Hollywood film producer Bryan Zuriff has pumped $148,000 into a new committee that is backing Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan’s candidacy for mayor, campaign finance records show. The new committee was formed by Oakland Port Commissioner Michael Lighty and the California Nurses Association, which also has reported spending $66,000 on Kaplan's behalf. The $214,000 in last-minute spending for Kaplan represents the first major outside expenditures for a mayoral candidate other than ex-senator Don Perata.
The new large expenditures promise to boost Kaplan’s candidacy in what looks to be a close election. It also is an indication that the nurses’ union believes Kaplan has a legitimate shot at winning. The union's other major efforts this year have been on behalf of Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer, who both appear to be cruising to victory. The new spending also helps Kaplan get her message out, because she has not been able to raise as much money as Councilwoman Jean Quan, who has been flooding Oakland with mailers in recent weeks. As for Perata, he’s been outspending all the candidates by a huge margin.
The California Nurses Association, itself, reported spending $51,000 on a recent mailer for Kaplan. The nurses’ union then donated $15,000 to a new committee it set up with Lighty, called Citizens for Rebecca Kaplan for Mayor 2010. Zuriff, whose film credits include the Academy Award nominated film, The Messenger, donated his $148,000 to that committee.
The new committee, in turn, has already reported spending $85,000 on Kaplan’s behalf — $54,000 for two mailers and $31,000 for other advertising, including web ads. The committee bought ads on the Express' website. The committee also reported spending $9,000 on a mailer in opposition of Perata. To date, mayoral candidate Jean Quan’s campaign had been the only political committee to attack the ex-senator for his many questionable dealings over the years.
Records show the new committee supporting Kaplan still has about $69,000 to spend on her behalf before Election Day. Zuriff, who works with well-known Hollywood film and TV producer Mark Gordon, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment for this story, and so it’s not clear why he decided to spend so much money on Kaplan’s behalf. State records show that Zuriff is not a big financial player in California politics.
Like Kaplan, Lighty is a prominent member of Oakland’s gay and lesbian community and he’s a former longtime member of the city’s planning commission. If elected, Kaplan would be the first openly lesbian mayor of a large California city. Lighty, who works for the Oakland-based California Nurses Association, was a flashpoint of controversy earlier this year when Mayor Ron Dellums nominated him to the port commission. When ex-Mayor Jerry Brown originally appointed Lighty to the planning commission, he was expected to be a reliable vote for developers, but like many of Brown’s appointees, Lighty turned out to be no rubber-stamp. In January, Dellums decided to use his council tie-breaking powers for the first time in his tenure to get Lighty on the port commission. Kaplan also supported Lighty.
Lighty, however, directed inquiries about the new Kaplan committee to Martha Kuhl, a board member of the California Nurses Association. Kuhl, a nurse at Children’s Hospital, said the nurse's union decided to endorse Kaplan, set up the committee, and make expenditures on her behalf after interviewing her. Kuhl said Kaplan is committed to setting progressive public health policies in the city. “We think she has a real chance to bring change to Oakland,” Kuhl said, adding that many of the union’s members live in Oakland and are Kaplan supporters. Kuhl, however, could not provide insight into why Zuriff was funding the new committee.
The Kaplan campaign said it did not coordinate with Lighty, the nurses’ union, or Zuriff. Doing so would have been illegal under state and local laws. Still, the campaign clearly appeared excited about the last-minute spending.
The new committee, however, wasn’t the only one reporting large expenditures on behalf of a mayoral candidate in recent days. Coalition for a Safer California, a Sacramento group with close ties to Perata, reported spending $55,000 on a new round of TV ads on behalf of Perata, along with $26,000 on a new mailer, touting Perata’s candidacy. That means the group has now spent $222,000 trying to get the ex-senator elected, pushing total spending for Perata over the $1 million mark.
As the Express reported Monday, the group recently got $25,000 in donations from Oakland A’s owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher. Wolff, who desparately wants to move his team to San Jose, said the donation had nothing to do with Perata’s recent statements that he thinks the San Jose move is a done deal. Kaplan and Quan have said they will work to keep the A’s in Oakland.