Sunday Commentary II: The Need For Transparency Underlies the Problem of Money in Politics

Tyler Schilling of Schilling Robotics is one of the big local contributors to Wolk for Assembly
Tyler Schilling of Schilling Robotics is one of the big local contributors to Wolk for Assembly

In this country, we recognize the difference between a citizen who is exercising their First Amendment right to speak their mind on an issue, and a lobbyist who is paid by special interests to hire professional advocates to argue for or against specific legislation.

At both the state and federal levels, lobbyists are required to register. But we have no such requirements at the local level.

Much of the time that’s not a huge problem, but as we start putting development projects on the balance, it is helpful to know if citizens’ views expressed are their own or are the result of being hired consultants or representatives for projects.

A case in point is an op-ed that the Davis Enterprise published on February 26, “Nishi Gateway deserves a vote of approval.” The author is Lydia Delis-Schlosser. As she describes in her own piece, she is a 36-year resident of Davis, which certainly entitles her to an opinion on the Nishi Project.

But we also know that Ms. Delis-Schlosser has been a long-time employee of John Whitcombe. While Tim Ruff has been project manager for the Nishi project, the ownership of the Nishi property is equally divided among Mr. Ruff, John Whitcombe, Ray and Della Thompson and Joe and Karen Ogando.

In a September 2015 article in the Davis Enterprise where Mr. Whitcombe was interviewed, he acknowledged that Nishi Gateway was now on his “front burner.”

Lydia Delis-Schlosser writes, “The Nishi project has risen to the occasion. The project applicants have not only raised the bar in providing a quality innovative project to Davis, but they have done so with the care and collaboration we as a community expect and deserve.”

She adds, “No other project in Davis history has successfully balanced the diverse goals of this community as well as the Nishi Gateway is doing.”

She further adds, “I’ve also been impressed by the project applicants’ determination to provide a sustainable lifestyle for all site residents.”

So, when she makes all of those statements, is she speaking as a long-time resident of Davis? Is she speaking as a long-time employee of John Whitcombe? Is she speaking as a paid spokesperson? Can we even know?

The most reprehensible part of this is that the Davis Enterprise, which as part of the fourth estate is supposed to be a watchdog against these kinds of obfuscations, does not even disclose to its readers who Ms. Delis-Schlosser is or what her relationship is to the project owners and the project itself.

Last week, the Vanguard wrote about the corrupting influence of money on local politics. In that article, we noted that running for higher office offers a runaround of the $100 campaign limitations for city council.

Mayor Dan Wolk, we noted, as candidate for State Assembly back in 2014, received a $4100 contribution from The New Home Company itself, $1500 from Kevin Carson, The New Home Company President, and $1500 from Ashley Feeney, The New Home Company Vice President. He also received $1500 from George Phillips, who was the consultant on the Cannery Project.

It turns out that is just the tip of the iceberg. A reader provided this spreadsheet of Dan Wolk’s contributions from people with projects before him on the city council.


As we noted last week, there was nothing legally improper about these contributions. At the same time, one of the biggest concerns that “good government” people have is the corrupting influence of money in the system.

The more than $16,000 in contributions from key interests with projects in front of him is a sizable portion of his overall campaign haul from last year.

As we noted last week, the typical citizen does not have this kind of money to give. The Davis political system has been constructed with a $100 campaign limitation that hopes to reduce the kind of influence that monied interests can bring to bear on an office holder.

Unfortunately, sophisticated local interest groups have found ways to circumvent that. But that pales in comparison to the ability for these interests to help bankroll a run for higher office, where they are no longer bound by the $100 campaign limitations.

One big defense against this influence into our local politics is to elect people who are not using the council as a stepping stone. On the other hand, it may be hard to identify who is using the office as a stepping stone and who is not.

While some have suggested a publicly-funded campaign system, others want more limitations. Legal interpretations of money as speech aside, it is my general observation (as we have seen locally) that politicians and their backers will find a way around even stringent laws.

At the end of the day, the biggest defense around this type of influence may be instant reporting requirements. Instead of learning February 1 about a contribution from July, what if the campaign had to report all contributions in real time, as they came in? It’s not a perfect defense, but at least it gives us a chance to scrutinize the money as it comes in rather than months after the fact.

Transparency is a huge issue and is potentially an answer, but we need the tools to be able to act more proactively. Finding out five months after the fact does little to discourage this kind of potential influence peddling.

—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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54 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary II: The Need For Transparency Underlies the Problem of Money in Politics”

  1. Barack Palin

    Also we have former council members working on or advocating for developments.  I think we the public should also have knowledge if they’re getting compensated.

  2. Tia Will


    Thanks for the article. In the interests of fairness and transparency, I wonder if you would be willing to publish the same information for all of our sitting CC members.

    To me there is no difference between the use of money and support provided previously to select candidates by a special interest group, namely the firefighters, to those they felt would support their interests and the money spent by the development community and their investors and other supporters who constitute a special interest group equally capable of raising funds for their preferred candidates.

    I do not believe that money is the equivalent of speech. I join you in your concern, David and feel that immediate and full disclosure might be a step in the right direction. Also, in the interest of transparency, I would encourage anyone expressing an opinion to reveal the full extent of their involvement or interest in any project for which they are advocating and certainly see it as a responsibility of the press to point out these links when the speaker or writer has not chosen to disclose fully.

  3. Don Shor

    That’s a curious list. There are several on it who do not, to my knowledge, have “projects before him on the city council.” They’re just in the real estate business. I don’t think, for example, that Luke Watkins or Chuck Krouse or Jim Gray are seeking any special influence with Dan Wolk on behalf of their interests. They’re long-standing Davis citizens who probably support him for a broad array of reasons. So this spread sheet is misleading, to be charitable. 

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Pretty sure Luke and David just had an affordable project before council, can’t find it at the moment. The list I don’t think was intended to be exclusively for people with projects in front of council now. Jim Gray, btw, has had at least two projects recently, although I understand Panotani (sp) has gone away.

      1. hpierce

        Weren’t Luke and David proposers for the City-owned Fifth Street affordable site?  Who was awarded that?

        Think they represented/were involved in the Davis Senior Housing Cooperative proposal… along the lines of the Elanor Roosevelt project just down the street… don’t think they made it into the Final Three… it would be interesting to know WHEN they made those contributions via-a-vis the CC considerations of developer selection…

    2. Matt Williams

      It is certainly an interesting list Don.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say curious.  I would add Michael Bisch and Bill Roe to your list of three names.   They all have made generous donations to other parts of the community, and given the modest size of their donations to Wolk, don’t indicate red flags.  Project activity ebbs and flows though. Luke Watkins/Neighborhood Partners just got a big win in the awarding of the 2990 Fifth Street affordable housing RFP by Council.  Michael Bisch is reported to be involved in the Hyatt House proposal at 2750 Cowell Blvd next to Davis Diamonds.

      Lynne Yackzan and her family have been generous donors to lots of Davis causes, and since Lynne is the Treasurer of the Yackzan Group, the relatively larger contribution amount could be covering multiple people. On the other hand, the Tim Ruff and Dan Ramos and Royal Ganesh LLC contribution amounts are very modest given the very visible, open, and substantial nature of the projects they respectively have before the City.

      From the City website here is a list and map of the “Current Projects.”

      For information purposes, the following is a 2010-10-27 Map of Final Business Park Land Strategy Site Locations

  4. Sam

    That is amazing! Wolk has received no money for unions for his campaign? Or do expensive labor agreements and the merger with the UC fire department not count as something he has direct influence over as mayor and currently under discussion?

      1. Sam

        “The Need For Transparency Underlies the Problem of Money in Politics”

        The title of the article. Labor is the largest expense for the City, but for your one visual example of money possibly influencing politics you print a list of people involved in real estate and one very delicious restaurant (What are they developing?). Some of the people don’t even have any current projects under consideration, they just own buildings. Developments in Davis are not causing us to pay higher sales and property taxes.

  5. Alan Pryor

    I don’t think…..Jim Gray are seeking any special influence with Dan Wolk on behalf of their interests.

    As a long-standing CC observer, I don’t think I have ever  seen Jim Gray speak before Council except in the past year when Nishi or Mace is on the Council agenda. Then almost every time he is speaking during Public Comments advocating for their approval. Mace is proposed to be entirely a commercial real estate development. Nishi is proposed to have 325,000 sq. ft of  commercial development. Jim Gray is the largest commercial real estate broker in town and one of the larger contributors on Dan Wolk’s contributor list. Are the dots connected?

    If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck……

      1. Frankly

        I second that.

        I am 100% sure that Jim Gray isn’t pursuing any personal financial interest in his support of any Davis CC candidate.

        And this leads me to a point that seems to be overlooked here.

        As we noted last week, the typical citizen does not have this kind of money to give.

        This raises a point of irritation of mine.

        The reason that the firefighters are so successful has less to do with the money they contribute and more to do with the free manpower they give a campaign.   Without that free manpower a candidate has to pay for help.

        People that lack discretionary cash to contribute can donate their time.

        So what about the environmental or social justice activist donating their time to a candidate’s campaign because that candidate would reciprocate with votes in favor of the extreme environmental and social justice activist agenda?

        Time = money.  Money = time.

        This focus on money corrupting politics needs to be more balanced and objective unless it wants to tuned out for being just another attempt to give more power to unions and activists.


        1. Barack Palin

          Ha, maybe we should start counting the donated time at say $15/hour, the Democrat proposed minimum wage, and count that towards a candidate’s donations.

        2. Miwok

          It is telling that politicians who care so much for minimum wage progress use Volunteers or not pay people for services. OR ask said volunteers to donate MONEY after they have already given their time.

          Just like UCD asks STUDENTS to give money to help STUDENTS at UCD.

    1. South of Davis

      hpierce wrote:

      > equally interesting to know why they didn’t do a similar one for Saylor…

      Especially since Saylor has been taking money from developers (and firefighters) for over a decade (back when Dan was still a law student in Berkeley)…

  6. Tia Will


    People that lack discretionary cash to contribute can donate their time.”

    I largely agree with your point and would point out that the campaigns of some of our CC members were largely driven by individual volunteers who put in many, many hours on campaigns. However, I agree with a couple of caveats.

    Some groups with large amounts of money to spend can put in both time and compensated “volunteers”. Using the water project as an example, many people were unaware that some of the signature gatherers were paid individuals from out of town and actually knew virtually nothing about the project. This is one way in which having large amounts of money at your disposal can have a significant impact beyond that of the usual volunteer and it certainly does provide an imbalance in our system.

    A second point for me is not strictly whether or not any individual who donates large sums has a project “currently” before the council. This issue is whether or not they are consistently advocating for a particular point of view. This does not mean that I am demonizing them. I personally like Jim Grey very much. We, however, have very different perspectives on what is best for Davis. As he espoused at the recent forum on the future of growth in Davis, he sees growth as a necessity to prevent decline. I have yet to hear him speak out publicly against any project.I on the other, favor slow growth, assessment of the impacts of that growth within the framework of an over arching plan for a revised design plan for our community with buy in our citizens rather than a piecemeal approach to approving each project as it comes forward. I also do not see growth as a necessity but believe that there is a third option which is existence in equilibrium. We are not there yet, but that does not mean that we could not consider this as an alternative to the usual” growth vs decline” paradigm.

    My point is that the development community and its supporters have financial advantages that those of more limited means do not have, whether that is in terms of actual dollars, or whether it is in terms of “incentivizing” other individuals to get out and promote their point of view.

    1. Frankly

      Are you joking?  First, you have to define what the “development community” is because I have no idea?  Second, remember that we have a Measure R and that as many developments have been voted down as have been approved… and those that have been approved have done so on thin margins.

      You see, developers and people that tend to be more supportive of growth are generally not experienced political agitators.  They are not a perpetually organized political organization like are our public sector labor unions and our non-profits like the Yolo Land Trust.  Jim Grey is a local long-term resident and a commercial real estate broker.  As far as I know he is not retired and is still working full-time.  Giving money to campaigns and candidates he believes in is no more suspicious and no more imputable to political malfeasance than is individual and group contribution of man hours.

  7. Miwok

    What is too bad is that the Mayor or his mommy, cannot recuse themselves from something they obviously have a conflict of interest in voting about. Integrity is either refusing the money, or recusing yourself from voting.

    1. Tia Will


      One important difference. Whether you post under your own name or a pseudonym, you do not have the ability to vote on issues available only to the elected officials.

        1. Alan Miller

          LOL, how do we know we don’t have any council members posting on here anonymously?

          How indeed!

          I’ll bet the anonymous commenter who called me a “putz” was a council-member . . . or maybe was from the board of supes.

  8. Eileen Samitz

    David points out an excellent point that Lydia Delis-Schlosser is by no means simply a “long-term Davis citizen”.  More importantly she has better been known as an employee of John Whitcombe for issues like Covell Village (Measure X) where Lydia was a main player working for Whitcombe’s “Yes on Measure X” campaign group to try to get that really, really bad project passed for a Measure J vote.

    Being an avid bicyclist, Lydia was hired because she was “connected” to recruit whomever she could amongst the bicycle organizations  in town to support Covell Village. At least one of these bicycle organizations has used Tandem properties conference room on a regular basis for their meetings. So it is no surprise that some members of these bicycle organizations came out in support of the Nishi Gateway project that Whitcombe is a partner on due to Lydia’s influence.

    Lydia was also hired to try to recruit senior citizens to manipulate them into supporting the Covell Village project. Fortunately, Davis voters saw through the mis-information, and dis-information to mislead them, and dirty tricks like “pizza gate” where the developers offered pizza for “yes” votes from UCD students, but the developers “hired hands” working on this and other dishonest campaign stunts got caught, got reported to the Yolo County Elections Office and it wound up in the media. Thanks to the wisdom of the Davis voters, and word getting out of all the dishonest campaign stunts they tried, Covell Village was voted down.

    So interestingly enough, the same players of John Whitcombe, Lydia Delis-Schlosser, together the City Staff team of Katherine Hess, and hired consultant Heidi Tschudin are having quite the reunion, all working together again to try to get another bad project, Nishi Gateway approved.


      1. South of Davis

        Alan wrote:

        > It’s amazing how stupid and easily manipulated bicyclists,

        > senior citizens and students are.

        Maybe we should pass a law that developers can only hire big fat young cigar smoking SUV drivers from out of town.  With an older bike riding Davis resident in support of development many older bike riders will be “tricked” (and the free T-shirts are probably good for a couple hundred student votes)…

  9. Eileen Samitz

    Alan (Miller),

    Even though it appears that you are trying to be sarcastic, I am disappointed to see you post such a statement. Fortunately, Davis voters did see through the charade of mis-information that the “Yes on Measure X” campaign was distributing, and their deplorable actions during their campaign to try to get Covell Village past a Measure J vote.

    1. Alan Miller

      I am disappointed to see you post such a statement.

      I am disappointed in your disappointment.  Please don’t expect “better” of me.  You’ll be disappointed.

      And I voted for Covell Village.

        1. Alan Miller

          You are an anonymous coward, throwing insults from the safety of anonymity.


          I don’t take anonymous cowards seriously, even when I’m trying to be serious.  A


          t least have the courage to state your full name if you are going to make comments on people rather than issues.



          Nope, didn’t think so.

      1. tribeUSA

        “Don’t expect too much of people, and you will be seldom disappointed”

        From Tony Hillerman’s autobiography, “Seldom Disappointed”

  10. Eileen Samitz

    South of Davis,

    Not to worry. The mis-information and dirty tricks usually emerge from disingenuous campaigns, like what came out of Yes on Measure X campaign, and Davis voters figure it out.

  11. Misanthrop

    Another day another anti-Wolk hit piece by David. Below are links to the disclosure pages of Dan’s two major opponents. Go through them and you can find all sorts of interesting donations including thousands of dollars from PG &E, Tsakopoulos and others. But of course David only uses Dan’s contributors as an issue. Is our campaign finance system corrupt and broken? Of course. Yet everyone plays because its the only game in town. The real question is why does David continue to attack Dan like this. Could it be that David’s Captain Ahab like obsession with the firefighters causes him to attack anyone who doesn’t vote with David on every firefighter issue that comes along. That Dan was on the council that started to address the compensation issues and imposed a contract on the firefighters seems to count for nothing with David. That is what I find reprehensible.


    1. The Pugilist

      Your outrage is misplaced.  None of the other candidates are Davis City Council members so their campaign finance situation is illevant to here.  Davis operates with a $100 limitation for good reason.  Wolk is taking five to ten and sometimes even more times that amount from people with projects before the city council.  There is nothing in this article that attacks him for it, it simply reports it.  We can make our own decisions.  This has nothing to do with the firefighter issue, this is about transparency.  You acknowledge that the system is broken but then accept it.  That’s whack.

      1. Misanthrop

        Nice punch Pugilist but I can “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”

        The link above takes you to Joe Kravoza’s 2014 Assembly campaign donations where he took plenty of money over the $100 city council limit while serving on the council. I tried to get the data for Saylor from his first Supervisor run while he was on the council but can’t figure out how to mine it but anyway Saylor is taking money from  people who have business with the county too. Everybody does this and I don’t like it but its the system that exists. My problem is singling out one candidate when everybody is doing the same thing. Here is Saylor’s current data:

      1. Matt Williams

        CHUCK KROUSE, MONETARY, DAVIS, CA/95618, CHUCK KROUSE, BROKER            AMOUNT            $100.00
        G. WILLIAM STRENG, MONETARY, DAVIS, CA/95616, G. WILLIAM STRENG, HOME BUILDER            AMOUNT            $500.00
        GREGORY MCNECE, MONETARY, DAVIS, CA/95616, A&L SERVICES, INC. VICE PRESIDENT            AMOUNT            $1,000.00
        CHUCK ROE, MONETARY, DAVIS, CA/95616, DAVIS LOFTS INC., PRESIDENT            AMOUNT            $200.00
        PLUMBERS & PIPEFITTERS LOCAL 447, MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/95819            822258            AMOUNT            $500.00
        G. WILLIAM STRENG, MONETARY, DAVIS, CA/95616, G. WILLIAM STRENG, HOME BUILDER            AMOUNT            $1,000.00
        ROB ARAGON, MONETARY, LINCOLN, CA/95648, ARAGON SOLUTIONS, CONSULTANT            AMOUNT            $500.00
        INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS LOCAL 340 PAC, MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/95833            880039            AMOUNT            $250.00
        A. TEICHERT AND SON, INC., MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/95864                        AMOUNT            $2,500.00
        SHEET METAL WORKERS # 162, MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/95833            882292            AMOUNT            $500.00
        PLUMBERS & PIPEFITTERS LOCAL 447, MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/95819            822258            AMOUNT            $3,700.00
        OPERATING ENGINEERS LOCAL UNION #3 PAC, MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/95834            891402            AMOUNT            $500.00
        SHEET METAL WORKERS 104 PAC, MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/94583            850381            AMOUNT            $250.00
        JUDY OSWALD, MONETARY, DAVIS, CA/95618,  N/A, RETIRED            AMOUNT            $125.00
        CLARK PACIFIC, MONETARY, WEST SACRAMENTO, CA/95691                        AMOUNT            $1,000.00
        PLUMBERS & PIPEFITTERS LOCAL 447, MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/95819            822258            AMOUNT            $1,000.00
        INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS LOCAL 340 PAC, MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/95833            880039            AMOUNT            $250.00
        GRANITE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, MONETARY, SACRAMENTO, CA/95826            , AMOUNT            $500.00
        G. WILLIAM STRENG, MONETARY, DAVIS, CA/95616, G. WILLIAM STRENG, HOME BUILDER            AMOUNT            $1,000.00
        LABORERS LOCAL 185 PAC, MONETARY SACRAMENTO, CA/95814            870122            AMOUNT            $1,000.00


      2. Misanthrop


        I hadn’t wanted to wade into the minutia of Saylor’s donors but I want to make this point in response to Pugalist’s complaint because it strikes right at the heart of his argument. Don ran unopposed in 2010. As a result he had much of his campaign cash still in an account and transferred it to his current campaign account. If you look at the transaction dates of the donations many have two dates with the earlier date being when he got the donation and the later when he transferred it to his current account. So although Matt didn’t list the donation dates, many of the contributions do exactly what Pugalist is complaining about Dan’s donations. They were accepted when Don was on the Davis City Council and running for higher office, Supervisor, and were from people who had business interests before the city and were in excess of the $100 city contribution limit.

        I don’t bring this up to attack Don. I am only bringing it up to defend Dan from being singled out for something that is standard operating procedure in financing of elections despite the assertions of David and Pugilist.

  12. The Pugilist

    Tim Ruff if you are reading this – I support your project.  I think we need it.  But don’t play games here.  Lydia doesn’t have a lot of credibility with a lot of people after she orchestrated CHA.  She should have disclosed her ties to Whitcombe and your project.  She didn’t.  That’s on you.

  13. Eileen Samitz


    “South of Davis”,

    In my last posting to you I accidentally left off the letter “d” towards the end.  It should have read:

    “Not to worry. The mis-information and dirty tricks usually emerge from disingenuous campaigns, like what came out of Yes on Measure X campaign, and Davis voters figured it out.”

    And thank heavens Davis voters were totally seeing the deception and foul play which the “Yes On Measure X” campaign was pulling over, and over again. So not to worry. When mis-information and dirty tricks emerge from disingenuous campaigns, like what came out of “Yes on Measure X campaign”, it usually surfaces and when our community see’s that happening, it really ticks us off.


  14. Eileen Samitz

    Alan (Miller),

    I am sorry, but not surprised to see that you say that voted for Covell Village, which was really a terrible project for the City. You seem to be rather pro-development, except regarding Trackside near where you live, which by the way is also a terrible project as proposed.

    Trackside is too big, with too many impacts, and not compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods. It is unfortunate that you do not seem to have the same concern for other neighborhoods with projects which have terrible impacts being proposed on them too, from ultra-high density projects also being proposed near them.

    I would have hoped that you would understand that NONE of this “over-densification” is ok, and it is all being driven by UCD’s clear negligence in providing the on-campus student housing promised since 1989 in their MOU with the City, and further stated to happen at UCD in UC’s own “UC Housing for the 21st Century”. The on-campus student housing is the best environmental as well as the best overall planning solution for our City and the UCD campus.  It is unfair to the UCD students and to our community that UCD is trying to continue to defer its massive housing needs onto our small community, including your neighborhood.

    At this point this is a UCD and UC integrity issue regarding UCD keeping its word to our City.  If UCD really wants to have a positive “town and gown” relationship, as they have claimed to want, this is the way to start. Build the on-campus student apartments promised to our community and promised to the UCD students now.

  15. Alan Miller

    You seem to be rather pro-development,

    Actually, I’m anti-population.  I favor a horrible bird flue epidemic wiping out about 30-35% of the population, thus ending the need for infill, student housing and peripheral development.  It’s a win-win, except for all the dead people.

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