Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 20, 2007

Beverly Johnson and Campaign Funds

Filed under: Alameda, Alameda Point, City Council, Development, Election — Lauren Do @ 7:22 am


Who is “Robert Gammon.”

I’ll take “Arbiters of Which Money Gets Assigned to What” for $2000, Alex.

The East Bay Express is the most recent critic to weigh in on the “look who’s funding Beverly Johnson now” train to piggyback on reporting about the pick for a master developer for the base.  Before I get started, I just want to clear the record by saying that I was disappointed by the eventual vote from the majority of the City Council.  While I liked the idea of the dual developers as proposed by Marie Gilmore, my druthers would have been to select SunCal and Catellus with Lennar running a distant distant third.  Not because there is anything wrong with them, I just felt that they were overextended with other Bay Area projects and with Hunters Point being so complex and Treasure Island being so ambitious, Alameda would get short shrift, but I digress. 

With that said, highlights from the EBX article:

…Johnson and Councilman Frank Matarrese, one of the mayor’s closest political allies, backed Catellus. At the meeting, Johnson noted that the company was already developing the nearby former Navy installation known as Alameda Landing. “If we have one developer on Alameda Landing … and a different developer on Alameda Point, there could be some conflict there,” she told the audience.

Certain City Hall insiders, however, figured Johnson would choose Catellus, not necessarily based on its merits, but because she and the company had a mutual friend. Catellus had hired as a consultant Barbara Price, who ran Johnson’s political campaign when she first took the mayor’s office in 2002.

Price did not return phone calls seeking comment, but Arthur Hodges, a spokesman for ProLogis, the parent company of Catellus, denied that it hired Price and her firm, PK Consultants Inc., to win Johnson’s vote. “They were hired,” he said, “for their knowledge of the community and their expertise in government relations.”

During the meeting, however, it looked like Councilwoman Marie Gilmore might derail Catellus’ plans. Gilmore, who often sides with the mayor, refused to endorse any single developer. Instead, she proposed a partnership between Catellus and Lennar. She said she favored a mixed-use development and noted that Catellus is a commercial builder while Lennar’s expertise is erecting homes.

But with Gilmore refusing to back either SunCal or Catellus on its own, neither company had the necessary three votes from the five-member council. Johnson then suddenly changed her mind, and seconded Gilmore’s proposal that Catellus team up with Lennar — which up to that point had not received a single vote. Following a ten-minute break, the two industry giants agreed to become partners.

But conveniently, Matarrese backed the plan too, giving this “wild idea” three votes without any prior consideration — in public, at least.

Could it be that she also had a reason to back Lennar, and the “wild idea” wasn’t so wild after all?…

All righty then.  It’s interesting that the narrative as described by Robert Gammon makes it sound so much more insidious than it actually was.  I think that if Robert Gammon wanted to do a really bang up job of reporting what actually happened, although my feeling is that it was really not about “reporting” but rather “reporting to a preconceived theory already crafted” he would have reached out to more people to talk to.   It’s much sexier to have a story about how big bad developers were able to buy their way into a sweet deal thanks to strategic campaigning funding and consultant hiring rather than the boring ordinary truth.   What gets lost in the article are the voices of the three other councilpeople: Frank Matarrese, Lena Tam, and Marie Gilmore.  It’s unfair to paint smart and thoughtful people like Frank Matarrese and Marie Gilmore as simple pawns.   Perhaps Robert Gammon would understand why Marie Gilmore proposed the partnership idea if he had picked up the phone and called Councilmember Gilmore.  And perhaps Robert Gammon would understand why Frank Matarrese would have backed the partnership proposal seemingly without “prior consideration” if he had also contacted Councilmember Matarrese for an explaination.

While the EBX article really tried to make Doug deHaan into the lone maverick on this vote  — he was the only live person other than the Catellus spokesperson that Robert Gammon spoke to for an almost 850 word piece — I think Lena Tam was really the champion pushing for SunCal during the meeting.  But again, it makes for a much sexier story to pit Doug deHaan against Beverly Johnson in a rehash of the election to bring election finances into the mix.

And then we get to the real meat of the story…the final “a ha” moment to wrap it up into a neat little bow.  The campaign finances.  Gammon tells us:

Records show that Johnson owes a debt of gratitude to one of Lennar’s team members, Pacific States Environmental Contractors, an East Bay demolition company owned by megadonor Ed DeSilva. The road-building magnate also was instrumental in getting Johnson elected in both 2002 and 2006.

In late October 2002, DeSilva donated $15,000 to a political action committee, Californians for Neighborhood Preservation, which papered Alameda with glossy mailers endorsing Johnson’s candidacy. Then, during her reelection bid, DeSilva contributed $75,000 to Let’s Rebuild California, a committee ostensibly set up to support last year’s statewide bond measures. But the group also produced three slick mailers that supported Johnson.

These finances are like that proverbial bad penny that keeps showing up again and again and again. And while Gammon is wholly correct that the DeSilva Group gave $15K to Californians for Neighborhood Preservation, so did Clorox.  But Dreyers Ice Cream gave a close $10K as well.  And while I know there is “clean up” to be done at Alameda Point, somehow I don’t think that bleach will be used in the process, thereby eliminating Big Household Products effect on the election.  And Dreyers, well ice cream companies donating to a campaign is never sexy either, unless somehow we hit upon a canyon of dairy on the Point.   And regarding the “Let’s Rebuild California” campaign fund, it was set up to support the statewide bonds, and those three slick mailers while they did ask voters to consider Beverly Johnson for mayor, it also asked us to support the statewide bond measures and — if memory serves me clearly, which it may not — varying other candidates from the state level to local.  And, while it’s not chump change to people like you and me, $75K was a drop in the bucket to the levels of contributions taken in by that particular PAC.   The tenuous connection that Gammon tries to make between the campaign donations that DeSilva made and one of the companies under his company’s larger umbrella that is one of the team members cited in Lennar’s RFQ reponse is hardly a smoking gun.  I guess it would have been more compelling if there was more of a direct connection rather than this six degree of separation thing that we saw during the election. 

For me the oddest part of the whole article came at the very end, after taking Ron Dellums to the mat over task forces he has formed to craft various “blueprints” for his mayoral reign.  I don’t have an opinion on this one way or the other as I don’t know much about it…but I was curious as to the last two pargraphs (or last paragraph and line) which, the first paragraph is, of course, in reference to Oakland’s task forces:

A legitimate goal. Then again, city councils, planning commissions, and countless other public bodies meet openly every week all across this country, and they don’t seem to have a problem attracting and promoting a free flow of ideas.

Except for Alameda, of course.

Whoa there…what the heck happened?  We were talking about Oakland, Ron Dellums, Oakland, Oakland Oakland and then there is a parting shot at Alameda?  Was this supposed to say “Except for Oakland, of course.”?   If it was intended as a shot at Alameda, it is a very disjointed conclusion.


  1. To me the story is not a “big bad developer buying their way into a sweet deal” but rather the appearance of a politician selling her/his vote.

    Businesses market and influence customers any way they can. Whether it’s wine/dine, campaign contributions, lap dances on the AMEX gold card, whatever — they lobby for business with customers. That can’t and shouldn’t be stopped.

    The problem isn’t the BUYING, it’s the SELLING, or appearance thereof.

    There are certain areas of municipal finance in which campaign contributors are barred from doing business with a municipality for two years if they gave money to a candidate or PAC. Additionally, many states, counties and cities have laws against former employees lobbying for or receiving contracts with the given government entity for a year or two after leaving public employment.

    These laws and policies exist to prevent both outright corruption AND the appearance of same.

    Lauren is right to say the article is incomplete — there is more to this story. But at first look the situation appears to have some difficulty passing the smell test. It needs further investigation, and Alameda needs to sharpen its policies WRT such activity.

    Comment by dave — April 20, 2007 @ 7:56 am

  2. Dave,

    You and I agree on so much! I think your buying/selling argument are two sides of the same coin, but won’t dicker.

    I’d love to see the reforms you discuss take place and will join anyone interested in getting them passed.

    That said, there may be more to the story, but this story, as written, is bogus.

    More facts need to be included.

    First this PAC received $16.5 million in contributions. The money received from DeSilva is about 0.3%. (And remember the PAC was set up to support the statewide bonds (1a -1e, which I didn’t support, were for major construction projects around the state, so slimy as it is, it’s not surprising in the least that construction companies funded the campaign).

    Next, the PAC spent $1645.07 on Johnson’s campaign. That’s .00009% of its expenditures. (reported by both the PAC and Johnson)

    Assuming that you are a data magician and can ferret out exactly which money out of the $16.5 million in donations went to Johnson and that they were all from DeSilva, the $1645 number is a far cry from the EBX and Pat Bail reported number of $75,000.

    (Aside, I looked this all up in 5 minutes and can only see $50K in donations from DeSilva, perhaps someone can dig up the other reported $25K)

    We won’t even get into the lack of evidence of Johnson’s knowledge of Desilva’s contribution to a Sacramento based PAC. Johnson’s reporting of the money cites “Let’s rebuild…” not “DeSilva”. And lastly, DeSilva’s contribution, which the Mayor originally balked at according to the EBX, appears to have had zero effect in terms of the Lennar proposal.

    Given the bad sourcing and analysis, plus Pat Bail’s coming out of the gate with the info (I doubt she’s a regular EBX reader), I can only imagine where this info came from.

    This article is yet another example of a “smear” in its actual sense. Defined as an “unsubstantiated charge” by Merriam Webster (as opposed to “an opinion of actual events that some feel is unfair”). The article proposes to provide “information” but uses it so poorly that it lacks any educational or informative value.

    That said, I’d love to see Dave’s reforms enacted and will meet for coffee with anyone who wants to work on such reforms in Alameda.

    Note to Ms. Do: why did you leave Lena Tam off the list of smart and thoughtful council members?

    Comment by John Knox White — April 20, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  3. Mr. White:

    I can tell you from personal experienc ethat many PAC contributions are ear-marked in advance for a particular candidate. The PAC in that case is simply laundering money. Obviously I do not know if that was the case w/ Desiliva’s contribution, but based on BevJo’s behavior, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

    Comment by dave — April 20, 2007 @ 5:34 pm

  4. Dave, the earmarking of soft money funds for a particular candidate has been illegal in California since 1996. The prohibition is spelled out in Section 85704 of the Political Reform Act of 2002:

    § 85704. Prohibition on Earmarking.

    A person may not make any contribution to a committee on the condition or with the agreement that it will be contributed to any particular candidate unless the contribution is fully disclosed pursuant to Section 84302.

    History: Added by Proposition 208 of the November 1996 Statewide General Election. (Formerly titled “Contributions from Lobbyists”); repealed and added by Stats. 2000, Ch. 102 [Proposition 34 of the November Statewide General Election].

    If you were personally aware of this illegal activity, did you report it to the California Fair Political Practices Commission? If not, why not?

    Furthermore, are you alleging that Mayor Johnson, her campaign contributors, or both have violated this prohibition? It seems like these are some fairly serious charges to be making without presenting any evidence.

    Comment by Michael Krueger — April 20, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

  5. Oops, I meant to write, “Are you alleging that Mayor Johnson’s campaign contributors — with or without her knowledge — have violated this prohibition?”

    I doubt that even the wildest spinners of conspiracy theories would accuse Mayor Johnson of violating this particular prohibition all by herself. 😉

    Comment by Michael Krueger — April 20, 2007 @ 7:03 pm

  6. The part where I say “obviously I don’t know” indicates clearly, in English no less, that I am NOT alleging so.

    Comment by dave — April 21, 2007 @ 7:15 am

  7. Hey Dave, point well taken (I was suggesting that some proof of such an agreement would be good if one was going to insinuate such, as the paper does).

    My main point was that while it’s certainly “possible” that something happened, the story offers nothing to say that anything did.

    Pat Bail and Co. took donations of equal size directly from Realtors, should we then assume they had nefarious development ideas? I don’t think so.

    My points on the bad reporting were:

    * the mis-reporting (by 50%) of the amount of the donation to the PAC

    * Not doing even cursory reporting on the amount spent on Johnson’s campaign by the PAC ($1650, not $75K)

    * The bizarre disconnect between the reporting that Johnson was cool to the idea of letting Lennar be involved but then saying that donations showed she sold her vote

    Last point of clarification, I didn’t want to be seen as saying it was a bad thing that Bail doesn’t read the EBX. I can’t stand the paper, even when they cover issues I agree with, because they consistently use faulty reporting to support predetermined “alternative” theories. Stories like these do the paper itself a great disservice

    Comment by John Knox White — April 21, 2007 @ 8:28 am

  8. I’m enjoying reading this dialogue. One of the saddest losses in our school curriculum is teaching how to separate fact from opinion, an important fundemental skill for everyone who relies on the written word for information.

    This is particularly a problem when we read about political matters which often are “spins”. I think the exercise in sorting things out in this EBX piece is an important one, and am glad to see that it is being looked at.

    In the next election cycle (three next year!) we will be subjected to many articles, ads, and speeches where fact and opinion will be needing sorting out. I hope we will all continue to do this kind of “in depth” analysis of information so we can weigh the facts and draw our own opinions from them.

    Comment by Kate Quick — April 21, 2007 @ 9:06 am

  9. If I were mayor and I had decided early on that I wanted to support Catellus, I would have been anxious about appearances if my former campaign manager took a P.R. gig with them. I might have tried to discourage it. On the other hand, if that is Ms. Price’s vocation, more power to her for being a go getter, right?

    It’s simply impossible for me to imagine that the proximity of Ms. Price to the mayor did not have some influence on the decision, or at least Price getting the position, but by no means do I feel we can conclude that influence was nefarious. My impression is that Bev is a true believer in Catellus, for whatever reasons. She said she likes the continuity with them being at Alameda Landing. I accept that as her reasoning whether I think it is adequate or not.

    I continue to be alienated by Catellus’ M.O. for moving about the community. When they arrived to bid on FISC they added the main mover and shaker from Marina Village to their staff and then it seemed once the deal was done he went back to whatever. I’m not sure his title or job description for that period. It certainly tickled our mayor at that time who was fawning over this addition in an embarrassing manner. He suggested some day a statue to this gentleman be erected at the gates to our fair city. I hope it was only half serious.

    Again, I never got an impression of people being bought, just shmoozed, like business as usual. Maybe I’m really naive and miss the big picture. Sometimes in Mayberry it doesn’t even take a campaign contribution to have influence.

    As a Green who was creating a high profile at the time by my merely being everywhere, but really carried little clout, I was approached to have a beer with an officer of the Catellus Corporation. This was during the initial period where Catellus decided to shift away from R&D at FISC and there was controversy over potential Big Box retail. I found this amusing and accepted the offer, but I could never figure what the objective was. Good will? Fine. Nobody offered ME a job.

    I always like to know the players as well as I can, but I’m not stupid enough to be influenced by somebody trying to make me feel important.

    When something smells, I always wonder whether it’s just shit on my shoes from plowing the field, but I don’t think so.

    Comment by Mark (AKA "hay seed") — April 21, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

  10. Dave, I’m sorry I misinterpreted your suspicion as an allegation. Yes, you wrote very clearly in English; nevertheless, I hope you realize that you left ample opportunity for reading between the lines.

    Suppose you saw this quotation in a newspaper article: “Obviously I do not know if the Fire Chief is an axe murderer, but based on his behavior, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit.” Can’t you imagine that you might honestly read this as a thinly veiled version of the allegation, “The Fire Chief is an axe murderer”?

    Semantic quibbling aside, I’m still wondering about your “personal experience” of PAC earmarking. Did you report this illegal activity to the FPPC? If not, why not?

    Comment by Michael Krueger — April 21, 2007 @ 12:23 pm

  11. Mr. Krueger:

    Politics is a business rife with corruption. I’ve done enough business with politicians and political appointees to know that for a fact.

    Many PACs exist for the sole purpose of evading contribution laws & limits; earmarking is often their raison d’etre.

    Johnson has accepted substantial funds from business interests off the island. They are not acting out of altruism, there is one reason they are writing these checks: to win business.

    Given these, it would not surprise me if ANY mayor of Alameda, or any other politician in similar circumstances, was influenced by such graft.

    But that is not an allegation, and no, I would not interpret as such, because I know the difference between and opinion and an allegation. It’s a free country and you can jump to conclusions at your leisure, but I’ll thank you not to put words in my mouth.


    There were several reasons not to report the earmarking I saw, and most I’d rather not discuss on a blog, but one I’ll state here: it would have been pointless. That’s what PACs do and only the most naive do not understand that. It calls to mind Claude Rains…”Shocked! Shocked!”

    Comment by dave — April 21, 2007 @ 4:32 pm

  12. Mr. White:

    Getting back to post #2, some of the reforms mention are already law. The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, which governs the muni bond market, installed a rule in the mid 90s that bars an investment banker or bond dealer from doing business with any entity that it contributed campaign funds to. (there are lots of sspecifics, exceptions, addenedums etc which are too wordy to mention here)

    This has been nationwide policy for more than a decade. As for the rest of it, I’m all for Alameda installing such policies.

    Comment by dave — April 21, 2007 @ 4:52 pm

  13. In response to #7 and #8:

    #8–Yes, it is important to separate fact from spin.


    #7–As a member of the Local Government Relations committee of the Alameda Association of Realtors, I relate this fact: as a member of the local government relations committee of the Alameda Association of Realtors, I was there when we voted to support NO candidate in the November 2006 election.

    There was no donation of any amount from the Alameda Association of Realtors to any candidate.

    To say anything else is untrue.

    Please check at the city clerk’s office if you need verification.

    Comment by Rosemary McNally — April 21, 2007 @ 8:25 pm

  14. Ms. McNally,

    I neither mentioned, nor implied, that your association (or any realty association, since the issue wasn’t “associations” but specific companies) gave money to anyone.

    Some realtors gave money directly to Pat B. and Co. (as is their right) I won’t list them, because it doesn’t matter which, but if you’d like to visit the city clerk’s office, you can get a copy of the same campaign finances reports I have.

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to, but I can assure you my comment was 100% accurate, I have reconfirmed it with the actual documents.

    Comment by John Knox White — April 22, 2007 @ 9:00 am

  15. I agree with the idea that it is important to separate fact from spin. It is also important to apply a measure of consistency to the application of standards. I am not going to quibble with JKW or anyone else about Beverly Johnson’s motives relative to Catellus, but to suggest that somehow Alameda politics and general, and our Mayor in particular, exist in an ether insulated from the pernicious influence of money politics is ridiculous. That would be like trying to maintain an air conditioned room in hell. And, by knocking EBX’s article you are, by implication, suggesting that unless there is proof of wrongdoing reporters (or anyone else for that matter) should not ask pointed questions or reach preliminary conclusions. Well, then let’s not ask any pointed questions or draw connections about Halliburton just because Dick Cheney used to work for them. That’s not proof of anything, right? And let’s stop suggesting that oil companies have undo influence on the country’s energy policy; hey where’s the proof?

    Comment by Mike Rich — April 23, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  16. Mike,

    I agree, but the point is, arguments should not be put forth on the back on incorrect or bad facts.

    The picking and choosing of one out of dozens of contributors, the use of $75K when there wasn’t even $75K in donations from DeSilva that I can see (and no one has shown). Etc.

    The article doesn’t raise a concern and talk about it honestly, it raises a concern and then “proves” it with bad info. As if Halliburton had never actually been run by Cheney, but everyone just said it was.

    It’s specifically the numbers that make it a terrible article. The issue of soft-money is a big one, let’s tackle it. The issue in the article was a specific developer/construction company giving specific money to a specific candidate. And all the supporting info was wrong or specifically selected to make the case.

    Comment by John Knox White — April 23, 2007 @ 2:15 pm

  17. Mr. Rich, nobody is suggesting that citizens or the press should refrain from asking pointed questions unless they have absolute proof of wrongdoing. However, if one is going to suggest that something unethical is going on, one should be prepared to back that up with some evidence stronger than “politics is generally corrupt, therefore something is probably going on.”

    Take your Cheney/Halliburton example. There is an article on the Halliburton Watch Web site about Mr. Cheney’s ties to Halliburton. The story contains a lot of verifiable factual information. It makes a good case that specific ethics laws were violated. The author does not have absolute proof, but this does not stop him or her from asking pointed questions and making a convincing case that something is going on. Although I haven’t personally checked all the facts in the article, what I read there jibes with other stories from sources I trust.

    As Ms. Do and Mr. Knox White have explained in some detail, the East Bay Express article simply does not measure up to standards of the investigative journalism that has been done on the Cheney/Halliburton story. The media should be questioning and investigating what’s going on at City Hall, regardless of the occupant of the mayor’s chair; however, they’re not doing the public any favors by stretching the facts to “sex up” the story.

    Comment by Michael Krueger — April 23, 2007 @ 4:59 pm

  18. Thanks for clarifying your positions. I’m not defending the article, nor Dick Cheney. On the other hand it seemed to me like you were addressing the article in the context of defending the Mayor, so forgive me my confusion if I didn’t get that your primary concern was journalistic integrity.

    Comment by Mike Rich — April 23, 2007 @ 8:17 pm

  19. A lot of ado about nothing…I actually don’t care who gave her money. I like her and think she is doing a great job. I have been to a couple of counsel meetings and she does a great as I see it she is a leader. I don’t think she was bought which anyone can argue but I believe she is earnest in what she says. This is just how I see it. Ms Gilmore is another one I believe is such…and I truelly would like to see her run for mayor next election.

    Comment by Joel — April 23, 2007 @ 8:25 pm

  20. Joel:

    If you didn’t like her, would you care who gave her money?

    Comment by dave — April 24, 2007 @ 6:06 am

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