Page One

PAC Wields Big Stick in Berkeley Initiatives Fray

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday October 30, 2008 - 09:24:00 AM

Old-style politics is alive and well in Berkeley, where the PAC-man wields a big stick and an even bigger wallet. 

Two political action committees are stoking the fires of campaigns in the Nov. 4 election, one funded by a Minnesota company that distributes Belgian buses (the controversial Van Hool line) and the other backed by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. 

One, the Coalition for Effective Government, is fighting a citizen-sponsored initiative that would force a public vote on an project that would create bus-only lanes on city streets—a measure aimed at AC transit’s proposal to reduce Telegraph Avenue to a single lane in either direction to accommodate a new Bus Rapid Transit system. 

The largest single donor to the opposition to the Coalition for Effective Government PAC the pro-BRT committee formed to oppose Measure KK is another PAC, the Committee to Safeguard AC Transit Measure VV, or VV PAC for short. 

VV, in turn, is a county-wide ballot proposal to impose a parcel tax that would allow the bus agency to buy more vehicles. 

According to Robert Gammon in the East Bay Express, VV’s major donor is the ABC Companies of Fairbault, Min., the company that distributes Van Hool buses in the United States. 

ABC has donated at least $250,000 to the VV PAC, which in turn donated $20,000 to the Coalition for Effective Government on Oct. 9. VV PAC also took in $40,000 from Cummins West, the company that makes the diesel engines for the Van Hool buses. 

Other donors to VV PAC include AC Transit executives and the agency’s Sacramento and Washington lobbyists, Gammon reports. 

In addition to the $20,000 from VV PAC, other donors to the Coalition for Effective Government include: $5,000 from an AC Transit union, AFSCME Local 3916; an equal sum from Cambridge Systematics, a Massachusetts-based consultant to the agency; $4,870 from bicycle activist and writer Hank Resnik, and $250 from AC Transit Deputy General Manager Jim Gleich. 

As of Oct. 18, the Coalition for Effective Government had received $40,997.65. 

By the same date, KK supporters Advocates for Voter Approved Transit had collected $5,180, most of it from neighborhood associations. 

The VV PAC also appears to be sending out campaign mailers in violation of a state law that requires PACs to include in all campaign literature their Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) registration numbers. 


Chamber PAC  

The second PAC has a longer name: Coalition for a Better Berkeley, Sponsored by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, or CBB for brevity’s sake. 

Unlike Business for Better Government, the chamber’s earlier PAC, CBB has been operating in the sunlight. 

“We’re doing everything the right way and on time,” said chamber CEO Ted Garrett. 

Created in 1998, BBG had made election filings with the city until 2001, when Mari E. Lee wrote then-City Clerk Sherry Kelly that she had become the PAC’s new treasurer: 

“I am writing to inform you that owing to an expanded committee agenda, I have filed an amended [campaign reporting form] 410 with the Secretary of State designating this committee as a COUNTY committee….PLEASE CHANGE YOUR RECORDS TO REFLECT THE FACT THAT THIS COMMITTEE WILL NO LONGER HAVE ANY REGULAR FILING OBLIGATIONS WITH THE CITY OF BERKELEY.” 

The PAC filed instead with Alameda County, where filings weren’t made available on-line—unlike those in Berkeley. 

BBG was forced to make belated filings with the city in compliance with a letter from state Fair Political Practices Commission General Counsel Scott Hallabrin, issued to the Berkeley city attorney’s office Aug. 15, 2007. 

A month later, Garrett, the chamber’s new executive director, told a reporter, “My feeling is that we’ve got to follow the law—and we will.” 

The chamber finally filed all its belated statements earlier this year, and in the last statement developer Patrick Kennedy chipped in $5,026.98 and real estate broker Miriam Ng gave $1,956.67 to settle the final bills, which included more than $3,400 in legal expenses. 

For this election, the chamber has made all the requisite filings, and they are available online. But VV PAC hasn’t been required to make electronic filings, so they’re only available to visitors in binders kept in the Alameda County Courthouse basement in Oakland. 

And, it turns out, the address listed with the single state filing for VV PAC belongs to the same Mari E. Lee who stopped filing BBG financial information with the city. 

One of the measures opposed by BBG was Measure J, an unsuccessful 2006 initiative establishing a Landmarks Preservation Ordinance very similar to the current ordinance, which was an attempt to head off the new council-passed ordinance now being challenged by referendum in Berkeley Measure LL. 

The new chamber PAC is funding the Yes on Measure LL campaign, and its literature includes the FPPC number. 

The biggest donations to Yes on LL came from Patrick Kennedy and Cadillac Associates LLC, each with $5,000, followed by the mayor’s spouse, Loni Hancock, who gave $2,000 from her state senate campaign fund; Meyer Sound owner Helen B. Meyer, with $1,500, and Eat /Work Development LP, associated with developer Michael Goldin, $750. 

Other $500 donors include developers Ali Kashani; Mark Rhoades, his partner, a former Berkeley Planning Department employee; West Berkeley developer Doug Herst; Pacific Steel Casting; Ruegg and Ells-worth; Abrams/Millikan, developers of the Fourth Street shopping district; Safeway’s corporate office; San Pablo Avenue 2747 LLC, and Kennedy’s Panoramic Interests. 

Donors offering $250 include land-use lawyer Rena Rickles; Landmarks Commissioner Fran Packard, $250; Aquatic Park Science Center LLC; and Marilyn Capitelli, wife of Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. 


If additional information on campaign contributions becomes available before election day, it will be posted on the Planet website.