid of Citizens United a few years ago. And know we find out that a PAC is behind at least two city council members voted in by the residentialists and their PAC: PASZ. Unsettling in Palo Alto. Not good.

Posted by Sam H
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 8, 2016 at 8:43 pm

I'm surprised there are PACs supporting candidates for a local council race.. Isn't that stuff for state and federal races? (Not that I condone PACs there either). Sad to see PASZ using this tactic

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2016 at 11:03 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by PAF wealth
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2016 at 11:46 am

"saying that the Palo Alto Forward folks "are rich". None of them strikes me as "rich".

Yes their leaders are.
Elaine Uang donated $1,000.00 to Marc Berman. Good sign she's wealthy.
Rosenblum and Alhassani and Zelka and S.Downing work for Palantir.
Sandra Slater is a developer; co-owns Drew Maran Construction, lives in a big mansion
Steven Levy, long time consultant to development interests.

Sounds like wealth to me.

Posted by GFawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Dark Money is when you DON"T report where money comes from. Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning appear to have "Sunny Money" reporting donations and sources of funding.

It's the Chamber of Commerce and Palo Alto Forward's activities that appear to be Dark money

I believe it's state law and the Fair Political Practices Commission that is relevant to rule on the Chamber of Commerce endorsements, not the IRS and Feds. Election efforts need to be declared and the Chamber of Commerce has filed as a California tax exempt organization, claiming no political activity. They have not filed a taxable entity which could engage in politics. Therefore they appear to have violated the FPPC laws and should be held accountable.

Palo Alto Forward claims it is "no organization". That is not an excuse to not file for political activities including cash and in-kind contributions. They have espoused one set of political views, promoted only candidates who support their position on their web site (the expense of hosting a web site must be reported to the FPPC), hosting food trucks and ice cream socials (which costs money) and were going to have a forum with only their supported candidates until they wised up and cancelled it. Not filing and cash or in-kind political contributions appears to be a violation of the FPPC laws.

The proper way to do these activities is to form a political committee and report financial and in-kind contributions. Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning have done this in an open and transparent manner as required by state law. They should not be criticized for reporting their political activity but praised for following the laws, where our Chamber and Palo Alto Forward is not, and appears to prefer operating in the shadows from a financial perspective.

Dark money is a taint on American politics. We should all be asking where is this money coming from and what do the donors expect. Who would you prefer to see donating to Palo Alto city politics? Donors who are people outside Palo Alto and large developers? Or residents of the city?

There is no free lunch. Money comes with strings

Posted by Hilarious
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 9, 2016 at 1:49 pm

@"PAF wealth". Elaine Uang is wealthy? Hilarious! "Sandra Slater is a developer.... hahahahah. Have you met them? Too funny. Where'd you get that piece of misinformation, amongst others? Compare to Lydia Kou, a real estate broker.. and . the other so-called "residentialist" candidates who have a dark source of money (as all of the "residentialists" are supported by a PAC)?

The misinformation and slander in this column is intense.. On a separate note,

This column is largely not read by renters and most people who are middle or lower class. It is read mainly by the Palo Alto house owners and well off (not rich necessarily but landed wealthy). Those who are defending PASZ and PACS are the better off if not wealthy who have the time and money. The politics have been slanted by people who can contribute to a PAC and furiously write in to support a PAC when it is to their benefit of course. It's all cronies and croneyism. It is better to turn your attention to the people in this town who don't read this column, and don't support PAC's and do some good. Try to regain a view that helps others. And don't say you are against money in Politics or corruption--because now we know PASZ is supported by a PAC.If you support PASZ's fundraising tactics you do.

Posted by stark contrast
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 9, 2016 at 8:18 pm

Fine, Tanaka, Kniss and McDougall are supported by wealthy developers who, for the most part, do not live in Palo Alto and stand to gain millions of dollars in profit from high-density development. On the other hand, PASZ is composed of Palo Alto residents fighting to maintain quality of life in their community; Kou, Keller, Stone and Stewart tend to share their "residentialist" philosophy. The outcome of the city council election will have significant ramifications for both groups.

Posted by PAF wealth
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2016 at 11:57 pm

Hilarious, you may find it less amusing if you take the trouble to read the message more carefully and then do a little research. When someone gives $1,000 to a wealthy candidate like Berman, it is reasonable to assume they have lots of money to spare.
Slater is a designer and CO-owner of a construction company.
That you judge people's wealth by how they look speaks to your lack of life experience.

Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2016 at 9:54 am

Marie is a registered user.

Five comments in a row attacking PASZ with almost the same words. This looks like a coordinated attack on the four candidates who are most likely to stand up to developers. These are the same people who supported the moderate income housing when Terman was reclaimed as a junior high school.

They will get my vote, not candidates who support developers no matter what they propose.

I'm excited about additional moderate housing to be built at the end of CA avenue. I hope to see more developments like the SOFA development downtown, a true collaboration of residents and developers - and sneered at by consultants and the then head of the PA planning commission during a tour trying to convince us that 8+story buildings were the way to go.

We must fight for more low and moderate income housing and turn down developments where tiny 1-bedroom apartments go for $3k. There is no shortage of such expensive housing, given the new housing in RWC and Mt. View. What we need more of is moderate income housing that is family friendly and more SRO's for low income seniors and disabled people. No developer is proposing anything but expensive housing. Let's make the lot at the corner of Page Mill and El Camino conform to its current zoning as public benefit (or something like that). The only housing built there should be low to moderate housing that adds to the huge deficit of such housing in Palo Alto. And extension of the next door SRO, would be perfect. Maybe the Santa Clara housing Authority should use eminent domain to purchase this land too at its current market value given its current zoning.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 10, 2016 at 10:31 am

Annette is a registered user.

Interesting set of comments - esp those criticizing PASZ and inferring that it is to blame for the PACs. What about money contributed by developers (over many years) and the Democratic Party? (And probably also the Republican Party even though one doesn't see that source mentioned too often in this area.) If not technically a PAC, those groups are effectively the same as a PAC. Also, I believe PASZ was formed at least in part to counter the impact that development and developer money has had on this community. Can anyone really fault qualified candidates who are willing to serve but lack deep pocket funding for stretching their more limited campaign funds by sharing what campaign expenses they can? If yes, what's the alternative? If we want choices when we go to the polls we have to hope the candidates that are not backed by an established political machine get financial help from somewhere. If they don't, current problems will only worsen. Unfortunately, I think we have created a system that is contrary to our own best interests.

Posted by Sandra Slater
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 10, 2016 at 1:13 pm

To those who are totally mis-informed (@PAF Wealth):

I am NOT a developer -- never have been, never will be.
I don't co-own a construction company, never have and never will.
I work with a non-profit on environmental issues to address climate change -- not exactly a money-maker!
I don't live in a "mansion", I live in a 2800 sf home that was -- when it was built 17 years ago -- a model of sustainable building practices, of which I've been a proponent of for over 25 years. We used it as a teaching tool for professionals to better understand green building.

The PAF Steering Committee (of which I'm a member) includes one family-mediation lawyer, one architect who has a background in city planning, a regional economist, and a couple of young professionals in technology. Please tell me where the "developers" are in our organization?

I find your characterization ill-informed . Just because you say it's so doesn't make it true.
Where do you get your information?
Please stick to the issues that are important to our future, not mis-characterizing folks you don't agree with.
Thank you.

Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Oct 10, 2016 at 1:46 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Sandra.

Sometimes enough is enough and I am personally tired of seeing my friends slandered.

For myself the charge that I work for developers is, indeed, hilarious.

My current work involves helping the South Coast Air Quality District identify and explain the economic benefits and costs of air quality regulations, helping the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California document economic trends in their service area, and helping the Southern California Association of Governments understand economic trends so they can plan to meet the housing and air quality requirements of SB 375 and AB 32.

Recent work has been to help the City of San Jose understand economic trends for their general plan update and assisting the ABAG staff in developing a regional forecast to be the foundation for plans in the Bay Area to meet the housing and air quality requirements of SB 375 and AB 32.

I guess if you think these public agencies are in some conspiracy with developers, i can be accused of working in the interests of developers but that is certainly a stretch even in our new world of anything goes presidential campaigning.

It is not a crime for people to work for private companies and to imply that their public policies are influenced by their employment puts one again in the land of guilt by association without any evidence.

As Sandra said, let's stick to issues.

Let's show the world that in Palo Alto, even on Town Square, we can act with some civility even when we disagree on policies.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 10, 2016 at 6:22 pm

I would say that Sandra Slater is a builder, or in a building related area: And, her husband, Drew Maran, is clearly a builder.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 12, 2016 at 8:42 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Annette raises reasonable concerns about $$s in this local election, and the first commenter, “stakes,” explains why via his/her handle.

But is there another way?

It is true that in 2003, LaDoris Cordell did finance her successful Palo Alto city council campaign with $3,000 from her own pocket and no outside contributions. It was used for a web site, flyers, and one newspaper advertisement. Web Link .

But Cordell also came into the campaign with outstanding credentials and substantial visibility, via service as a municipal court judge, successful election to the superior court, and her position at the time as Stanford's Vice Provost for Campus Relations.

It was also a sleepier, less contentious time. We were at the nadir of the bust of the Dot-Com bubble, with all the job gains of the preceding decade dissipated and hundreds of thousand of square feet of office space in Palo Alto empty. Things were so bad in the commercial market that developers actually began to convert land zoned for commercial space into housing. What a concept!

In 2007, the final year of her single term on the council, Cordell and fellow council member Peter Drekmeier, who in 2005 had raised more money than any Palo Alto candidate in history (about $35,000), jointly proposed that council candidates accept a voluntary cap on campaign contributions of $250 and a voluntary spending limit of $25,000. Almost every council member praised the idea as they waived it forward to subcommittee, but by the time it returned to the full council just before election season, all but the two sponsors bailed. High-minded concept meets fear and political calculation.

But big dollars do not always decide local elections. In the 2013 campaign over the Maybell Avenue referendum (“Measure D”) Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning, the forerunner to PASZ, was outspent 10 to 1 and not only won big, but turned our city council ship around.

A substantial injection of funds, however, does appear to help in a makeover. Greg Scharff in his successful, post-Maybell, 2014 reverse-field and run-to-the-head-of-the-residentialist parade nearly tripled Drekmeier’s record. But the leading vote getter, Karen Holman, and the three other victors, Tom Dubois, Eric Filseth, and Cory Wolbach each raised and spent about a fourth as much as Scharff. Wolbach also limited individual contributions to a maximum of $500.

This year, with land-use and development, once again, the most crucial issue, although possibly dimmed somewhat in public consciousness by the successes of the last two years, the view toward money appears to be leaning toward more is better.

Despite the fact that Stewart Carl does not have the name recognition of a LaDoris Cordell or some other candidates today, it is uplifting that he has not only instituted the proposed 2005 cap on contributions of $250, but also that contributions come entirely from Palo Alto residents.

There is a certain minimum financial threshold required for a council candidate to be visible, viable, and get his/her message out to the electorate (e.g., lawn signs, web site, literature to residents' doors) and then, as Annette points out, there is overkill and related questions of whom one might be beholden to.

Your modest contribution to the candidate(s) of your choice, does not replace you effort as a citizen to learn, evaluate, and influence your circle, but it does help get the word out. Web Link

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