We’re all aware of the corrupting influence of money in politics. Special interests donate to candidates and, of course, expect to get favorable policy decisions in return. Of course, I can’t change this entire situation by myself. What I can do is run a clean money campaign that appeals to the average voter in Southern Alameda County and their interests, not on who has the deepest pockets that could help me run a very well-funded campaign.
I’m pleased to see this issue getting more attention on the national level. My own Congressmen, Ro Khanna, is the Chair of the “No PAC” Money Caucus. Currently, only seven members of Congress, including Congressman Khanna of course, have made a pledge not to accept lobbyist of PAC contributions. There is also growing support for overturning the Citizens United decision via a constitutional amendment.
My Commitment to Running a Clean Campaign
In all of my prior campaigns for Fremont City Council, I pledged not to take contributions from developers. I am making that same commitment for this campaign. For this campaign, I am also not taking contributions from from any PACs, or special interests.
When Council members take campaign contributions from those that stand to profit from their decisions, it introduces a major conflict of interest. I believe that the best thing to do is to avoid any appearance of impropriety and not accept campaign contributions from developers that stand to profit off of the decisions the Council makes.
The Influence of Campaign Contributions in Fremont Politics
How exactly does the influence work in Fremont? Instead of making vague allegations let me look at a specific issue in Fremont, Patterson Ranch, and state a couple of verifiable facts.
- The descendents of the Patterson Family, the current property owners of the land at Patterson Ranch, have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Fremont City Council candidates over the years.
This is a fact that can be verified by campaign financial forms.
- When the Council voted in October of 2010 to amend the General Plan which allowed for nearly 300 additional homes to be built on this property, the value of the land increased dramatically, on the order or tens of millions of dollars.
The new units that are now allowed to be built would conservatively be valued at $1,000,000 each for a total value of $300,000,000. That’s 300 Million dollars of additional building that is now allowed! Of course, there are construction costs to build these homes. However, it’s obvious that the value of the land is significantly higher given that many more units can now be built on it.
I would also argue that this project did nothing to benefit Fremont in the long run. Being on the edge of town it’s not good, sustainable development. It is a pure residential development in a sea of existing residential development. And there is no elementary school, nor the money to build one. I’ve written much more about Patterson Ranch and schools on other pages of my website.
Another example of this is the original “Ballpark Village” project that was going to require the approval of 3,150 new housing units. Again using the conservative figure of $1,000,000 per unit, this would have allowed the building of over a three billion (!) dollars worth of residential units. Obviously, development interests had a lot riding on that project. (The owner of the A’s, Lew Wolfe, did provide a campaign contribution to one of my competitors in 2012.)
A State and National Problem
Of course, most of the emphasis on ‘clean money’ campaigns is at the state and national level.
At the California state level, the California Clean Money Campaign is supporting the Disclose Act that will force political ads to clearly display who is funding the ads. This will be important for many of the complex propositions that end up on the ballot in California, and the confusing ads that accompany them. They are currently working to pass Assembly Bill 1648 in the California legislature.
At the national level, most people are aware of the Citizens United case that was decided by the Supreme Court in 2010. It allowed for “Super PACs” to collect unlimited amounts of money that can be spent in political campaigns. I have to give our own State Senate member Bob Wieckowski a shout out for pushing through legislation making California the sixth state calling for reversing the Citizen’s United decision.
The 2012 campaign season showed the effects of the Citizens United decision. Campaign spending records were not just broken but were shattered. Much of the news of the Republican primary in 2016 revolved around a few billionaires and their decisions whether to donate a few million to a candidate or not. I have never seen so much political power in the hands of so few people in American politics.
What Can You Do to Decrease the Influence of Money in Campaigns
The most important thing that the average voter can do is to invest the time it takes to learn about the candidates’ positions on the issues they care about, and to get out and vote in every election. Instead of being swayed by TV ads or colorful mailers, research the positions of each candidate. This is simple enough advice but, of course, not followed by many. Many people know little more about an election than what the candidates had to say in slick, well-financed TV ads.
This November, I hope you will consider voting for the candidate for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors that is not at all influenced by developers or special interests that stand to make money as a direct result of the Board’s decisions.