Oakland City Council incumbents running for re-election are taking in campaign donations from individuals who regularly require City Council approval for the business they do with the City of Oakland. While the practice is, for the most part, not illegal, it violates the spirit of the 1997 Oakland Campaign Reform Act, which sought to prevent a connection between City Council decisions and campaign donations to city councilmembers running for re-election.
And at least in the case of donations from three separate companies, two councilmembers appear to have actually broken Oakland’s campaign finance laws.
Violation of the provisions of the Campaign Reform Act is a misdemeanor.
The Oakland Campaign Reform Act prohibits campaign contributions to candidates for Oakland city councilmember for at least 180 days (six months) between the start of and completion of contracts or other city business that requires City Council approval.
But Councilmember Jane Brunner, running for re-election from District 1, received a $600 contribution from A&B Vehicle Processing company last October. Because A&B (under its new name, B&B Vehicle Processing) is currently seeking approval from the City Council for a one-year renewal of its longstanding towing contract with the City of Oakland, the A&B contribution to Brunner would appear to have directly violated the Campaign Reform Act.
In addition, Brunner and City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente have each recently received $600 contributions from BCG Towing, an East Oakland-based towing company that is listed as a subcontractor with A&B (B&B) in its towing contract renewal request with the City of Oakland.
Brunner could not be reached for comment for this story, but political consultant Larry Tramutola, speaking for the De La Fuente campaign, said by telephone that “the treasurer of the campaign was not aware that BCG Towing was a party to a contract that was being considered by the City Council.”
Tramutola said that now that the campaign had been informed, the campaign treasurer was “checking with the Oakland Ethics Commission. If we find there was a violation, we will certainly return the contribution. Mr. De La Fuente is very strict on following the Campaign Reform Act.”
Another potential violation by the De La Fuente organization was wiped off the books because, according to Tramutola, the checks bounced. The De La Fuente campaign reported two separate contributions of $600 apiece from officials with Pacific Thomas Capital, developers of the Gateway Development Project on the estuary waterfront. Carlos Plazola, former aide to De La Fuente, is the registered lobbyist with the City of Oakland for Pacific Thomas Capital, and has been closely associated with the proposed project.
Last March, the Oakland City Council approved industrial zoning changes for the City of Oakland that would allow the Gateway Project to go through. That may have qualified as a Campaign Reform Act violation, but in the same March 17 campaign contribution report in which the $1,200 Pacific Thomas Capital donations were listed, the De La Fuente campaign also listed corresponding negative balances, showing that the contributions penciled back out to zero.
But while there are few actual violations of the law, there appear to be widespread violations of the spirit of the Campaign Reform Act, which sought to break the connection between campaign contributions and City Council decisions. In that regard, the four council incumbents running for reelection have pulled in a total of $19,500 among them in contributions from companies or individuals with ongoing business interests with the City of Oakland.
While those interests do not involve contracts or development proposals coming within the six-month Campaign Reform Act window, they involve entities that are expected to have future business ventures coming before the City Council for approval.
De La Fuente has pulled in $9,300 in such contributions in his current reelection campaign, followed by Brunner with $7,200, Reid with $2,400, and Nadel with $850. De La Fuente has gotten $2,100 from the DeSilva Group alone, the powerful East Bay developers who are major players in Oakland development, including the recently approved Leona Quarry residential project. Both De La Fuente and Brunner got $1,200 apiece through Foster Interstate Media, which has contracts with the City of Oakland for billboards near the Alameda County Coliseum and Arena.
De La Fuente and Brunner also received $1,200 in contributions through McLarand Vasquez Emsiek & Partners Inc. Architects, which has no direct contracts or projects with the City of Oakland but is the architect for major projects requiring Oakland City Council approval, including the Fruitvale Transit Village, Forest City Uptown Oakland project, and Oak To Ninth. Reid received $600 in contributions from the architects.
And De La Fuente received $1,800 in contributions through Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, Lauter & Partners, a San Francisco political consulting and lobbying firm with no contracts with the City of Oakland or proposals before the Oakland City Council itself, but with clients with significant contract interests in Oakland, including Signature Properties and the Shorenstein Company. Brunner received $600 in contributions from Barnes, Mosher.
In addition, the four council incumbents running for reelection have taken in $6,700 from three Oakland Port Commissioners—John Protopappas, Anthony Batarse, and Kenneth Katzoff—who will need approval from the Oakland City Council if they wish to be selected for another term on the powerful Port Commission.
Naomi Schiff, president of the nonprofit Oakland Heritage Alliance and a frequent participant in Oakland City Council meetings and hearings involving development projects, called the campaign contribution situation “murky.”
“It doesn’t seem like a good setup,” Schiff said, adding that the Campaign Reform Act “was supposed to ensure that campaign contributions didn’t interact with City Council project approval.”
While Schiff did not accuse councilmembers of voting on project proposals based upon campaign contributions, she did say that in observing how some proposals get through Oakland’s planning and approval process, “I sometimes wonder how these connections are playing out.”
A&B Vehicle Processing
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($600 on October 23, 2007 from A&B General Manager Robert A. Connor)
A&B has a longstanding contract with the City of Oakland to run the city’s towing services. A one-year extension of that contract was considered by the Public Safety Committee of the Oakland City Council on Tuesday night of this week, with the full Council expected to vote on the contract extension sometime before the summer break.
ABC Security Services
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($600), Ignacio De La Fuente ($600)
The company has long-standing contract to provide security services at various city facilities. In May 2007, the Contra Costa Times Political Blotter described Ana Chretien, ABC’s CEO, as a prolific political donor, supporting Democrats including Oakland City Council President Igancio De La Fuente, state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) and state Attorney General Jerry Brown.”
In 2006, in response to a complaint that ABC “violated the Oakland Campaign Reform Act by making campaign contributions to [Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Henry Chang] during a period when ABC Security was negotiating contracts with the City of Oakland and the Oakland Base Reuse Authority,” the Public Ethics Commission concluded that no violation took place because administrative amendments to ABC’s contract with the City of Oakland that took place within the Oakland Campaign Reform Act’s 180-day window were not directly voted on by City Council.
Mark A. McClure
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($600), Ignacio De La Fuente ($600), Larry Reid ($600), Nancy Nadel ($100)
He is a Oakland Port Commissioner
Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, Lauter & Partners
Contributions: Ignacio De La Fuente ($1,800 total, $600 apiece from Barnes Mosher Public Affairs Director Samuel Lauter, Political Consultant Mark Mosher, and Political Consultant John Whitehurst), Jane Brunner ($600)
While it has no contracts with the City of Oakland or proposals before Oakland City Council, Barnes, Mosher is a San Francisco political lobbying firm with clients with significant contract interests in Oakland, including Signature Properties and the Shorenstein Company.
Contributions: Nancy Nadel ($600 from BBI owner Tom McCoy)
BBI has the City of Oakland contract to rehabilitate the Municipal Boathouse on Lake Merritt, and has bid on other contracts with the City of Oakland.
Contributions: Ignacio De La Fuente ($600), Jane Brunner ($600)
Listed as a subcontractor on the contract extension for B&B Vehicle Processing (A&B Vehicle Processing), it is currently being considered by the Oakland City Council
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($600)
Tagami is a developer and Real Estate Investor and the owner of California Commercial Investments. He has numerous contracts and development-related relationships with the City of Oakland, including a current contract as consultant to the city on the Fox Oakland Restoration Project. He served on the Oakland Port Commission until former Mayor Jerry Brown replaced him in 2003.
Clear Channel Worldwide
Contribution: Ignacio De La Fuente ($600)
Clear Channel has current contract with City of Oakland to place billboards throughout the city. In addition, Clear Channel has several ongoing contracts with the Port of Oakland to put up billboards on the approach to the Bay Bridge as well as at the Oakland Airport.
Michael Colbruno, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for Clear Channel Outdoor, is an Oakland Planning Commissioner.
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($600), Nancy Nadel ($250)
Company has ongoing off-street parking contract with the City of Oakland.
The DeSilva Group
Contributions: Igancio De La Fuente ($2,100 total; $600 from Ernest D. Lampkin, CFO of Oliver DeSilva Inc., $600 from Jim Summers, a civil engineer with The DeSilva Group, $600 from Stephen Vigar, an executive with The DeSilva Group, and $300 from Michael Willcoxon, attorney with The DeSilva Group), Jane Brunner ($600 from Jim Summers, a civil engineer with The DeSilva Group)
It is a major player in Oakland development projects, including current work on the Leona Quarry residential development project.
Foster Interstate Media
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($1,200 total, $600 from the company and $600 from Foster State Vice President Lars Skugstad), Ignacio De La Fuente ($1,200 total, $600 from the company and $600 from Foster State Vice President Lars Skugstad), Larry Reid ($600)
The company has contracts with the City of Oakland for billboards near the Alameda County Coliseum and Arena. Contracts with the Port of Oakland for billboard placement on various Port of Oakland lands, including the Oakland Airport and the approach to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Friendly Transportation Inc.
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($600).
It has a contract with the City of Oakland to provide paratransit transportation services.
Hensel Phelps Construction Company
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($600), Ignacio De La Fuente ($600)
It is a major player in Oakland development projects. According to a September, 2001 Port of Oakland press release, Port of Oakland Press Release, “both the City of Oakland and the Port of Oakland are familiar with Hensel Phelps Construction. Recently completed projects include the City of Oakland Administration Buildings [and the] Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza [the old Merritt College Grove Street campus]…” Ignacio De La Fuente’s wife, Elvia Eloisa De La Fuente, has been a Hensel Phelps employee, according to East Bay News Service publisher and longtime Oakland City Council monitor Sanjiv Handa.
According to reporter Robert Gammon, then with the Oakland Tribune, Hensel Phelps was connected to the 2003 ouster of Phil Tagami from the Oakland Port Commission by then-Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. According to a May 9, 2003 Tribune article by Gammon: “Sources said Tagami was ousted in part because of the Port Commission’s choice earlier this week of a prime contractor to preside over what will ultimately be a $1.5 billion expansion of the airport. The commission had been expected by some observers to pick Hensel Phelps Construction Co., which had the backing of City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and others, was generous with campaign cash and had hired the city’s top lobbyist, Lily Hu, a former aide to state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland. Instead, the commission selected the less politically connected Turner Construction Co. following a process Tagami engineered…”
Contributions: Ignacio De La Fuente ($600 from Katzoff & Riggs Attorneys At Law), Jane Brunner (($600 from Katzoff & Riggs Attorneys At Law)
He is a Oakland Port Commissioner.
Contributions: Ignacio De La Fuente ($600)
She is a registered lobbyist with City of Oakland for Forest City Development and Strategic Urban Development Alliance, major players in City of Oakland development.
Contributions: Ignacio De La Fuente ($600), Larry Reid ($600), Nancy Nadel ($600)
He is a Port of Oakland Commissioner.
McLarand Vasquez Emsiek & Partners Inc.
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($1,200 total, $600 from the company and $600 from McLarand Marketing Director Robert Apocada), Ignacio De La Fuente $1,200 from McLarand Marketing Director Robert Apocada), Larry Reid ($600)
No direct contracts or project with the City of Oakland, but the firm is the architect for major projects requiring Oakland City Council approval, including the Fruitvale Transit Village, Forest City Uptown Oakland project, and Oak To Ninth.
Pacific Thomas Capital
Contributions: Ignacio De La Fuente ($1,200 total, $600 apiece from Pacific Thomas President Randall Worsley Whitney and executive Buhla R. Darrow, but the contributions were later reported as zero balances on De La Fuente’s campaign finance report because the two checks bounced)
The company is project developer for the Gateway Community Development Project. Carlos Plazola, former aide to De La Fuente, is the registered lobbyist with the City of Oakland for Pacific Thomas Capital, and has been closely associated with this project. Last March, Oakland City Council approved industrial zoning changes for the City of Oakland that would allow the Gateway Project to go through.
Shorenstein Realty Services
Contributions: Jane Brunner ($600), Ignacio De La Fuente ($600), Larry Reid ($600)
It has numerous development projects with the City of Oakland requiring Planning Commission and City Council approval. Major player in Oakland development.
Contributions: Ignacio De La Fuente ($600)
The firm is a major players in Oakland development, including, among other projects, the Oak To Ninth residential-commercial development project on the estuary waterfront and the Durant Square residential-commercial development in East Oakland. In November 2003, the San Francisco Business Times wrote that “once mainly a builder of upscale homes in the Bay Area’s suburban sprawl, Signature Properties has plunged into the urban in-fill market and quickly become Oakland’s most ambitious residential developer. With six different Oakland projects in various stages of development and the possibility of a seventh, Pleasanton-based Signature could produce well over 3,000 new homes and at least 170,000 square feet of retail space in the next decade.”