Looking at the Latest Chamber Contributions

Chamber-Debate-060

Last week, the Vanguard was concerned with the fact that West Yost Associates, a local business with multimillion dollar contracts with the city, contributed 1000 dollars to the Chamber PAC’s efforts.  That led us to ask the city whether a committee that received contributions in excess of 100 dollars could support or oppose city council campaigns.

The Vanguard asked the city attorney and city clerk how Davis Code section 12.01.035, which imposes a contribution limitation on persons who make contributions to independent committees that support or oppose candidates, is applied to committees that may support or oppose more than one candidate and also support or oppose ballot measures.

Executive Director Kemble Pope informed the Vanguard and others, “The Davis ChamberPAC has been in close communication with the Davis City Clerk for the past two months regarding its ability to raise and spend money. We have a good understanding of the complex legal limitations to our activities… well, as good an understanding as possible without hiring a constitutional law expert to be on staff!”

He added later, “Firstly, we have stated over and over again that our renewed efforts will not end with this election AND that we’ll be supporting Measure D.”

Mr. Pope then cites City Attorney Harriet Steiner, who writes, “In our opinion, if an independent committee is making independent expenditures of $250 or more to support or oppose one or more candidates in the Davis election, that committee may not solicit or accept contributions related to the city council election candidates in excess of $100 from any person (including any corporation or association).”

And adds, “To the extent that the same independent expenditure committee is also supporting or opposing a ballot measure, contributions related only to the ballot measure are not limited. Similarly, a committee that is making independent expenditures for non-city elections is also not subject to the City’s contribution limitations for the non-city elections…”

The latest disclosure is listed below:

Chamber-disc-03-1

Chamber-disc-03-2

Chamber-disc-03-3

Note that the PAC is now separating its IE (independent expernditures) for Candidates from its IE for Measure D.  That is a good start as they likely recognize the messiness here.

We would still prefer to see separate accounts for Measure D, their candidates, and activities that go beyond the June election.  That would be the cleanest way to do this.

The problem that we see is the precise language of 12.01.035(b) which states, “No committee which makes independent expenditures of two hundred fifty dollars or more in support of or in opposition to any candidate shall accept any contribution in excess of one hundred dollars from any person in any single candidacy period.”

That language is very precise; it says that no committee that makes independent expenditures of $250 or more in support or opposition to any candidate shall accept ANY contribution in excess of $100 from any person.

If that is the case, then, we do not believe they can collect $1000 from West Yost, for example, and turn around and spend money on an IE for or against a candidate for city council, regardless of whether that money is used on the council candidate.

That would be strictest reading of the municipal code.

What they seem to be interpreting the code to mean, and perhaps the city attorney is, as well, in the language, would be a secondary meaning, that they could take all of the money into the PAC and then make sure that they were only using contributions of less than $100 for council campaigns.

That seems to be what the city attorney says, even though it would appear to be at odds with subsection (B) of the code.

The chamber has taken in nearly $12,000, but it appears most of it cannot be used for candidates.  We count only $2275 collected in increments of $100 or less.

We understand that they have stated that they intend to use this money beyond this specific election. Nevertheless, it seems odd that, as of now, around one-fifth of their money can go toward supporting candidates.

This is complicated stuff that is hindered by overlapping jurisdictions and differential rules.  We do not believe that the chamber is intentionally going around the law, only that it is complicated and we believe that it would be cleaner to have clearly defined and separated accounts for monies that have different restrictions upon them.

We also note that at this point, the chamber has not used an IE for either the candidates or the ballot measure, and as such, none of this applies to them until they spend $250 in support of candidates.

As of now, they have directly contributed $100 to each of their endorsed candidates, which is perfectly permissible no matter the pot of money they take from.

That issue likely comes into play for the attack mailer launched upon Sue Greenwald by IBEW, OE3, and the Plumbers and Pipefitters.

Burchill-Mail-2

As we now know, OE3 and the Pipefitters contributed $10,000 and IBEW gave $5000 in support of the mailer.  We note that they may be preparing for a second attack mailer as they still have $15,000 left over.

We believe that this violates Davis Municipal Law but there has been some suggestion that because of the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision, Davis’ Municipal Election Code might be rendered moot.

If that is the case, it would seem the city should render a decision there so that we know if the act would have violated Davis’ Municipal Code, and we can at least declare that Citizen United overrode our code in this way.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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10 Comments

  1. Matt Williams

    David, when one looks at the expenditures there is very little that has been spent on candidates.

    The $846 room rental for the Forum was on behalf of all the candidates (or none of them)

    The $326 forum transcription can reasonably be assigned 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 to Wolk, Frerichs and Souza expenditures, as can the $75 e-blast expenditure.

    The three $100 donations clearly are.

    So thus far $626 of your $2,275 amount appears to have been spent, with $1,449 remaining to be spent.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Matt: That is correct. The only expenditures are direct and none from an advocacy IE. That’s why I’m still pushing this a bit, because they still have time to clean this up. I know that they are trying to do it the right way, it’s my opinion that they should have separate accounts to make it a little more clean.

  3. Jim Frame

    [quote]The chamber has taken in nearly $12,000, but it appears most of it cannot be used for candidates.[/quote]

    I think it’s important in these discussion to remember that you’re talking about a PAC that’s a legally separate entity from the Chamber of Commerce. There may be a lot of overlap in personalities and perspectives between the two, but the actions of one shouldn’t be confused with the actions of the other.

  4. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]We believe that this violates Davis Municipal Law but there has been some suggestion that because of the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision, Davis’ Municipal Election Code might be rendered moot.

    If that is the case, it would seem the city should render a decision there so that we know if the act would have violated Davis’ Municipal Code, and we can at least declare that Citizen United overrode our code in this way.[/quote]

    I agree with this point…

    [quote]Matt: That is correct. The only expenditures are direct and none from an advocacy IE. That’s why I’m still pushing this a bit, because they still have time to clean this up. I know that they are trying to do it the right way, it’s my opinion that they should have separate accounts to make it a little more clean.[/quote]

    Clean what up? Thus far, they appear to be complying w election law…

  5. hpierce

    Presuming the PAC will endorse/work for three candidates, should not the limit be construed to mean up to $300 from each contributor to the PAC?

  6. Brian Kenyon

    Who is Mr. El Mariachi Taqueria? Seems like he
    must be one of the Californios of old with such a
    elegant and formal name!
    (oops, Mr. Pope: typo alert!)

  7. JustSaying

    How can Harriet come up with two different findings about city legality about this, given the same set of facts. She tells David the Chamber is operating illegally. She tells Michael that the Chamber is doing fine.

    How long will we be reading this she-said-she-said dialog from you two? Do each of you have her decisions on how the Davis code applies here in writing? If so, will you post them?

  8. David M. Greenwald

    “She tells David the Chamber is operating illegally.”

    I guess I missed this. Where did she say that or where did I say that she said it?

  9. JustSaying

    From the [i]Vanguard[/i], May 9, 2012:[quote]“The [i]Vanguard[/i] asked the city attorney and city clerk….City Attorney Harriet Steiner writes, ‘In our opinion, if an independent committee is making independent expenditures of $250 or more to support or oppose one or more candidates in the Davis election, that committee may not solicit or accept contributions related to the city council election candidates in excess of $100 from any person (including any corporation or association)’….But as it currently stands, it appears that the Chamber PAC may not be able to use any of the money collected from companies donating more than $100 for the purposes of supporting city council candidates….

    DG: ‘it appears most of the money you have raised cannot be spent on efforts supporting council candidates’…..Just to clarify. The election code is clear….They do not state that a committee can take more than $100 for some things and not others, rather that if you intend to support a candidate, you cannot accept more than $100.

    As such:

    1. We do not believe you can co-mingle funds for candidates with funds for Measure D
    2. We do not believe you can simply carry forward funds to another time period as that presents potential problems as well

    As such, right now,[b] I do not believe the way you have set things up is legal under the Davis Municipal code.[/b]”[/quote]After you wrote the above, I asked (and got no response):[quote]David, who are these “we’s”. Are you speaking for Harriet? City staff?

    ‘1. We do not believe you can co-mingle funds for candidates with funds for Measure D
    2. We do not believe you can simply carry forward funds to another time period as that presents potential problems as well'”[/quote]From the [i]Vanguard[/i], May 13, 2012: [quote]“That language is very precise; it says that no committee that makes independent expenditures of $250 or more in support or opposition to any candidate shall accept ANY contribution in excess of $100 from any person.

    If that is the case, then, we do not believe they can collect $1000 from West Yost, for example, and turn around and spend money on an IE for or against a candidate for city council, regardless of whether that money is used on the council candidate.”[/quote] You originally wrote that your source is Harriet. Michael said he’s been in touch with the city attorney. When you say, “I do not believe the way you have set things up is legal…,” it certainly follows that you mean it is illegal and, further, that you’ve based this on your finding from Harriet since you quoted her liberally in making your case against the Chamber.

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