Oakland City Attorney John Russo is recommending that the city raise its individual campaign donation limits from $600 to $1,200 because there will be only one election this year. The city attorney’s recommendation also appears to be good news for ex-state Senator Don Perata, whose mayoral campaigned ended 2009 nearly broke after spending more than $100,000, primarily on expensive consultants. By contrast, his main competitor, Councilwoman Jean Quan, had nearly $60,000 in the bank as of January 1.
According to campaign finance reports filed Monday with the City Clerk’s Office, Perata raised $115,396 last year, but spent $100,643. His campaign reported having $42,818 on hand as of December 31 because of funds left over from 2008, but it also noted that it had $28,604 in unpaid debts. In other words, the campaign began the year with a net balance of just $14,754 after spending months on fund-raising. In addition, Perata spent most of his cash on high-paid consultants, and has yet to mount a direct-mail campaign.
Quan, by contrast, has run an almost all-volunteer effort. She raised $66,946 last year, but spent only $7,018. “We’re running a grassroots campaign,” she said. “We print our own flyers at home. We have no staff. We have all volunteers.”
Perata’s fortunes, however, could change if the council adopts Russo’s recommendation, because the senator has relied heavily on big donors over the years. Perata announced last month that he was abandoning his promise to limit donations to more than $100. Perata campaign manager Larry Tramutola did not immediately return a call for comment.
In an interview, Russo said that he received no influence from any candidate or anyone else outside his office. He said it makes sense to raise the limit to $1,200 because under the previous rules, donors could contribute $600 during the primary season and another $600 in the general election. But this year, there will be no primary because of ranked choice voting. “The cap on influence was $1,200 before, and it would be $1,200 now,” he said.
But Quan said Russo’s recommendation represents “an attempt to go around the Public Ethics Commission,” which usually takes up such issues before they go to council. Commission Executive Director Dan Purnell said that the City Attorney’s Office talked last fall with the commission but did not recommend raising limits. “Commissioners said that ‘if and when a proposal is made, we’ll look at it,’” he said.
But Russo said that he did not believe it was his office’s role to make a recommendation to the commission, and that it should have done so on its own when given the chance. He said he decided to go directly to the council because it needs to address the issue quickly in order to clarify the rules for the 2010 campaign season.