Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata has boasted repeatedly about his effort to pass a statewide ballot initiative that would fund cancer research. More than a year ago, he formed his own cancer-research committee to help finance the ballot campaign. But over the past twelve months, the former state senator has drained a significant portion of the committee's bank account on expenses having nothing to do with the cause to cure cancer. Campaign finance records show Perata donated at least $75,000 this year from the cancer committee to two East Bay nonprofits run by his former campaign treasurer and close confidante, Jill Cabeceiras, whom sources say is his ex-girlfriend.
Campaign finance records show that Perata's cancer committee, Hope 2010, donated $25,000 to the Oakland Parents Literacy Project and $50,000 to Avalon Village, a small Alameda organization that tries to keep seniors in their homes. Cabeceiras is the development director of the Oakland Parents Literacy Project and is the executive director of Avalon Village, according to the groups' latest tax returns. The two groups paid Cabeceiras $86,167 in the 2008-09 fiscal year. Perata, himself, is the president of Avalon's board of directors and sits on the literacy project's board. Perata mayoral campaign manager Larry Tramutola did not return a phone call for this story.
Ethics and political experts have previously questioned Perata's use of his cancer-research committee to fund non-cancer research-related issues. They have noted that if Perata were serious about the cancer-research initiative, he would not be spending so much money on non-campaign expenses because the measure will surely face deep-pocketed opposition from Big Tobacco this fall since it would place an additional $1 tax on cigarettes.
Campaign finance records show that Perata has loaned the main cancer-ballot campaign run by health groups $190,000 so far this year, but he also has spent large sums over the past year on expensive dinners and overnight stays at posh hotels. He has called these expenses "fund-raising," but campaign records show that he has failed to raise any significant funds for the initiative. Most of the committee's funds came from donations made when its primary focus was financing statewide infrastructure bond measures several years ago.
The former state senator also has used his cancer committee to finance a group of well-paid political consultants who also work on his mayoral campaign, raising questions as to whether he has been using the committee to fund his bid for mayor of Oakland in violation of campaign finance laws.
Perata, meanwhile, also continues to collect large sums from the state prison guard's union. The union paid him $40,000 in the first two months of 2010 — the most recent data available. The powerful union stated in its finance records that Perata has been working as a "campaign consultant," although it's unclear exactly what he has been doing because the union has mounted no political campaigns. Perata has long been an ally of the prison guard's union and as state Senate leader helped protect it from budget cuts.
Last year, the prison guard's union paid Perata $260,000 as a "campaign consultant." The union also donated $50,000 to Avalon Village. It's not clear why a powerful statewide union would be interested in a tiny nonprofit in Alameda — other than the Perata connection. But the large donation came in handy. It represented about a third of Avalon's annual revenues. According to state Fair Political Practices Commission records, Perata also solicited $55,000 in donations from other contributors for Avalon in 2008 when he was still a state senator.
Finally, it should be noted that San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson, a longtime Perata supporter, wrote a glowing piece last week about the Oakland Parents Literacy Project, and even solicited donations for it, without mentioning that the ex-senator sits on the board of directors and has been one of its main financial backers over the years. According to FPPC records, Perata raised at least $398,000 for the literacy project from 1999 to 2006. According to the group's tax returns, other board members of the nonprofit include Oakland Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, a longtime close ally and friend of Perata's, and Kerry Hamill, the ex-senator's former chief of staff.
The Oakland City Council is considering laying off at least 180 cops in an effort to bridge a $30-plus million budget deficit. The council also hopes that impending layoffs will convince the police union to agree to more compensation cuts. ... The Oakland Police Department, meanwhile, suffered a black eye when it was banned from future amateur boxing matches after a melee broke out during a "Badge V. Badge" event in Sacramento. Oakland cops apparently were upset that they had lost three straight fights to law enforcement officers from other agencies. ... Fifteen cats were killed in a fire at the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society, but a dog saved a woman's life in the blaze. ... Alameda Unified School District joined a potential landmark lawsuit that would increase funding of public schools statewide. ... And Tesla Motors, the electric car manufacturer, announced that it is moving into the former NUMMI auto plant in Fremont after Toyota agreed to invest $50 million in the company. However, Tesla's announcement apparently kills any hope of the Oakland A's building a ballpark at the NUMMI site, and means the battle over the team is now between Oakland and San Jose.