Rebecca Kaplan with former aide, now
campaign manager Jason Overman
PHOTO/Steven Tavares

OAKLAND | MAYOR | Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan may have circumvented campaign finance rules when she paid staffer for her 2010 mayoral run from a expenditure committee set up for a local transportation measure. However, the appearance of impropriety could greatly undermine a second effort to pass a crucial countywide transportation measure known as Measure BB. The Oakland Tribune reported the use and shuttering of Kaplan’s committee on Sunday.

The article also notes some Oakland City Council members were ratcheting up pressure on Kaplan by threatening new rules that would highlight allegations she was skirting election laws. Records show Kaplan paid Jason Overman, her council communications spokesman and current mayoral campaign manager, received payments from the Measure F committee formed four years ago. Other mayoral campaign staffers who were paid from the committee accounts were mentioned in the report and claimed to have never worked for the measure. While on the micro level in Oakland, the Kaplan controversy will likely test supporters who often believe she is above reproach. But Kaplan’s “say it ain’t so” moment could also undermine the fate of a second stab by the county to pass a long-term and gigantic $8 billion transportation sales tax this fall.

Measure BB’s predecessor lost by only
712 votes in November 2012.

Measure B1 failed by just 712 votes in 2012. There were many reasons for its demise. For one, Tea Party types in the Tri Valley were stoked, first during the primary by an independent congressional candidate with deep conservative roots, and then piggy-backed on by Eric Swalwell’s campaign to demonize the progressive Pete Stark. The scene led to just a single precinct in the entire Tri Valley to reach the two-thirds threshold. Fremont voters didn’t help either, but proponents later realized they didn’t run a very good campaign. It was severely underfunded and some local officials later complained their constituents didn’t have a firm grasp of exactly what local fruit the measure would produce for each city.

Earlier this year, representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission told several city councils in Alameda County it had learned its lesson from two years ago. Voters would know exactly what they would be receiving for the sales tax hike and the campaign in the fall would benefit from greater funding. Promises now, but the Tribune article also touches upon the worry registered from Kaplan using a political committee tied to transportation and how it might undermine or even dissuade its passage in November.

The countywide transportation measure may be the most important issue on the ballot in Alameda County where the condition of roads and freeways is visibly treacherous to anyone. The region’s growth is already outpacing the current infrastructure even before normal wear and tear. Further evidence of its importance is born out of the fact, a second attempt came so soon after it barely lost in 2012. In this particular case, placing these type of measure on the ballot is no easy affair. Because the half-cent sales tax increase would bump some Alameda County cities over the two percent state limit for sales and use taxes, it needed a one-time waiver approved by the State Legislature. Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski successfully carried legislation in 2011, which ultimately wasn’t one-time since he had to return to Sacramento and ask for a second last year.

Several officials who worked on the campaign two years ago also told me the worry about Kaplan sullying the waters of funding for the Measure BB campaign is very real. Because the stakes are so high they are understandably apprehensive and tense about any outside issues possibly complicating their efforts. After all, they thought they had Measure B1 in the bag two years ago and somehow it failed.