Five of the ten candidates for Oakland mayor stood on the steps of Oakland City Hall Tuesday afternoon to reaffirm their commitment to campaign expenditure limits while slamming fellow candidate Don Perata, accusing him of attempting to raise the spending ceiling agreed upon by all candidates.
Candidates Jean Quan, Greg Harland, Arnie Fields, Larry Lionel “LL” Young, Jr., Don Macleay, plus a surrogate representing Rebecca Kaplan, came together to express their intent to continue to limit their campaign expenditures to the $379,000 per candidate outlined in the Oakland Campaign Reform Act (OCRA). The stated purpose of the act is to ensure equal opportunity in the Oakland elective process, to reduce the sway of large contributors, and to allow candidates to spend less time fundraising and more time campaigning. Candidate Joe Tuman, though not present, also reaffirmed his support for the spending limits via a press release, writing he would “like to see all candidates abide by these rules.”
In a race with 10 competing candidates, early spending can make a sizable difference at the ballot box. Quan alleged that Perata has made at least three attempts to legally justify surpassing the spending ceiling, and said she believes he will eventually do so. “We have no doubt [Perata] will find a way to violate the campaign limits,” Quan said. “Don Perata, the one person who could actually raise $1 million, gets to spend as much as he wants to.”
Perata first tried to raise the expenditure cap in June, said Sue Piper, policy analyst for Jean Quan. Due to the implementation of ranked choice voting, Perata argued, a primary campaign and a general election had been consolidated and thus deserved an elevated spending limit. His second attempt, Piper said, came in the form of letters to the Alameda County registrar of voters, voicing his opinion that the city of Oakland wasn’t ready for ranked choice voting and should delay its introduction. According to the Quan campaign, his third and most recent attempt is to utilize a legal loophole in the finance law that would allow him to spend more than $379,000.
OCRA states that once a candidate has agreed to an expenditure ceiling, that limit can only be exceeded under certain conditions. If a candidate receives more than $70,000 from an “independent expense committee” they are no longer bound by OCRA restrictions. Piper said this loophole runs counter to the original intent of OCRA. “I think it was an unintended consequence,” Piper said. “I suspect at some point in the future there will be recommendations for changes but it has to go before the ethics commission.”
Perata’s critics have accused him of trying to abuse this loophole by accepting a $70,000 donation from the Coalition for a Safer California, an independent expenditure committee composed of California correctional officers, on whose behalf Perata himself has lobbied. It is uncertain whether the Oakland Ethics Commission will allow the spending ceiling to be lifted when it is discussed next week at a commission meeting, but Quan said the attempt alone was an insult to the process.
“It’s a big spit in the face,” Quan said at the press conference. “We were expecting a lot of money to be spent on this race, but we weren’t expecting Don Perata to break the rules.”
Quan’s campaign has circulated a press release stating that Perata had already spent 85 percent of his allowed limit by the end of June, but Perata spokesperson Rhys Williams said these figures are incorrect. It’s a “distortion of the actual figure,” Williams said. “It included projected expenses, what we planned to spend between now and then.”
Williams called Quan’s allegations of overspending baseless and said they were merely a distraction from the issues. “It’s another allegation from an Oakland City Council member,” Williams said. “Another conspiracy theory founded on six degrees of separation.”
According to an August CBS poll, Perata, who was formerly the state senate president pro tempore until his retirement in 2008, is Oakland’s leading mayoral candidate. He garnered 41 percent in the poll, followed by city council members Quan and Kaplan with 26 percent and 14 percent respectively.
Williams said that other candidates were attacking Perata because of his lead in the polls. “We’re bringing in a positive message,” Williams continued. “The second place candidate’s message isn’t resonating, so the natural response is to throw mud at the opponent.”
After the Tuesday City Hall event, Perata’s campaign issued a press release stating the candidate’s commitment to regulations. “I have and always will abide by campaign finance laws,” Perata wrote. “I’m proud to have over 2,300 contributors to my campaign, which I always disclose in a timely manner.”
Tuesday’s press conference took an unexpected turn when one of the mayoral candidates showed up with a megaphone to protest the event itself. Larry Lionel Young Jr. and Terence Candell, both African-American candidates, said they did not receive the initial correspondence inviting them to participate in the event. Tensions over exclusive invitations had arisen previously when a Sierra Club organizer initially decided to only allow three mayoral candidates to speak at an August forum hosted by the group. Candell’s campaign issued critical letters to the Sierra Club and the media until all parties were allowed to participate.
An email sent to the media Tuesday by Dyra Candell, the candidate’s wife and chief of staff, criticized Quan’s staff for excluding her husband and called for “Blacks, Black males, whites and all people of color to stand together against racism.”
While Young, Jr., appeared with the panel in support of the OCRA spending limit, Candell arrived to the steps of Oakland city hall 15 minutes early followed by supporters with signs reading “Stop the racism” and “There is no room for racism in Oakland.”
Using a megaphone, Candell faced the plaza and shouted, “We’ve got to stop the racism in the city of Oakland that’s being perpetuated by the people who claim to be our leaders.”
Piper, who sent the initial invitation, said claims of racism are an overreaction to a late-night mistake on her part. “The original email release did not have everyone on it because I’m overworked and tired,” Piper said. “I’m sure that’s what [Candell] is referring to. It wasn’t racism, it was an honest mistake.”
Although Young, Jr., participated in the event, he said he doubted that his and Candell’s email addresses could have been left out in good faith. “Everybody has access to all the candidates’ information,” Young, Jr., said. “Not being able to contact one is incredulous. It’s the same politics as usual, to ostracize those that don’t roll with the clique.”
Candell did not stay for the duration of the event. “Thank you for coming out and God bless you,” Candell said, turning to the other mayoral candidates behind him. “Now you can go ahead with your little money thing.”
“And I’m black!” Candell added, as he exited the plaza.