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Money in Palo Alto Politics

Original post made by Alice Schaffer Smith, Green Acres, on Oct 14, 2016

I recall when candidates voluntarily limited the individual contributions to $250 each AND there were no PACs.

Consider this:


This Palo Alto election is different from others.

In the 2014 election, there was a slate of candidates backed by PASZ (Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (“PASZ”), a PAC that was formed around the opposition to a plan for 60 units of low income senior housing and twelve single family homes on Maybell Avenue). That was the first election in several decades that a slate had been run.

This election, PASZ has taken it one step further, and has raised major funds for their slate from a small group of wealthy investors and entrepreneurs. Thus far, between the PAC and individual candidate donations, FIVE families have contributed almost $100,000 for the local election. This has never happened in a Palo Alto local election.

At the federal level, this level of individual contribution to candidates would be illegal.

These families are all VCs, hedge fund managers and technology entrepreneurs. They include at least one major Republican donor.

Below are the contributions that have been reported so far*:



This Palo Alto election is different from others.

In the 2014 election, there was a slate of candidates backed by PASZ (Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (“PASZ”), a PAC that was formed around the opposition to a plan for 60 units of low income senior housing and twelve single family homes on Maybell Avenue). That was the first election in several decades that a slate had been run.

This election, PASZ has taken it one step further, and has raised major funds for their slate from a small group of wealthy investors and entrepreneurs. Thus far, between the PAC and individual candidate donations, FIVE families have contributed almost $100,000 for the local election. This has never happened in a Palo Alto local election.

At the federal level, this level of individual contribution to candidates would be illegal.

These families are all VCs, hedge fund managers and technology entrepreneurs. They include at least one major republican donor.

Below are the contributions that have been reported so far*:

Donor Kou Keller PAC
Michael Rantz $4,200 $4,200 $5,000
Paula Rantz $4,200 $4,200
Asher Waldfogel 500
Helyn MacLean $6,500 $6,500 $5,000
Maria Baker $ 900 $ 900 $6,000
Trench Coxe $1,350 450 $2,500
Simon Coxe $ 6,450 $6,450 $2,500
Thomas Layton $6.900 $6,900 $2.500
Gab Layton $ 900 $ 900 $5,000

These contributors are tech entrepreneurs, Sutter Hill VCs, major donors to the Republican party, Hedgefund investors, etc etc. Is this really what we want for Palo Alto city council politics? What is this money buying them?



* note: all contributions are disclosed through the Netfile Public Portal


** additionally of note: all of the above individuals made much smaller contributions (~$900/person) before the Sept 29 filing deadline (on which newspapers generally write their campaign finance stories. After filing deadline, some wrote these large checks to each person AND the PAC.

Comments (1)

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 18, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Note: candidate Adrian Fine has recommended this post in an email he sent out (I was a recipient). Tells you a lot about him.

Alice Smith is at it again. In 2014, it was that the Residentialists candidates were supported by the Koch Brothers (famous billionaire Libertarian/Republican donors).

[Portion removed.]

1. PASZ (with which I am NOT affiliated) wasn't created under after the Maybell Referendum. So how could it have formed to defeat that referendum.

2. The four Residentialists candidates in 2014 were not a slate. They publicly declared that they weren't. Simply being endorsed by one group or leaders of a group doesn't make you a slate. Otherwise, in this election Kniss, Tanaka, Fine and McDougall would be the Chamber of Commerce slate or the Palo Alto Forward slate or ... And in the 2014 election, key personnel from the campaigns of Scharff, Wolbach, Shepherd and Johnson created a group "Palo Altans for Good Government that operated as a PAC to publish ads during the final days of the campaign. My blog on that: Web Link

3. Similarly, in this election, there is no PASZ slate except in the fervid imagination of people like Alice Smith.

Rhetorical question: Why is Alice Smith so freaked out about these particular rich investors when she has been so fervent in her support of the interests of rich developers?

Additional info:

1. In the 2014 election, one candidate (Scharff) put $50K into his own campaign and family members added about $10K. Big money from a few is not new to this campaign.

2. In the 2014 election, the Scharff campaign raised at least $84K and the Johnson $48K, so this is not a first big money campaign (some details at Web Link
The recent big contributions to Residentialist Keller and Kou were triggered by the first period financial reports showing 3 of the 4 the candidates supported by developers, Chamber of Commerce, Palo Alto Forward, the Establishment with a huge fundraising lead: Tanaka $47K; Kniss $46K; Fine $36K. The remaining candidates were below $25K.

3. Campaigns became more expensive in 2012 when the City switched to even-year elections -- at the behest of Liz Kniss who thereby avoided a "gap year" between being termed out as County Supervisor and the next election for City Council.

4. As to what these donors want: Has Alice Smith talked to them? Even one of them?
During the 2014 Council campaign, I met the lead family in this current round of fund-raising. Their concern? Quality of life in their neighborhood. They lived in a neighborhood severely impacted by parking from the downtown, including occasionally having driveways blocked by parked cars, and cars "orbiting" trying to find spaces.


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