Earlier this month, the campaign committee for Alameda County Measure A, the $140 million, 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase to fund early childcare and education programs, transferred $30,000 in contributions to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. Why in the middle of a campaign would any committee give up such a large amount? So far, nobody is answering this question. Measure A did not respond to repeated request for a comment. Alameda County Democratic Party Chair Robin Torello declined to comment, but added, “We have a plan. We ask people to contribute in order to execute our plan.”
The Measure A campaign may just have extra money lying around. The campaign has raised more than $1 million, bolstered by $150,000 from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff; $250,000 from and the non-profit East Bay Community Foundation; and $100,000 apiece from Kaiser Permanente and SEIU Local 521.
A committee also in support of Measure named Parent Voice Oakland is funded by a single $50,000 contribution from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change, which has ties to progressive billionaire activist George Soros. Parent Voice Oakland, however, has essentially been something akin to petty cash for the Measure A committee with expenditures for meals, stipends, gift cards for volunteers, coffee, and payments for interpreters.
But others have poured big money into Measure A, like SEIU Local 1021, which routinely gives to many progressive campaigns and candidates in the East Bay. The local labor union contributed $50,000 to the Measure A committee on May 13, according to finance reports, two days after the May 11 contribution from Measure A to Alameda County Democrats.
One explanation is the Measure A committee is ostensibly paying the Alameda County Central Committee to send out mailers in support of the ballot measure under the auspices of the local Democratic Party. The Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, which endorsed Measure A earlier this year spent $10,567.53 on two mail pieces this month in support of the ballot measure, according to finance reports.
Alameda County Assessor candidate Phong La did the same, contributing $5,000 to the Central Committee on May 17. The Alameda County Dems then sent a pair of mailers in support of La, who they also endorsed in April, two days later on May 19 worth $4,000. In fact, Measure A committee’s $30,000 contributions to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee and La’s $5,000 were the only donations made for the most recent month-long pre-primary reporting period.
Without explanation, the $30,000 transfer between Measure A and the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, at minimum, gives the impression that one or more of these groups is attempting to circumvent limits on campaign contributions. The play being well-financed groups can spend large amounts on committees like Measure A, but cannot for state and local campaigns.
At worst, pay-to-play is at work. But good luck proving, for instance, there is a documented link between La’s campaign giving $5,000 to the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee and proving the money was illegally earmarked for two mailers 48 hours later. Four years ago, the same central committee was accused by one of its members of doing the same thing. However, the state Fair Political Practices Commission cleared them of any wrongdoing.