Has Perata Already Broken the Spending Cap?



Ex-State Senator Don Perata launched TV ads over the weekend in his quest to become Oakland’s next mayor, raising questions as to whether he has violated the city’s campaign spending limit. As reported by numerous media outlets, Perata was close to reaching Oakland’s $379,000 expenditure limit for mayoral campaigns before his ads went on cable television. One of Perata’s ads ran during the San Francisco 49ers game Monday night on ESPN.

Perata may have decided to launch the TV ad campaign and exceed the city’s cap because a Sacramento political group, Coalition for a Safer California, declared late last week that it had gone over Oakland’s spending threshold for independent committees — a move that could lift all spending caps in the mayor’s race. Perata's campaign manager Larry Tramutola did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

At the same time, it’s unclear whether the declaration by the Sacramento group is sufficient to lift the caps or if the Oakland Public Ethics Commission or the Oakland City Attorney’s Office must make that determination. Both city agencies said earlier today that they are looking into the matter. It’s a novel issue, because no group or candidate has ever exceeded the city’s spending limits before. Councilwoman Jean Quan, who is also running for mayor, plans to call on the Ethics Commission tonight to examine expenditures made by Coalition for a Safer California to determine whether the group really has exceeded Oakland’s cap.

If the city ultimately decides that the group has not gone over Oakland’s limit for independent committees, then Perata might face hefty fines — if he also violates the city’s cap for mayoral candidates. Under city law, candidates who break the cap can face fines of up to three times the amount they overspend. So if Perata goes over the cap by $50,000, he could face a $150,000 fine.

But if the city says Coalition for a Safer California has exceeded the cap, then Perata is free to spend as much as he wants to win the mayor’s office and can blanket the TV airwaves with ads.

However, Perata’s close relationship with the Sacramento group raises questions as to whether he has been coordinating with it in violation of city and state laws. The group is run by Perata’s longtime friend, Paul Kinney, and is funded primarily by Perata’s primary employer, the California prison guard’s union. The union has paid the ex-senator at least $409,000 since early 2009. Quan also has filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission, alleging that Perata and Kinney’s group have been coordinating illegally on fund-raising activities.

Quan also has launched her own ad-mail campaign, pointing out Perata’s numerous legal and ethics problems over the years. The mailer, sent to Oakland voters last weekend, shows two doors, one depicting a Perata mayor’s office, and one showing a Quan mayor’s office. The Perata door says, “Special Interests Only,” while the Quan door reads, “Everyone Welcome!” Inside the Perata door, the mailer reads “Don Perata: A history of conflict of interest,” and then details numerous news stories over the years about his questionable dealings. Behind the Quan door is a list of the councilwoman’s accomplishments. Quan's mailer represents the first time in the campaign that a mayoral candidate has decided target Perata's troubled past