by Will Harper
City Council candidate Aimee Allison has dinged her opponent for being backed by moneyed interests like the Chamber of Commerce, but it turns out Allison has her own deep-pocketed supporters trying to buy the election. Last week as Mayor-elect Ron Dellums intervened on Allison's behalf and persuaded the Chamber to halt its campaign on Kernighan's behalf, Allison's backers were putting out two glossy mailers and at least one "push poll," a bogus survey designed to spread negative information on Kernighan.
"This woman is such a hypocrite and such a phoney," Kernighan fumes about Allison. "She doesn't even stand by agreements. There's this total double standard that nobody should be able to spend any money on me, but her independent contributors have probably shelled out $30,000 over the last three days on all this crap."
Allison spokesman Ben Wyskida says that the campaign has no control over independent committees. "These are pieces we didn't ask for and didn't want," Wyskida said.
If that explanation sounds familiar, it's the same one Kernighan gave when news spread that OakPAC was going to dump at least $58,000 into the race.
Earlier this month OakPAC sued the city, challenging its rules restricting the spending of independent expenditure committees as an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. A federal judge agreed, and suspended the campaign-finance rules until next month and OakPAC reps planned to spend at least $58,000 on Kernighan's behalf.
But Allison complained that the court order unfairly changed the rules at the last moment and gave OakPAC an advantage. She pressured Dellums to denounce the attempt to "buy the election," which resulted in OakPAC agreeing to halt its campaign (although the business PAC had already sent out two mailers for Kernighan by that point).
It appears that a pro-Allison mailer paid for by San Francisco attorney Steven Phillips would have been legal under the rules in place before the federal judge's ruling. However, an anti-Kernighan mailer sent by a group called Oaklanders for New Leadership appears to take advantage of the rule-change decried by Allison and her backers.
The group's hit piece says, "Since Pat Kernighan took office, HOMICIDES HAVE TRIPLED in our neighborhoods." According to records on file with the city clerk, Oaklanders For New Leadership paid $10,778 to produce an mail the piece on October 27. On October 25 - a day before Dellums held a press conference announcing his deal with OakPAC-- philanthropist M. Quinn Delaney, chair of the ACLU of Northern California, gave $35,000 to Oaklanders for New Leadership.
Under Oakland's campaign law, a recipient committee like Oaklanders for New Leadership can spend only $300 per donor per mailing. If the group is relying on the $35,000 donation from Delaney to finance the mailer attacking Kernighan, it would be violating the old city rules, campaign finance experts say.
Meanwhile, San Francisco attorney Steven Phillips spent $11,160 to finance a mailer that also criticizes Kernighan for letting crime get out of control. (Does anyone find it weird that a Green Party candidate is running on a crime-fighting platform?) Experts say that an individual like Phillips would not have been restricted by the spending limits under the city's old rules.
Kernighan supporters believe that Phillips also financed a "push poll," phone calls designed to plant negative information about candidates in voters' minds. The pollster reportedly asked things like, "Did you know that Pat Kernighan has associates that have been interviewed by the FBI for corruption?"
Phillips did not immediately return a phone call. He used to serve on the SF Board of Education and now is involved in PowerPAC, a political committee devoted to social justice issues.
As you might guess, OakPAC officials are pretty pissed. OakPAC president Michael Colbruno issued a statement saying, "The activity by Allison's supporters is deplorable and makes us wonder if her attacks on independent expenditures by OakPAC and the Democratic Party were only meant to squash our ability to exercise our right to free speech in this election. We demand that Allison call on her supporters and millionaire friends to cease all attempts to buy this election with negative campaigning."
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