Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley riding a mechanical bull at a fundraiser April 9 hosted by Castro Valley resident Chuck Moore. Miley was required to ride the bull every time $500 was raised.

ALCO BOARD OF SUPERVISORS | Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley’s body jerked with the rhythm of the mechanical bull below him. Wearing a floppy hat and cowboy shirt, his right arm flailed to balance himself and then he fell to the inflated mat below him. The scene at a Castro Valley ranch belonging to his long-time supporter and fundraiser Chuck Moore could be a harbinger of the next few weeks of his political life. But then again, following his brush with the mechanical bull, Miley gingerly stood up, dusted himself off, and laughed away the experience. However, what the cache of donors may have neglected to acknowledge is the great lengths a politician of even Miley’s entrenched status as a 16-year veteran of the Board of Supervisors will go through to keep power. Miley, apparently, has gone to even further lengths, based on his most recent campaign finance report.

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, left, smiling for the camera 
at a candidate forum last April with opponent Bryan Parker.

Before this year, Miley’s re-election campaigns have never required a need to do much fundraising. Since being elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2000, Miley has faced only token opposition. That is, until this year when former Oakland mayoral candidate Bryan Parker announced his bid to upset the county’s apple cart. Parker quickly proved formidable after posting $117,000 in campaign contributions last year over three months. Miley, meanwhile, reported just $4,800. But accounting for his debts, the incumbent’s campaign coffers were in the red. The realization that Parker, a well-financed moderate who could be an attractive choice for middle-of-the-road voters in the district’s Tri Valley portion, could be formidable may have sparked Miley’s campaign into fundraising and spending overdrive, culminating in over $163,000 in contributions since the beginning of the year. Yet, the sheer amount of contributions and expenditures contained in Miley’s most recent finance reports, and triggered by Parker’s candidacy also gives a curious look into the supervisor’s tangled web of potential conflicts between his official duties and his campaign. They include a number of contributions from companies that do business with the county, along with perceptions of impropriety attached to a number of contributors who Miley later appointed to a Castro Valley advisory committee, a body now facing calls by residents to strip Miley’s power of appointment and hand it to voters. In addition, organizations that have received some of the largest public contracts in the county have also spent lavishly on Miley’s campaign and his offspring have also benefited with employment related to their father’s position. In one case, Miley’s daughter appeared to be her father’s early connection to the eventual collapse of a county program intended to help the poorest of the poor in Alameda County. Miley’s son, meanwhile, works as a staffer for Supervisor Richard Valle, and before that, Nadia Lockyer. What is worse is none of this is illegal, according to campaign and county election laws, but nonetheless, raises concerns about Miley’s campaign and the Board of Supervisors, an elected body with a nearly $3 billion annual budget that receives very little scrutiny from the public and press.

>>>VIDEO: Miley with supporter Chuck Moore at the April 9 fundraiser

Back at the ranch, once Miley had dusted himself off, Chuck Moore, the owner of the 100 acre Graceland Equestrian Center in Castro Valley, gave potential donors last month a strong pitch to open their wallets for Miley’s re-election campaign. “This is my buddy,” said Moore, wearing a cowboy hat, Western shirt and sporting a bushy white mustache (or just as you would picture a rancher would look like in Alameda County). Moore makes a portion of his living breeding and training horses and has given to Miley’s campaign in the past under the name of another business he owns, but more importantly, he’s been a consistent conduit over the years for raising money for Miley’s campaign through Western-themed fundraiser. “We need to keep this guy in office,” Moore continued. “He’s a great leader for us, especially in the agricultural community. He’s one of the few guys who listens to what our needs are.” Miley also listens to Moore’s own needs, as well. In 2013, Miley pushed for a revision of Measure D, the county ordinance approved by voters in 2000 to fight back urban sprawl in rural areas of Alameda County. The change in the law, it seemed, would have only benefited Moore and his desire to construct a 40,000 square foot cover over his arena for training horses. The Sierra Club vehemently fought Moore and Miley and after years of discussion and months of deliberation by the Board of Supervisors, the revision was defeated, but not before Miley carried water for Moore’s plan at every step. During one planning meeting in 2013, Miley berated opponents of the revision. “It’s not like the Sierra Club is sacrosanct and has a pipeline to the almighty and can determine what is best and what isn’t best for all of society,” said Miley. “That is not the case.” Miley later threatened that as a commissioner on the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), which is charged with overseeing the borders of local jurisdictions, the Sierra Club’s protest might make him think about allowing some cities to more easily incorporate open lands. Miley not only worked solidly on Moore’s behalf, but openly flouted the risks that the county could be sued over the revision. “I really firmly believe this is the right thing to do,” said Miley. In an interview, Moore said he merely supports Miley based on his support for rural Alameda County and not for his own personal gain. But Moore added that another push to revise Measure D could be forthcoming.

>>>VIDEO: Opponents of Measure D in 2013 fight for a revision, including public comments from Miley, Moore

In 2014, Miley appointed Moore to the Alameda County Fair Board and a year later named him to the Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Committee (CVMAC), the large unincorporated area’s de-facto city government. But over the years, a nexus has emerged between members of the CVMAC, all hand-picked by Miley, and their ability to fund his political campaigns. Miley also has the power to replace members, if he desires. In addition to Moore, other members of the current seven-person MAC have written checks to Miley’s campaign. One member, a Castro Valley contractor and controversial figure named Marc Crawford gave $3,500 alone during the current election cycle. Another member, Linda Tangren, appointed last year, gave Miley another $3,200 this election cycle. In recent years, Crawford has proven his loyalty to Miley by constantly belittling a nascent group of Castro Valley residents who believe the CVMAC should be an elected body. Crawford has taken to the local newsweekly and social media to label the group, Castro Valley Matters, as some form of urban terrorists and a voice unrepresentative of Castro Valley. In turn, Miley took no stand on whether his advisory board should be elected, but advocated for giving the public a chance to decide the matter. In a feat of political jujitsu, Miley brought the issue to the Board of Supervisors, which would be on the hook for paying for the CVMAC election, but the item failed to gain a third vote to pass and without much exuberance from Miley.

Frank Mellon, a long-time Castro Valley resident who also serves on the East Bay Municipal Utilities District Board of Directors, believes Miley treats the 63,000 resident unincorporated areas of his district like his own personal playground. “I really and truly think Nate has treated Castro Valley unfairly and treats us like his private fiefdom,” said Mellon. A protracted search by Miley late last year to fill three open seats on CVMAC also rankled Mellon and others for its early lack of transparency and the perception the slots were filled by cronies of Miley. The seats went to Moore, Tangren and an attorney named Janet Everson. “It’s the kind of thing that makes people lose confidence in government,” Mellon added.

-EBMUD Board Director Frank Mellon on the amount of campaign cash Miley has funneled to his non-profit United Seniors of Oakland.

Accusations that Miley peddles access for campaign contributions was widely reported last fall in connection with Corizon Correctional Health, the county’s vendor that was awarded a no-bid $237 million contract to provide medical services at its jails. It ranks as the largest single contract in local county government. Over the years, Miley has accepted $15,000 in campaign contributions from the company now under fire for providing poor service and the death of one inmate. However, there is no prohibition against county supervisors accepting campaign donations from companies doing business with the county or hoping to win contracts, said Alameda County Counsel Donna Ziegler. But, Corizon isn’t the only company filling Miley’s campaign coffers that has a sketchy record of service. According to his most recent finance report covering activity from the start of the year through April 23, Miley accepted donations from at least three other companies who hold county contracts, two of which have proven costly to taxpayers. Paramedics Plus, which also employs Miley’s daughter, contributed nearly $4,200 to Miley’s campaign this election cycle alone and thousands in past years. The decision to drop the county’s long-time emergency ambulance company in favor of Paramedics Plus was controversial. In 2015, the company, fearing significant losses from a contract opponents had earlier claimed was a low-ball offer, asked and received from Miley and the Board of Supervisors a $4 million bailout to cover its losses. Similar contingencies were given to Alecto Healthcare Services, LLC, which has given thousands, including $2,064 this election cycle to Miley. The health care company has a controversial past related to buying bankrupt hospitals and quickly turning them around by, among other tactics, funneling patients through emergency rooms for higher price points, but costing taxpayers millions. Nevertheless, Alecto was approved to purchase the struggling St. Rose Hospital in Hayward. The facility’s future is still in doubt. Earlier this month, a bill authored by Assemblymember Bill Quirk seeks to disband the locally health care district and give half its assets to St. Rose. In addition, in March 2015, the Board of Supervisors, with Miley’s vote, renewed the permit rights of alternative energy firm Altamont Winds, Inc. to operate wind turbines near the Altamont Pass despite the howls of environmentalist who said they killed roughly 2,000 birds a year. Miley, as is the case with Corizon, Paramedics Plus, and Alecto, has accepted thousands from Altamont Winds, including a $2,500 contribution last January.

The perception that Miley and the entire Board of Supervisors is not above board with its actions may not be readily accepted by elected officials in general, said Don Moore, a professor of management at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Moore has studied conflict of interest in government and business along with the overconfidence and judgment that some time arises from it. “Some of the interesting results I’ve found is we all tend to be blind to having conflicts. It affects us all, not just public officials,” said Moore. “My best guess is politicians know they may look corrupt to those on the outside, but they also do not view themselves as being a bad person.” A public official might also feel a sense of fealty from contributors in the same manner as nepotism might benefit a leader. “If you ask him, he would likely believe they are most competent. He knows them,” said Moore. “He knows how loyal they are.” Unfortunately, I could not ask Miley about his history with campaign donors. An email from his campaign last week said Miley’s scheduled was too packed to address the specifics in this article.

There is no way to differentiate whether Miley’s attendance at the Claremont Club is for a deep-tissue massage or a meeting to discuss campaign strategy.

What is notable about Miley’s most recent campaign finance reports, ironically, is its blind honesty. For instance, Miley’s use of campaign funds to pay half of his health club membership at Berkeley’s tony Claremont Club & Spa has been criticized in the past. Miley previously had the same arrangement at Oakland’s Belleview Club. Over the years, the $161.10 monthly expenditure litters his finance reports and almost taunts good government advocates. It didn’t help when Miley inexplicably said during a candidate forum four years ago that his membership was necessary for the sake of his own peace of mind. “Yeah, I can pay dues to the Belleview Club. I pay dues to the Claremont. I do that because I need to get away and have an opportunity to be in an environment where I don’t have to deal with constituents who are constantly talking to me whether I’m in church, walking the streets or I’m in the grocery store,” Miley told his 2012 opponent, Tojo Thomas.

Over the past four months, in addition to the monthly dues, Miley is blurring the line between using the Claremont Club for personal and official duties. On Miley’s most recent finance reports, two entries describe meetings that appear county-related, but paid with campaign funds. On November 18, 2015, Miley met with “constituents to discuss county matters,” said one entry costing the campaign $126.43. A month later on December 21, 2015, the campaign spent $179.21 at the Claremont Club, according to another entry, for a “candidate appreciation meeting with six county employees.” There is no way to differentiate, according to finance reports, whether Miley’s attendance at the Claremont Club is for a deep-tissue massage or a meeting to discuss campaign strategy.

Part of a flyer advertising Miley’s Claremont Club
fundraiser, hosted by some of the biggest names in
East Bay politics.

The Claremont Club was also the scene of Miley’s most audacious fundraisers yet. A black tie event last Jan. 30 that cost the campaign nearly $30,000 to rent the swanky facility. The event also kick started Miley’s fundraising effort to neutralize Parker’s own impressive finance numbers. Including the Claremont fundraiser, Miley accepted more than $163,000 in contributions.  In addition, a significant portion, roughly $40,000 of Miley’s large campaign cash haul, came by way of the cannabis industry, a special interests group he has nurtured for years and which is now poised to bloom. For his part, Parker, added another $95,000 to his ledger during the same period. However, Miley’s campaign was highly profligate, quickly spending $135,000 in short order, mostly on consultants and of course, renting the Claremont Club.

It’s apparent Miley had clearly assessed Parker’s potential to fund a shocking upset in June by ramping up his own previously moribund fundraising efforts, but not totally, according to his finance report. With the perception Miley needs all the cash he can get to stave off Parker, his campaign nonetheless earmarked under the description of “civic donations” nearly $11,000 to the United Seniors of Oakland, Miley’s long-time non-profit. The group dedicated to various programs for seniors and youth in Oakland and Alameda County, has also at various times loaned money to Miley’s campaigns over the years. For instance, last year Miley’s campaign repaid $13,500 in loans from the United Seniors of Oakland, according to his finance report. “He’s been seeding that organization with money for a long time and it hasn’t been pocket change,” said Mellon. “What do they do with all that money?”

Despite the perception of impropriety, Miley’s chances for re-election are still positive. For one, the power of the incumbency at the Board of Supervisors is amplified even greater than other levels of government. An elected sitting member has not lost re-election in over three decades. Miley with 16 years experience on the board is only third out of five members in terms of tenure. Supervisor Scott Haggerty, also up for re-election this June, has sat on the board for 20 years. Like this year and every four years since he was elected, Haggerty has run unopposed. Furthermore, with tenure comes many friends in high places willing to multiply the power of the Board of Supervisors. A letter from well-known East Bay power player Don Perata, a past supporter of Parker’s Oakland mayoral campaign, helped to tighten, early on, the institutional vice against Parker’s run. In the missive, Perata told Parker he would lose the election and in harsh terms threatened the defeat would be the end of his nascent political career. Both Miley and Parker acknowledge the existence of the letter and its tone. Then last month, the elected Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, during an endorsement meeting in this race, politely listened to the candidate’s vision for the district, but when Parker exited the room, the local party’s establishment leaders unmercifully ripped him. “He should be ashamed of himself for running,” said Howard Egerman, an elected member of the central committee from Oakland’s 18th Assembly District. Another committee member, Kathy Neal, also of Oakland cut deeper. “We don’t always like to admit to mistakes that we make, but I will,” said Neal, who had once named Parker as her alternative to the central committee. “That was one of the most stupid mistakes that I have made in my life and as soon I realized that, I removed him immediately. That’s all I have to say.”