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Biggest spenders in Berkeley elections see mixed results

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NOVEMBER 17, 2014

Election Day in Berkeley this year saw the impacts of the more than $1 million poured into the city’s most contentious measures — although the final votes yielded mixed results for the election’s biggest spenders.

The monetary contributions to ballot measure campaigns dwarfed the amount spent on City Council candidates. Sean Barry and Lori Droste, the council candidates who received the most money, raised about $37,000 and $34,000, respectively, according to recent campaign finance documents.

In contrast, more than $2 million went into opposing a single measure, the “soda tax” — more than six times the amount spent on all measures and candidates combined in 2010, the last midterm election. Of all city ballot measures, two in particular pulled in the most money.

The battles over Measure D, a 1-cent-per-ounce distribution tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, and Measure R, a set of regulations on Downtown development, both saw the opposition outspending the measure’s proponents. But while the No on R campaign won after raising thousands more than the measure’s supporters, the No on D campaign lost by a landslide despite receiving $2 million more than Yes on D.

According to Ray La Raja, an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, money matters but may not turn the vote if voters are deeply biased against a measure.

“Money can make a big difference to frame a debate,” La Raja said. “But if voters are predisposed to hate an issue, no amount of money can change that.”

Funds falling flat

The Measure D battle in particular began with a marked disparity in the monetary contributions received by the two sides. By the start of October, the American Beverage Association California PAC had donated $1.4 million to the No on D campaign. The beverage association is a trade organization with executives from PepsiCo Inc. and the Coca-Cola Company sitting on its board of directors.

Meanwhile, Measure D supporters mainly fundraised by reaching out to friends, “kind of really just begging people to support this,” said Sara Soka, who managed the Yes on D campaign.

“Most of our donations … for the first six, seven months were grassroots donations,” Soka said. “There were parents, there were teachers, people representing nonprofits, City Council members.”

In October, though, the Yes on D campaign received some of its heftiest donations. It received $23,000 from the American Heart Association, $15,000 from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and $85,000 from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also paid for a Measure D commercial that played during the World Series. This spike in support brought the Yes on D campaign’s monetary contributions to approximately $1 million.

The opposing side received more than $2 million, including donations from the movie theater operators Regal Entertainment Group and Silver Cinemas Acquisition Co.

Roger Salazar, spokesperson for the No on D campaign, acknowledged that pre-existing inclinations of city residents may have given the soda tax measure an advantage.

“The political demographics in Berkeley made it obviously an uphill climb,” Salazar said. “We ran the best campaign we could, given the local demographics of the city.”

The American Beverage Association contributed more than $8 million to the opposition campaign on a similar soda tax posed to San Francisco voters in November, which did not pass. Unlike the Berkeley measure, the tax in San Francisco required a two-thirds vote to pass instead of a 50-plus majority.

On Election Day, opposition to Measure D fizzled, winning under 25 percent of the vote.

R for Realtors

Although the Measure R campaigns did not receive nearly as many funds, the most recently filed campaign disclosure documents show an even wider gap between its yes and no sides, compared to those of Measure D. No on R received about $245,000 in monetary contributions in comparison to Yes on R’s approximately $20,000 — roughly 14 times as much money.

“We were going up against big money,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who spearheaded the measure. “When your opponents outspend you 14 to one, your voice gets drowned out.”

Measure R consisted of a 28-page set of changes to current regulations on development in Downtown Berkeley, including new height and sustainability requirements and a reduction of the hours during which alcohol could be sold. It would have changed aspects of the Downtown Area Plan, an advisory document for Downtown development that is consistent with the ideas of a different Measure R that passed in 2010.

Arreguin criticized the No on R campaign for receiving contributions largely from developers and real estate groups, which he said opposed the measure only because they feared it would cut into their own profits.

No on R’s biggest contributions included $50,000 from the California Association of Realtors, $95,000 from the National Association of Realtors and $10,000 each from Berkeley development company Panoramic Interests and property owner and contractor Jay Lakireddy.

But according to Tim Frank, manager of the No on R campaign, the opposition to Measure R also captured labor and environmental interests — the groups Yes on R aimed to represent.

Its donors included the District Council of Iron Workers of the State of California and Vicinity and the Sheet Metal Workers’ Local Union No. 104.

According to Frank, many of the No on R supporters this year came from those who supported the Measure R that passed in 2010, which posed to voters policies aimed at revitalizing Downtown development. Arreguin opposed the 2010 Measure R partly on the basis that it did not provide for enforceable community benefits, which his new Measure R sought to offer.

“It’s really a re-engagement of the same constituencies, a rematch,” Frank said.

The Yes on R campaign in 2010 raised only about a quarter of this year’s No on R funds — Frank attributed part of this year’s success to the National Association of Realtors, which they appealed to for help. Still, he said that despite outspending its opponents, the No on R campaign “didn’t have enough money to do anything fancy.”

“That army of volunteers out there really made a big difference,” Frank said. “They didn’t provide a lot of funding, but what they did provide was their voice.”

But Arreguin said the amount of money that went into this year’s election was “extremely troubling,” calling the number of “big corporate dollars” unprecedented.

Moving things forward

Along with major funding from the beverage association’s PAC, this year’s election also saw the formation of a new political action committee by the union that represents Berkeley Police Department personnel.

According to Berkeley Police Association President Sgt. Chris Stines, the association formed the PAC because it anticipated the coming years to be a time of change for Berkeley politics, partly due to the fact that several City Council members are approaching retirement age.

According to Stines, association members contributed about $300 each as part of their dues, adding up to $50,000.

The police association paid for campaign materials in support of City Council candidates Barry and Mike Alvarez Cohen, who both lost in their respective districts. Overall, Barry received about twice as much money as his opponent, roughly half of which came from outside of Berkeley.

The association also spent money to oppose Measure R and to support Linda Maio, who won another term after 22 years on council.

“We feel like we’re helping move things forward politically,” Stines said, adding that the PAC would likely continue in future elections.

Although most deadlines for campaign disclosure documents have already passed, the deadline for filing the postelection statement for November’s measures and candidates is Feb. 2.

Candidate Spending

Below is an interactive graphic exploring the differences in campaign funding among Berkeley City Council candidates in this year’s election. Click a district to see how much candidates in that district raised. The interactive graphic was built and designed by Philip Cerles and Sahil Chinoy. Please view on a desktop computer.

Corrections: A previous version of this article stated that Sean Barry received about $46,000 and Lori Droste received about $24,000 in monetary contributions. In fact, they received about $37,000 and $34,000, respectively. A previous version of this article stated that the No on D campaign received more than $3 million in monetary contributions. In fact, it received more than $2 million. A previous version of this article also stated that the No on R campaign received about $345,000 in monetary contributions and the Yes on R campaign received approximately $23,500 in monetary contributions. In fact, they received about $245,000 and $20,000, respectively.
Contact Melissa Wen, Philip Cerles and Sahil Chinoy at [email protected]

FEBRUARY 11, 2015