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Misleading Headline Alert!

Note: The headline in the Oakland Tribune story below reads that the spending cap has been lifted in the Oakland mayoral race. The headline is wrong. In fact, as the story indicates, as of the date the story was written, one of the triggering mechanisms to lift the spending cap has possibly occurred. However, as of the date of this story, Oakland election officials had not yet declared the spending cap lifted.

Spending Cap Lifted In Oakland Mayoral Race

By Cecily Burt
Oakland Tribune
September 22, 2010

OAKLAND -- If it wasn't clear before, the gloves -- and caps on campaign spending -- are off in the race for Oakland mayor.

That's if one wants to rely on the contents of a letter.

The Coalition for a Safer California, an independent expenditure committee run by candidate Don Perata's longtime associate Paul Kinney, claims in a letter sent to the Oakland Public Ethics Commission that it has spent at least $95,000 on the mayor's race. According to Oakland's elections code, once an independent committee spends more than the ceiling for the mayor's race, in this case $95,000, the candidates who previously agreed to abide by voluntary spending limits of $379,000 are no longer held to that limit.

But is the letter proof enough to take that risk? The coalition has until Oct. 5 to file pre-election statements with the Oakland City Clerk's office. That filing will list the independent expenditures made in local races.

If it turns out that the coalition didn't spend the funds, but a candidate went ahead and blew through the voluntary spending limit, Oakland elections code states that the candidate could be subject to fines and penalties.

Councilmember Jean Quan, one of Perata's main rivals in the election, has repeatedly accused Perata of orchestrating the coalition's spending so he would not have to abide by the voluntary spending limits. Kinney has worked on Perata campaigns since the mid-1990s, and Kinney's son Jason has also worked for Perata as a public relations consultant.

According to the latest election filings, which are through June 30, the Perata campaign has already spent more than $324,000. A television spot started airing over the weekend, but spokesman Rhys Williams would not divulge how much was spent for the ad, saying that "we don't disclose strategy to other campaigns, directly or via the press. "

Quan has also sent out two campaign mailers in recent days. One highlights her record and the other is a hit piece on Perata.

"It's another desperate attempt by a candidate who is losing in every poll to distract voters from her record of failure," Williams said. "Oakland needs solutions to its challenges, not Jean Quan's 'grassy knoll' theories. Creating conspiracies and negativity won't unite the city, rehire the 80 police officers she voted to let go, fix our schools, or put people back to work."

The Oakland City Attorney's official interpretation of the elections code as it regards the ceiling limits for independent expenditure committees will be presented at the city's Public Ethics Commission meeting tonight. An independent expenditure is not made at the behest of a candidate.
In response to numerous questions, the City Attorney is also working on an opinion to determine who, if anyone needs to prove that the independent expenditure committee has actually spent the money for the mayor's race.

For example, the Coalition for a Safer California paid for mailers sent to Oakland voters in June, after a City Council budget vote that called for cuts in police staffing. The city at the time was negotiating with the Oakland Police union for pension givebacks to avoid those layoffs.

The mailers singled out council members Jean Quan, Pat Kernighan, Rebecca Kaplan and Desley Brooks, even though Kaplan and Brooks voted against the budget. The piece did not mention the mayor's race. Both Kernighan and Brooks are running for re-election in their respective council districts.

According to filings with the Secretary of State, on June 21 the Coalition for a Safer California spent $61,629.82 to Paul Kinney Productions for campaign literature and mailings, but the filing description is not specific as to campaign or candidate.

The coalition has received $155,000 in contributions from two independent expenditure committees controlled by the state prison guards union. The committees have also paid Perata monthly consulting fees since January 2009. So far, the unions have paid Perata more than $409,000 through the June 30 filing period.

Quan said Tuesday that she wants the Public Ethics Commission to immediately determine whether the Coalition has spent $95,000 on the mayor's race and lift the limits on campaign spending for all the candidates. She also wants the commission to rule on her Public Ethics complaint that Perata has exceeded the voluntary spending limits through various campaign committees he controls, and force the candidate to return contributions that exceed the limits set by the city for the mayor's race. Quan also accuses Perata of using money from his own Hope 2010 Cure Cancer independent expenditure committee on his campaign.

"Don Perata has circumvented the requirements of the Oakland Campaign Reform Act through the use of two committees which he controls 'Hope 2010,' and the 'Coalition for a Safer California' to solicit funds from individuals in excess of the $700 per person limit. He has also spent those funds in support of his campaign for mayor," said Dan Siegel, attorney for Jean Quan. The complaint details how the committees violated the city's regulations.

Dan Purnell, executive director of the Public Ethics Commission, confirmed that the commission has received Quan's complaint but it was not on Wednesday's commission agenda. Commission procedures require that he conduct an investigation and produce a preliminary report before any formal action is taken by the commission.

Purnell also said that once the expenditure ceilings are lifted, all the mayoral candidates are free to continue to collect donations in the amount of $700 from individuals and $1,300 from committees.

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