Oakland Councilwoman Jane Brunner used to oppose term limits. But in recent weeks, she has done an about-face on the issue, and now supports them. In fact, she's asking the rest of the city council to put a term-limits measure on the November ballot. But what Brunner hasn’t mentioned publicly is that Oakland campaign manager Larry Tramutola is expected to run both her campaign for city attorney this fall and the term-limits measure at the same time, thereby giving the councilwoman a potential unfair political advantage on Election Day.
However, there is no contribution limit or spending cap for ballot measures. As a result, Tramutola could raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for the term-limits proposal. And he could use as much of that cash as he wanted to help Brunner’s campaign for city attorney by featuring her in ads and mailers, advocating on behalf of term limits. The only prohibition is that the ads would not be able to specifically advocate for Brunner’s candidacy for city attorney.
If Brunner’s council colleagues agree to put her term-limits measure on the ballot, it would not be the first time that an Oakland politician has been able to get around the city’s campaign expenditure caps. In 2010, there was evidence that Brunner’s former mentor, ex-state Senator Don Perata, used a ballot-measure committee with no campaign finance limits to help boost his mayoral campaign, which had spending cap.
In an interview, Brunner said she became a recent convert to term limits after seeing all the candidates who have lined up to replace her on the council. She also denied that she’s pushing the ballot-measure to boost her run for city attorney. “I didn’t bring it forward for that reason,” she said. “I haven’t had any of those conversations” with Tramutola. However, when asked whether she would be okay with Tramutola using her in ads for the term-limits measure, she demurred. “I’d have to think about that,” she said.
Until Brunner makes up her mind and vows to stay out of the term-limits campaign completely and Tramutola hands off the term-limits measure to another campaign manager, the council should reject Brunner's proposal — not because term limits are inherently a bad thing, but because it could give her an unfair advantage in the city attorney’s race. If Oakland residents really are ready to embrace term limits, then it should be the product of a grassroots, signature-gathering effort to put it on the ballot, and not the result of a decision made by councilmembers that could aid the political aspirations of one of their colleagues.