Friday, October 20, 2006

Federal Judge Says Oakland Chamber Can Buy Election

By Will Harper
Fri, Oct 20, 2006 at 3:22 PM

OK, so the judge didn't really say that. But he may as well have. The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber's political action committee, or OakPAC, now can spend $116,500 it couldn't before under city campaign finance rules. The beneficiary of this largesse will be the chamber's candidate in District 2, Councilwoman Pat Kernighan, who's in a dogfight with Green Party upstart Aimee Allison. OakPAC filed a lawsuit on October 11 challenging an obscure provision of the city's campaign finance law limiting the spending of independent expenditure or soft-money committees. The rule limits committees like OakPAC to using only the first $300 of any donation they get toward the support or defeat of any candidate. In other words, say, if developer Phil Tagami made a $5,000 donation to OakPAC, only $300 of that donation could be used to finance a hit piece against a candidate the committee no likee.

In court papers, OakPAC chairman Michael Colbruno, a Clear Channel billboard exec, said his committee and others wanted to pool $116,500 to spend on "various communications regarding the election, including direct mail, door hangers, slate cards, and automated telephone calls, and to distribute these materials to as many voters as possible." Under the current rules, Colbruno said, OakPAC could finance only one direct mail piece.

The OakPAC chairman didn't say which race he wants to influence, but, well, there are only two elections for public office in Oakland next month: auditor and council district 2. No one cares about the auditor's race except the candidates themselves. The District 2 race, meanwhile, is being closely watched since the results could tip the balance on the city council and make it less developer-friendly.

"It's sad that any organization would to these lengths to try to buy this election from the people," Allison said.

OakPAC attorney James Sutton said chamber reps decided to file the suit after seeing a judge toss out a similar rule in San Jose last month.

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