The Oakland Public Ethics Commission voted 3-1 last night against a proposal by City Attorney John Russo to double the contribution limits in city election campaigns. However, the ethics commission’s vote is not binding, and Russo’s plan will now likely be taken up by the Oakland City Council later this month. Russo’s proposal is generally viewed as a boost for the mayoral candidacy of Don Perata, a prodigious fund-raiser who has deep-pocketed donors, while being bad news for Perata's main opponent, Councilwoman Jean Quan, who is mounting a grassroots campaign.
Russo is recommending doubling the individual donation limit from $700 to $1,400, arguing that the old rules were based on two election cycles — a primary and general election — but ranked choice voting, which goes into effect this year, will eliminate the need for a primary. However, the ethics commission voted against the proposal after dozens of opponents of Russo’s plan sent letters of protest and came to speak out against it at last night’s meeting, arguing that it would increase the influence of big donors on city elections. The only commissioner to vote against the commission’s resolution to reject Russo’s proposal was Alex Paul, although his objection appeared to be based on procedural grounds.
It’s also unclear how the council will vote on the issue. Quan will surely vote against it, while Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, a close friend of Perata’s, likely will vote for it. The issue will be particularly sticky for Councilwomen Pat Kernighan and Desley Brooks, who are both seeking reelection this year. If they vote to double the contribution limits, they likely will be accused of trying to rig the elections in their favor.