≡ Menu

The case for campaign contribution reform grows with each passing election.

Take the city of Monterey, for instance, where a reform-minded city councilwoman, Libby Downey, was knocked out of office in November by an opponent who raised nearly six times as much money, much of it from a segment of the business community that Downey had tangled with.

The successful candidate was Dan Albert Jr., son of the longtime Monterey mayor. In a three-candidate race for two seats on the council, he pulled in $53,365 compared to $9,411 for Downey and $8,549 for Alan Haffa, who retained his seat.

Downey and Haffa have led the city’s efforts to reform leasing practices at city-owned Fisherman’s Wharf, where some longtime tenants who negotiated sweetheart lease deals with the city decades ago are allowed to sublease the space to other businesses at greatly increased rates without the city receiving any share of the additional income.

The effort to change that and other practices has been met with furious resistance from wharf tenants, who have repeatedly  accused city officials of attempting to turn the wharf over to chain restaurants at the expense of local, family-owned operations. With Downey’s departure, the city has softened its approach to negotiating more taxpayer-friendly leases at the wharf. The city’s resolve weakened further when Councilman Timothy Barrett, previously in the Haffa-Downey camp on the issue, was somehow persuaded to switch sides. Haffa is now expected to be outvoted 4-1 on wharf matters, so the established wharf interests appear to have regained their grip on  city leasing policy.

Albert’s contributors listed in the most recent campaign spending reports include the Monterey Commercial Property Owners Association, $2,500; and two closely related entities, the Monterey Bay Action Committee and the Monterey Hospitality Association, $5,000 apiece. The $5,000 contributions came after the election and were presumably intended to help Albert build his treasury for a re-election effort. He also took in contributions from Monterey Fish Co., Randy’s Fishing Trips, the Cannery Row Co., Portola Hotel, Marriott Hotel and lawyer Tony Lombardo, who represents the Shake family interests on the wharf.

Incidentally, or not, in his previous role as associate superintendent of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Albert was an active participant in the pay-to-play system of awarding school bond contracts to companies that provide most of the financing for school bond measure campaigns.

The Monterey district was not alone, of course. School districts throughout California and beyond traditionally financed bond campaigns with contributions from bond underwriters and construction companies that would directly benefit from the resulting school construction contracts. In California, the state Treasurer’s Office only last year enacted regulations that prohibit contracts from being awarded to the firms that financed the corresponding bond measures. Bonding companies can still contribute to bond measure campaigns but they cannot then recover their investment directly by receiving contracts in the same communities.

No one has accused Albert of any illegal or unethical activities. The connection between school bond campaign financing and subsequent contracts has been so clear for so long that the built-in conflicts of interests were widely viewed as a necessary cost of getting schools built or repaired.

While Albert was the local school district’s chief business officer, his wife, Sharon, ran the successful Measure P campaign that raised more than $100 million in 2010, and she received considerable and justifiable praise for her efforts. With district officials barred from direct involvement in bond campaigns, companies that went on to receive sizable construction or finance contracts contributed the bulk of the money needed to persuade voters to approve the MPUSD bond program. A sizable share of the resulting construction work went to campaign contributor Harris Construction of Fresno, now under investigation for a bid-rigging scheme in Fresno. Others contributing to Measure P and then benefiting from the construction program included the Piper Jaffray and Stone & Youngberg bond firms, Keygent Advisers, a San Francisco bond counsel and a Fresno architecture firm.

Efforts to limit campaign contributions locally have surfaced from time to time but most have sputtered as local political action committees such as the Monterey Bay Action Committee and the Salinas Valley Leadership Group have stepped up to support the most commerce-friendly candidates. At the moment, however, momentum appears to be growing for new, tougher rules that would affect candidates for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ron Chesshire February 2, 2017, 11:15 am

    Not only the Board of Supervisors but all County elections. This is not to be confused with all elections within the County. The Board was made aware of the problem 4 years ago, it was referred for processing and little has been done since regarding moving to action on the issue. For so many progressives to be out there they don’t seem to be too aware of the issue, in fact some are the problem. Let’s get going folks!

    It is a problem throughout the whole County. At this time there are no limits. If the County works to set limits I would most certainly hope other jurisdictions take a look at what is happening or the potential for abuse that big money brings to elections within their realm. After all, we do have limits for State and Federal elections. Even other Counties and Cities have set limits. These are limits for Direct Campaign Contributions. With the direction we are currently in I see no change in what the Citizens United Decision (Supreme Court of the U.S.) has brought us regarding indirect contribution limits.

    All the elections up to now have been played by the rules (Rules? – there are no rules regarding limits) that have been established by the FPPC and I congratulate the winners for their effort and service. The trend has been upward regarding big money coming into local campaigns. It has been going on for some time. The potential is great for this to continue and increase. We have to ask ourselves the age old question, “In a Democracy, does this benefit the People”?

    For me, it is time to establish some rules regarding Direct Campaign Contribution Limits in County Elections. From there I hope it spreads to the Cities and other agencies.

  • Beverly Bean February 2, 2017, 11:21 am

    Monterey need only look to Pacific Grove’s campaign contribution law which includes stringent conflict of interest prohibitions, some of the strongest in the state. It was written and passed at a time (2006) when the P.G. city council had some excellent members, including former Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller.
    The ordinance is already written and vetted by the lawyers and all that is needed is a city council (or how about the County Board of Supervisors?) with the political will…obviously not the current majority. Hoping that all this will change in the next election.

    • Ron Chesshire February 2, 2017, 12:08 pm

      Pacific Grove’s rules (and I believe they are the only entity in the County to have rules) are pretty basic. They stick to candidates campaign committees with a limit of $600 currently from a single source and have an inflation escalator. No limit for aggregation of contributions (single source language needs to be beefed up) and no voluntary campaign spending limits. It’s a good start.

      • Ron Chesshire February 2, 2017, 12:19 pm

        And, regardless of where anyone stood on Measure Z, it may also be time to establish limits for measures on a ballot?

  • Joanna Greenshields February 2, 2017, 11:38 am

    So many issues to solve, it’s hard to know where to start.

  • Willard McCrone February 2, 2017, 12:38 pm

    Thank you, Royal, for airing this increasing and pernicious problem. The $53,000 contributed to Dan Albert Jr. must be a record for candidate campaign contributions in the City of Monterey. The amounts raised by Haffa and Downey are about right for this small city, and are mostly individual contributors who appreciated the diligent efforts those two candidates made to protect the public from avaricious Wharf and commercial interests. Historically, the Wharf business owners have done their business in the “back room” with ignorant and pliable city officials who didn’t even notice their cooperation in being taken to the cleaners. Will commercial campaign cash once again pervert the pursuit of the public interest?

    Regarding the Wharf, Haffa and Downey diligently did their homework to understand the decades long rip-off perpetuated by Wharf owners like the Shakes. Downey’s reward was getting booted from office by a candidate with an unheard-of campaign war chest. Dan Albert Jr is a nice man, but he is apparently ready to accept the propaganda of the Wharf Lords, and therefore garnered huge contributions to return the City Council to the old days, when the Wharf Lords could dupe City Hall. As his father once said of the Wharf, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It is broke. It is a relatively shabby business environment, but a gold mine for the subsidized merchants who have no need to upgrade their premises because they pay such cheap rent to the city.

    Your investigative report of campaign contributions fell short of visiting the campaign chest of Timothy Barrett. For some reason, never publicly exposed, Barrett authored a motion to revisit (retreat from) the new Wharf leasing policies less than 6 months after he voted for them. Why? Did, as has been rumored, he receive significant campaign contributions for the next election (2018) as quid pro quo for his motion? Who persuaded Barrett to circulate a propaganda sheet apparently written by Shake and Lombardo as his own?

    Haffa and Downey authored a motion to restrict campaign contributions and spending last year. It went nowhere. The other three members of the Council weren’t about to vote to restrict the power of the “good ole boys” in the back rooms and corridors of City Hall. Can the public not see the conflicts and corrupting effects of large commercial cash contributions in Monterey? Wake up!

    The propaganda campaign of the Wharf Lords is coming up again in February before the new City Council. We will see whether Albert, Barrett, or Roberson follow the money or protect the public from the rapacious Wharf merchants. One new lease is already in effect, and another in negotiation. Can the City Council be bought to turn back the clock? Will Chris Shake, in 2017, be able to extend his lease expiring in 2021 for another 20 or 30 years at rental rates that shock the conscience? Will Ted Balestreri be able to extend his ridiculous lease/management contract for the London Pub building (where in effect, the public pays a 65% management fee) for another 20 years? He was denied such a ridiculous extension three times in the past two years, but will this new Council cave in to paying a huge public subsidy to one of the richest men in Monterey County? I am not holding my breathe to see whether the public interest will prevail, with Alan Haffa as the sole champion for the taxpayer.

  • Royal Calkins February 2, 2017, 5:56 pm

    I sent an email to Tim Barrett today inviting him to respond to Bill McCrone’s comments.

  • Sam Donald February 2, 2017, 6:47 pm

    It is true that the FBI is currently investigating the Fresno Unified School District for improprieties with their no-bid lease-leaseback “locked-in” pre-construction services agreements with Harris Construction and other contractors.

    It is also true FUSD’s former Superintendent, Michael Hanson, was recently fired, presumably for his role in these questionable dealings with pay-for-play, school bond funds, and approving service agreements with contractors, bonding firms, and others.

    Before being elected to Monterey’s city council, Dan Albert was essentially the business guru at MPUSD, obtaining contributions for the successful school bond. Albert’s wife Sharon, was the chair of the school bond campaign. Albert made decisions on approving contracts, and dispersing school bond funds.

    Many of the decisions made at MPUSD seemed to mirror the activity that took place at FUSD, that got Michael Hanson fired, and launched the FBI investigation.

    At least, it certainly appears Dan Albert’s fingerprints are all over these highly questionable no-bid lease-leaseback/pre-construction “locked-in” services agreements and other Measure P bond fund deals that took place at MPUSD.

    Terry Bradley, a school business consultant, worked for both FUSD under Hanson and MPUSD with Albert. Bradley, who has been called by many as “the- fellow-in-the-middle-of-it-all” settled a SEC civil suit for alleged violations of the Dodd-Frank Act by providing contractors with inside information to secure school contracts, which amounted to unfair and deceptive business practices.

    Many experts in the education industry believe it is TOTALLY INCONCEIVABLE that Albert didn’t have some knowledge of Terry Bradley’s financial/business relationships with Harris Construction, Keygent LLC, TaylorTeter Partnership, TerraVerde Renewable Partners and others.

    There is no record that Albert ever alerted the MPUSD school board of some of these questionable dealings.

  • Beverly G Bean February 2, 2017, 6:55 pm

    Ron, I think you missed the very important conflict of interest part, Section 6 of the PG ordinance titled “Limitation Upon Exchange of Financial Advantages”: no councilmember can vote on an item which would financially benefit his or her campaign contributors. This includes receiving a contribution after voting to financially benefit the contributor and was due to real events which occurred ( and continue to occur ) throughout Monterey County.

    • Karen Araujo February 2, 2017, 11:05 pm

      Looking at Timothy Barrett’s city council race campaign filings (http://www.monterey.org/City-Hall/City-Clerks-Office/Elections/Council-Campaign-Statements?folderId=4073&view=gridview&pageSize=10), you’ll find this information: 9/24/14 – $1000 from Monterey Sportfishing Inc. dba Princess Monterey Whale Watching; 9/9/14 – $2000 from Nader Agha of Carmel, CA; 7/11/14 – $1000 from Benji Shake (Princess Monterey/Monterey Sportfishing); and on 6/24/14 – $1000 from Monterey Sportfishing Inc. Benjamin Shake. That campaign committee closed up shop 1/17/15. Those are all of the contributions of $1000 or more. If there is a 2018 committee somewhere, it’s not listed yet on the website.

    • Ron Chesshire February 3, 2017, 8:23 am

      No, didn’t miss it, just didn’t mention it. It is unique in the world of politics. Thank you for emphasizing it.

  • Karen Araujo February 2, 2017, 11:08 pm

    Looking at Timothy Barrett’s city council race campaign filings (http://www.monterey.org/City-Hall/City-Clerks-Office/Elections/Council-Campaign-Statements?folderId=4073&view=gridview&pageSize=10), you’ll find this information: 9/24/14 – $1000 from Monterey Sportfishing Inc. dba Princess Monterey Whale Watching; 9/9/14 – $2000 from Nader Agha of Carmel, CA; 7/11/14 – $1000 from Benji Shake (Princess Monterey/Monterey Sportfishing); and on 6/24/14 – $1000 from Monterey Sportfishing Inc. Benjamin Shake. That campaign committee closed up shop 1/17/15. Those are all of the contributions of $1000 or more. If there is a 2018 committee somewhere, it’s not listed yet on the website.

  • Jerry Duncan February 4, 2017, 12:28 am

    Congratulations, the Partisan has become Monterey’s finest example of spreading fake news. You forgot to mention in your diatribe about the Wharf that the City Manager provided clear evidence that the Wharf, under the current leases, provides a significant and profitable revenue stream to the City. As a matter of fact, it pays more than it’s share of tidelands expenses. Pardon the pun, but your entire argument is underwater.

    Also, the City is currently negotiating with a San Francisco based chain for the Balesteri’s spot. Say goodbye to local ownership and local ambiance.

    • Royal Calkins February 4, 2017, 11:16 am

      For those of you who aren’t familiar, Duncan is the former Fresno city councilman who works or has worked for the Fresno PR firm paid by wharf merchants to create a Facebook page accusing city leaders of planning to turn the wharf into a line of Hooters and McDonalds. He is correct about a couple of things. The city makes money from the leases at the wharf. There has never been any dispute about that. As for paying more than its share of tidelands expenses, we can take him at his word and ask him to explain why that might matter to anyone. Who else pays a share of tidelands expenses. It was Duncan’s associates in the wharf controversy who created Timothy Barrett’s white paper in which he grossly overstated the amount of sales tax revenue generated by the wharf. It is also correct that the city is negotiating with a San Francisco chain for one of the spots on the wharf. This is something to be concerned with. Interestingly, this is being done even while the majority of the Monterey City Council is considered friendly if not beholding to wharf interests.

      • Jerry Duncan February 4, 2017, 1:11 pm

        There you go again spreading fake news again. I am retired and do not work with or for anyone. I am just a frequent visitor to Monterey who loves it and the Wharf and I don’t like BS when I see it.

        • Royal Calkins February 4, 2017, 2:57 pm

          So you and your associate Holly Carter weren’t paid for your work on behalf of the wharf?

  • bill leone February 4, 2017, 2:15 pm

    Mr. Duncan, the fact that you are retired & are in love with Monterey’s Wharf has nothing to do with the fact that you have more than likely worked as a shill for Fat Cats & Their Families for most of your life.
    You lost the argument, get over it.

  • Beverly G Bean February 5, 2017, 7:29 am

    Thank you Ron, (I guess) for finding that the PG City Council recently overturned the strongest conflict of interest ordinance ever seen in these parts. And they did it on the Day of Infamy, December 7! I wonder who paid for that piece of work. A number of dedicated people spent many months creating that ordinance and getting it adopted. It is enough to make a person ever more cynical about those in power. “Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.

    • Dan Turner February 6, 2017, 11:59 am

      Lily Tomlin said that she sometimes thinks she is too cynical but, then, she finds out what has really been going on and realizes that, cynicism-wise, she can’t keep up.