April 27, 2012 | An old hornet's nest may be stirring in Alameda that caused a still-churning debate stemming from the a two-year-old dispute over campaign finance limits and fundraising from outside political interests. This time around it may become an issue for one of the candidate's in this year's assembly race in the 18th district.
Alameda Councilman Doug de Haan wants to resume discussion of a proposed campaign finance ordinance that the City Council shelved in 2010 amidst growing concern outside interests like, SunCal, a company with designs on developing Alameda Point, was meddling in city affairs and attempting to influence the 2010 mayoral and council races.
In a council referral submitted by de Haan, he not only asks to revisit the proposed ordinance, but will ask city staff to perform an analysis of campaign financing during the 2010 election by applying the not yet approved ordinance. Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta, who is running for a seat in the Assembly's 18th district, believes the referral is politically motivated.
“I and everyone that I know of totally complied with the campaign finance rules that existed at the time," said Bonta. "So the only thing I can possibly speculate about is that this sort of backwards-looking application of an ordinance--that doesn’t even exist--to some past behavior, is political and I would be very disappointed if it were.”
From a policy standpoint, said Bonta, using staff time to perform an analysis is not a good use of the city's limited resources. "What's the point of it?" he said. Bonta said he supports bringing back the proposed ordinance back for discussion, but only disagrees with performing an analysis of past practices.
There is no hidden political agenda behind his referral to be heard May 1, said de Haan. "I'm not pushing that we look backwards, either." He acknowledged the proposed ordinance ultimately went nowhere in 2010 because the city was in the middle of a election cycle.
Alameda does not currently have a limit on campaign contributions. During three meetings on the subject in June 2010, a few proposals were bandied about, including one with a stringent $250 maximum per donor. De Haan says a $500 limit discussed two years ago is good starting point for discussions. Interestingly, the same hearings in 2010 put no cap on personal spending and sidestepped the legality of limiting campaign fundraising from political action committees, such as the ones SunCal used two years ago.
A group of Alamedans were highly critical of SunCal's political involvement during the 2010 election cycle. They charged Bonta and council members Lena Tam and Marie Gilmore of courting the support of SunCal, as evidenced by a series of hard-hitting political mailers against their opponents. All three were victorious with Gilmore becoming mayor.
The same group also charged the Alameda Fire Department's union of lavishing the three candidates with campaign donations. Opponents of this group maintain nothing illegal occurred in 2010 and their discord is merely a case of sour grapes.
Nonetheless, de Haan added, "I think it would be nice if people acknowledge there was some political maneuvering during the last election."
"[Bonta] has his hands full with running his campaign. This won't hurt him" said de Haan. "If it ends up being political, I'm sorry, I'm a political being, but this is unfinished business."