Albany City Council candidates Brian Parker and Robert Lieber have filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, charging two of his opponents with attempting to subvert Albany’s campaign finance ordinance by illegally coordinating with an independent campaign committee.
Parker and Lieber said that the Concerned Albany Citizens group was essentially a front for the campaigns of candidates Jewel Okawachi and Alan Riffer.
Documents filed with the Albany City Clerk’s office indicate that the amount spent by the Concerned Albany Citizens group would not put Okawachi and Riffer over Albany’s $6,000 voluntary campaign spending limit. The Concerned Albany Citizens have filed an expenditure report with the Albany City Clerk’s office listing $380 in expenses producing the campaign handout, and both Okawachi and Riffer are several thousand dollars short of the expenditure limit.
In addition, Albany City Councilmember Peggy Thomsen, who is listed as a member of the independent group, denied there was any coordination between the citizens group and any candidate’s campaign.
“That’s a totally ridiculous, baseless charge,” she said. “Can you imagine anyone trying to coordinate me? Just ask around town.”
Parker, Lieber, Okawachi, and Riffer are among six candidates running for three seats on the Albany City Council. Okawachi is the only incumbent in the field. Thomsen is not up for re-election this year.
Also running in the race, but not mentioned as part of the controversy, are candidates Richard Cross and Farid Javandel. Many of the campaign issues have centered around development of Albany’s waterfront, including a possible casino at Golden Gate Fields race track.
Parker and Lieber filed their complaint with the CFPPC last week, charging that “the campaigns of Alan Riffer and Jewel Okawachi have violated the California Fair Political Practices Act by having a supposedly independent committee coordinate its last-minute, personal Swift Boat style attack on rival candidates Brian Parker and Robert Lieber. The supposedly independent committee is comprised entirely of the campaign workers of the Riffer and Okawachi Campaigns.”
A spokesperson for the Fair Political Practices Commission said that the commission could not comment on an ongoing investigation, even to confirm whether or not a complaint has been received.
The target of the Parker-Lieber complaint was an Oct. 26 leaflet entitled “An Open Letter From Concerned Albany Citizens” and hand-delivered to homes in the city. The letter, which criticized several political positions taken by Parker and Lieber, was signed by 18 citizens, including Mayor Jon Ely and Councilmembers Peggy Thomsen and Allan Maris.
Of the 18 individuals listed on the handout, four of them are among the seven persons listed on an Alan Riffer For Albany City Council brochure as members of Riffer’s campaign committee. Ten more Concerned Albany Citzens members are among the 105 Riffer supporters listed on that brochure. Seventeen of the 18 Concerned Albany Citizens members are among the 218 individuals who were listed in an Okawachi campaign flyer as being “citizens of Albany [who] are voting for Jewel Okawachi.”
“They’ve all gone and sat aside and said, ‘Oh, we’re a new committee,’” Parker said in a telephone interview. “But if you’ve got people in decision-making roles in your campaign, they cannot be involved in the independent expenditures. That would be coordination. It would be impossible not to be coordinating between the two campaigns, because these people are these candidate’s campaigns. You can’t play ball on two teams, under California law.”
Parker added that the Concerned Albany Citizens’ expenditure “should be reported as an expenditure of the individual candidates’ campaigns.”
Parker called the independent expenditure “pretty slimy” and even mocked the organization’s name, saying that “concerned citizens sounds like something out of the 50s burning down black churches or something.”
Councilmember Thomsen said that the Concerned Albany Citizens group was formed “because we just felt that we had to put the record straight. These guys [Parker and Lieber] have run a campaign where they’ve distorted issues, where they’ve engaged in name-calling, where they’ve spent the most money. They’ve taken the civility out of elections in Albany. It’s very disappointing, quite frankly. Some of us didn’t appreciate that, and we certainly didn’t need to consult with any candidate.”
Thomsen noted that the Concerned Albany Citizens listed their names on the leaflet and filed a financial report with the city clerk; “we wouldn’t have done that if we were trying to be deceptive.” She also noted that the leaflet did not endorse any candidate in the race, but only called upon voters to “join us in supporting candidates who have not debased Albany’s values.”
Thomsen said that referred to any of the four candidates running besides Lieber and Parker.
Okawachi and Riffer have agreed to operate under Albany’s voluntary campaign finance limit ordinance; Parker and Lieber have opted not to.
Candidates who operate under the ordinance are limited to contributions of $6,000 total and $250 per individual, with no more than 10 percent of their contributions coming from individuals or organizations outside of Albany. Candidates who choose not to operate under the city’s campaign finance limit ordinance may raise campaign funds in excess of $6,000 with no limit on the percentage coming from outside Albany, but individual contributions are limited to $100.
As of their latest filings with the Albany city clerk, the Lieber campaign has raised and spent close to $6,000, while the Parker campaign has raised and spent approximately $10,350. Okawachi has raised $4,600 and spent $2,300, while Riffer has raised $2,500 and spent $1,800.
Two other independent campaign committees have filed expenditure reports in the Albany City Council race with the Albany clerk’s office. The Albany Peace Officers Association listed an expenditure of $980 for a newspaper ad in support of Okawachi, Riffer, and candidate Farid Javandel. A group called the Californians Against Waste reported spending approximately $1,800 in support of the candidacies of Lieber and Parker.