Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Much Does A Vote Cost in Benicia?

By Norma Fox

The recent article in the Contra Cost Times by Lisa Vorderbrueggen (“Benicia Election shows money’s limitations”, 11/18/07) may have caused a little confusion about the cost of our election, so I’d like to make a few clarifications. The main source of confusion is that the article used contribution figures rather than expenditure figures to calculate our election costs. Thus the article stated that “Combined, the candidates and the various independent expenditure groups collected [in contributions] a shocking $331,000 for the mayor and City Council races…”.

This figure of $331,000 overstates the actual cost of our election because one of the PACs (United Workers for Local Government) collected $134,000 in contributions, but only spent $31,600 of that on Benicia’s election (in support of Whitney, Strawbridge, and Ioakimedes). The same overstated $134,000 contribution figure was used in the calculation of the cost per vote for various candidates.

I think it is more useful and accurate to use expenditure figures to analyze our election costs. If we look at actual expenditures reported so far (through reporting period ending 11/6/07), we see combined total expenditures by all candidates and PACs of $240,600. Keep in mind however, that this figure may rise somewhat as future financial reports are submitted (the next reports are due in January 2008, reflecting data through 12/31/07).

Again, if we use actual expenditures reported so far (rather than contributions), we can more accurately calculate the cost per vote for each candidate. In the mayoral race, when the $34,300 expenditure of Mayor-elect Elizabeth Patterson ( 96% of that from In-Town sources) is divided by her 3,978 votes, it results in a cost per vote of $8.60. Whereas Bill Whitney and the three PACs that spent money in support of him have reported combined total expenditures so far of $84,000 (only 16% of that from In-Town sources). When that combined total is divided by his 3,801 votes, it results in a cost per vote of $22.

In the three-way council race, the $19,780 expenditure of Tom Campbell (91% from In-Town sources), divided by his 4,511 votes, results in a cost per vote of $4.40. The expenditures reported by Mike Ioakimedes -- combined with one third of the $31,600 which was spent by United Workers for Local Government in three-way support of him, Strawbridge, and Whitney -- came to a combined total of $25,300 (38% from In-Town sources). When that combined total is divided by his 4,423 votes, it results in a cost per vote of $5.70. In contrast, when the $77,200 combined expenditures reported by Scott Strawbridge and the UWLG in support of him is divided by his 3,628 votes, the result is a cost per vote of $21. (Only 7% of that combined total came from In-Town sources.)

So in answer to the original question, how much does a vote cost in Benicia? It depends on the source of the money. Money that was collected from Benicia residents was highly valuable in vote conversion; but money that was collected from sources outside of Benicia wasn’t worth as much in vote conversion (perhaps due to voter distrust of outside special interests and deceptive claims), and so it took a lot more of it to turn it into a vote.

Link: http://www.contracostatimes.com/solanocounty/ci_7498742

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Update on Outside Money In Our Election—11/8/07

According to the latest financial statements (listing data through 11/6), total spending reported in our election is $240,700; 2/3 of that ($160,000) from out-of-town sources.

Reports turned in to the City Clerk as of Friday, Nov. 8, showed that three PAC committees have spent a total of $82,800 in out-of-town money in our election. This -- added to the $77,200 out-of-town money contributed directly to our candidates (mainly Strawbridge) -- brings the grand total of out-of-town money to $160,000. Thus outside money represented 2/3 of all the money spent in our election.

Spending by the three independent PAC groups:

  • $31,600 - United Workers for Local Govt. (coalition of trade unions, civic, fire & police unions)
  • $31,200 - Benicia Local Govt. Accountability Coalition (construction-related businesses with close ties to Seeno)
  • $20,000 - Calif. Citizens for Excellence in Govt. (refinery-related businesses with links to Valero)

$82,800 = Total outside money spent by all three PACs

Outside money contributed directly to candidates:
Council candidate Scott Strawbridge received $66,400 in contributions, of which $61,000 was from out of town (91%), mostly from trade unions and some corporations. The remaining $5,400 included a loan to himself of $2,500.

An additional $16,200+ in outside money was contributed directly to the other candidates.

Thus, the total out-of-town money contributed directly to all the candidates for Council and Mayor was over $77,200.

Add to that the total of $82,800 in outside money spent by the three independent PACs.

Grand total Out-of-town money in our election (reported so far) $160,000

Grand total In-town contributions to all candidates approx. = $80,700

Grand total spending in our election = $240,700; with 2/3 of that ($160,000) from out-of-town sources.

It's interesting to note that the three winning candidates in the election all received the lowest amounts from out-of-town contributors: Mayoral candidate Elizabeth Patterson received $1,300; Council candidate Tom Campbell received $2,570; Council candidate Mike Ioakimedes received $$5,280.

"This is about whether a small town can own its own elections or whether outsiders own our elections."
(Elizabeth Patterson,
Contra Costa Times article, 11/4/07)

To read more about the outside money sources that swamped our election, and other articles about issues of interest to Benicians, visit:

Monday, November 5, 2007

Outside Money Takes Over Our Election

Total spending so far in our election $205,660; 71% of that from out of town sources.

Reports turned in to the City Clerk as of Monday, Nov. 5, showed that three PAC committees have spent a total of $68,660 in out of town money (so far) in our election. This added to the out of town money contributed directly to our candidates brings our grand total of out of town money (so far) to $145,660. This is 71% of all the money spent.

The three independent PAC groups are:
United Workers for Local Govt. = $24,300 (trade unions, police, fire)
Benicia Local Govt. Accountability Coalition = $24,560 (links to Seeno)

Calif. Citizens for Excellence in Govt. = $19,800 (links to Valero)

In addition to the outside money poured into our elections by the Independent PACs, keep in mind that Council candidate Scott Strawbridge received $64,400 in contributions, of which $61,000 was from out of town (95%), mostly from trade unions and some corporations.

An additional $15,200+ in out of town money was contributed to the other candidates.

Thus, the total out of town money contributed to all candidates for Council and Mayor was over $76,200.

Add to that the total of $68,660 in out of town money (so far) spent by the three independent PACs.

Grand total out of town money (so far) in our election = approx. $145,660

Grand total In town contributions to candidates & mayor approx. = $60,000

In town contrib. per candidate:
Whitney $4100 + 7085 = 11,185
Patterson $5073 + 5610 + 7350 = 18,033
Ioakimedes $4073 + 6177 = 10,250
Campbell $10690 + 4719 + 844 = 16,253
Strawbridge $2795 + 1410 = 4,205

Total spending so far in our election = $205,660; well over 2/3 of that ($145,660) from out of town (71%).

"This is about whether a small town can own its own elections or whether outsiders own our elections."
(Elizabeth Patterson,
Contra Costa Times article, 11/4/07)

PAC backs slate of Whitney, Strawbridge, Ioakimedes

United Workers for Local Government (funded by trade unions and police & fire unions)
(a coalition of many labor unions in Napa and Solano Counties)
Headquarters in Vallejo www.nsworkers.org

Many of the unions in this PAC are construction trades. Others are police, fire, teamsters, public employees, teachers.

Two of the four mailers stress police and fire safety.

Expenditures (from 9/26 to 10/15) in support of
Whitney -- $7,500
Strawbridge -- $8,500
Ioakimedes -- $8,300
TOTOAL = $24,300

Contributions to the PAC from the unions are much larger (approx. $134,000).
Expenditures were distributed to races in Benicia, Fairfield, Vallejo.

I looked up many of the individual Unions on Secretary of State’s website: www.cal-access.ss.ca.gov
Looked through the unions’ electronic filings to see the addresses of individual union member contributors.
Could not find ANYONE with Benicia address.

A New PAC has produced attack ads against Patterson

"California Citizens for Excellence in Government" (funed by refinery-related businesses)

A second outside PAC group has produced two ads which smear Elizabeth Patterson and praise Bill Whitney. The contributors to this PAC are all industrial/refinery related businesses. The PAC, which goes by the name “California Citizens for Excellence in Government”, has (so far) reported total contributions of $12,200 and total expenditures of $19,803. (Since their expenditures exceed their contributions, they’re obviously under reporting their contributions.)

Two of their three mailings had full page letters on the back smearing Patterson with unsubstantiated claims, while the front of the mailer sang the praises of Whitney.

A Google search of the contributors reveals that they are all industrial/refinery related businesses – refinery insulation; general engineering, geotech, soils; machinery fabrication & engineering; refinery construction.

Again one must ask why do these companies, all but one located outside of Benicia (Martinez, Vallejo, Concord, Texas) want to attack Patterson? And do they even know Bill Whitney personally? Why are they supporting him?

Given their connection to the refinery industry, one can’t help but wonder whether they have business dealings with Valero and whether their contributions may actually be a funnel for Valero money.

Calif. Citizens for Excellence in Govt.

FPPC# is 1301988
Law office of Bell, McAndrews, & Hiltachk
Capitol Mall, Siute 801Sacramento, CA
Tom Hiltachk (916)442-7757

10/25 -- $6599.55
10/29 -- $6572.78
11/1 -- $6631.61
Total = $19,803

$2500--Sonnikson & Stordahl Construction, inc., Martinez, (925) 229-4028
$2400--PetroChem Insulation, inc, Vallejo, (707) 644-7458
$2500--UCI Construction, inc, Concord, (925) 370-9808
$2400--JV Industrial Companies, inc, La Porte, TX (local Benicia plant-Randy Phillips-707-430-2010)
$2400--Benicia Fabrication and Machine Inc. (707) 745-8111
Total = $12,200

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hit Piece against Patterson, last weekend before election

Big weekend Hit Piece Mailing attacking Mayoral Candidate Elizabeth Patterson from a newly formed PAC called “Benicia Local Government Accountability Coalition” (NONE of the contributors are from Benicia) (all have ties to SEENO).

Info from Late Contributions Report-filed 10/31/07-city clerk's office.

The four contributors are:

  1. Bay Area Drainage- Moraga- They have contributed $6 thousand.
  2. Black Diamond Electric-Pittsburg- $6 thousand.
  3. George Shimboff ( owner Shimboff consulting)-Vacavile- $5 thousand.
  4. Legacy Renovations-Antioch- $5 thousand.
These four have contributed $22 thousand to the PAC “Benicia Local Government Accountability Coalition”.

RED ALERT! All of them (except Shimboff) also contributed $5 thousand each just last year, Oct. 2006, to the Pittsburg City Council candidacy of Salvatore Evola, who is the V.P. of Discovery Builders and the cousin of the company's President, Albert Seeno lll.

Bay Area Drainage: drainage projects on construction sites, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties.

Black Diamond Electric - Pittsburg. (appears to be a small independent contractor, no website) General contracting, building & home construction.

George Shimboff: a worker for city of Fairfield, Water Distribution Division (2006 http://www.ci.fairfield.ca.us/files/pwWQ07.pdf (he is 4th from left, plaid shirt). He applied for a permit (2003) to remove the habitat of an endangered species for some small land development project in Vacaville. http://www.fws.gov/policy/library/03-20790.pdf

Legacy-Renovations, Antioch. (owner David Rutledge). Residential & commercial construction. http://www.legacy-renovations.com/Home.htm

So they are all Contra Costa/ Solano County people/businesses in the construction trade. At least 3 of the 4 contributed large sums just last year to the Pittsburg City Council candidacy of Sal Evola, cousin of Seeno lll, and V.P. of Discovery Builders. (Have they worked on some of Seeno's development projectsin the past? or are they hoping to win favorable subcontracts from him through these political contributions?).

But why do these outsiders want to interfere in our election? And why do they want to attack Elizabeth? Do they even know Bill Whitney?

Do you suppose it has anything to do with Seeno's 527 acre Business Park that he's trying to develop on the edge of town (read all about that project at http://www.beniciafirst.org ), which does not comply with the requirements of the General Plan? This past August, Whitney flip-flopped on his earlier vote, and voted to give Seeno's Draft EIR a green light, while Patterson maintained her refusal to approve the DEIR until they come back with a project that comports with the General Plan.

Who do you think Seeno favors for Mayor? Do you wonder if this money they're donating is really from their own pockets?

The Manager for the PAC is:

Michelle M. Smira
MMS Strategies
1630 Q Street Sacramento CA 95811
Office 916.443.1353 Fax 916.563.8060

Here are some questions Benicians would like to learn from Ms. Smira, BEFORE the election (give her a call):

  • Who are the members of the "Coalition"?
  • Who initially contacted and hired you?
  • What are you being paid for your services?
  • Who solicited the money from the four outside companies that contributed and what were they told about how their contributions were to be spent?
  • Who directed, designed and approved the "hit" pieces?
  • What involvement does anyone associated with the Whitney campaign have with the coalition?
  • What are your ethics and personal values when it comes to local politics?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Facts and lessons gleaned from candidates' campaign disclosure reports

Will Gregory, Benicia, CA, Oct. 30, 2007

"Money doesn’t buy elections in this town,” Councilmember Bill Whitney once openly opined. [Ben Herald; 2/14/06, “PAC funding a surprise to its beneficiaries”].
To quote Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” [Quote from New York Public Interest Research Group website.]
Campaign notes: Facts and Figures.

In the final week of Benicia’s 2007 election campaign, I found it worthwhile to review the facts and figures reported in Campaign Disclosure Statements (Form #460)--forms of “sunshine” required to be filed by all candidates at the city clerk’s office, the final pre-election report required by Oct. 25. These PUBLIC RECORDS show candidates’ campaign expenditures and contributions--loans and donations categorized as monetary, non-monetary, itemized-over $100, and un-itemized less than $100.

Citizens have a RIGHT TO KNOW where a campaign’s money comes from, e.g., whether from local residents and businesses, or out-of-town or out-of-state sources, and, whether from corporations, trade unions, developers or private wealthy donors. These are important distinctions; outside money can have a disproportionately powerful, distorting impact on a small town’s electoral process. It raises questions of “valuation”: the value of one vote and also “public values”, apropos ethics and campaign finance reform.

Results of my research into reporting by all candidates, through 3 filing periods, follow.

In the Mayor’s race, Councilmember Bill Whitney reported: 15 itemized in-town contributors giving $100 or more, totaling $4,100; 10 out-of-town contributors who gave a total of $6,070; and un-itemized donations (leading all other candidates’) at $7,085. Councilmember Elizabeth Patterson reported: 35 in-town itemized contributors, totaling $5,073; 3 out-of-town contributors, (the fewest of all candidates), $1,300; and un-itemized donations totaling $5,610. Non-monetary contributions totaled $7,350, from donated art pieces for auction and two musical concerts.

In the three-way Council race, Planning Commissioner Mike Ioakimedes reported: 24 in-town contributors, totaling $4,073; 13 out-of-town contributors, totaling $5,280; and un-itemized donations totaling $6,177. Dr.Tom Campbell reported: 32 in-town contributions, including a $5,300 loan to himself made in the second filing period, totaling $10,690; 5 out-of-town contributors, totaling $2,570 (the lowest amount collected from out-of-town sources for all council candidates); un-itemized donations totaling $4,719; and non-monetary donations totaling $844. Planning Commissioner Scott Strawbridge reported: 20 in-town contributors, totaling $2,795.00, which included a $500 loan to himself, in the second filing period; 76 out-of-town contributors, totaling $61,045; and un-itemized donations totaling $1,410.

What do these figures tell us? Campaign disclosure documents are a treasure-trove of info. First, Commissioner Strawbridge set two new records: most money ever raised in Benicia elections, and, most cash received from out-of-town sources than any other candidate or incumbent in recent Benicia election history.
The total for all the candidates’ contributions in this election so far comes to $136,000, of which $60,000 represents in-town sources, and a whopping $76,000 represents out-of-town sources. Largest contributors so far reported are trade groups--primarily plumbers, pipe-fitters, sheet-metal contractors and carpenters.

But there are as yet unanswered questions. Where are our past-contributing corporate players this time? Valero, Seeno? Where is Firefighters Local #1186? Benicia Police Officers Association? These latter have endorsed candidates but haven’t spent any money? Curious.

Commissioner Strawbridge’s largest contributors, representing 26 trade groups, sent cash ranging from $250 to $5,000, which helped him raise $44,000—in “special interest” money coming from all over California and from states as far flung as Oregon, North Carolina, Connecticut.

Councilmember Whitney’s largest contributors were also from out-of-town sources, totaling $3,850. Mr. Ioakimedes largest donor was also an out-of-towner, giving $1,880. Dr. Campbell received $1,000 from the California Dental PAC from Sacramento. Ms. Patterson kept her promise to keep corporate money out of her campaign: her largest contributor was the Orderly Growth Committee from Fairfield, for $1,000.

In this filing period, Commissioner Strawbridge has accepted a $500 contribution from the third most powerful political action committee in the state: CRE-PAC/BOR PAC. He joins three other Benicia public officials--Commissioner Ioakimedes and Councilmembers Whitney and Schwartzman--who’ve each accepted cash from the Calif. Real Estate Political Action Committee and the Board of Realtors out of Los Angeles.

Are corporations passing through money to the trade groups to avoid disclosure? Late Independent Expenditures reports are due out this week--Form #496--at the city clerk’s office or at the city’s website. Independent expenditures, made in "support or against” local candidates, must be submitted within 24 hours of the date the communication is distributed.

In our last election, Nov. 8, 2005, the city clerk received Form #496 reports from the Coalition for Responsible Government (CRG) on Nov. 3,4,6, and 7. These reports revealed last-minute contributions to the CRG from Valero for $35,000 (10/27) and Seeno for $15,000 (11/1) and last-minute “support" of Mr. Hughes and Mr. Schwartzman, and "against” Mr. Smith, totaling $44,000.

As you see, reviewing campaign finance records can help a voter grasp the magnitude of outside money’s potential to affect local elections. In 2005, outside corporate interests took enormous advantage, funding last-minute hit pieces against incumbent councilmembers, Dan Smith and Dr. Campbell.

The influence of money mocks what we’d like to hold as our most sacred trust. In this election, instead of “one person, one vote”, it is now more like “one dollar, one vote”. A weak campaign finance reform ordinance enacted by council this year did little to correct the problem.

Dr. Campbell’s recent ad in the Benicia Herald, 10/28, said it best: “You have a choice on November 6th. You decide what kind of city government you want.” That means, what kind of democracy.