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Does Outside Money Corrupt an Election?

A recent report found that more than 40 percent of all contributions to council candidates came from people or companies outside of Petaluma. Is it no big deal or a negative influence on politics?

Should it matter that a city council candidate gets his money from someone who doesn’t live in town?

Yes, says Petaluma Tomorrow, a local organization and political action committee that advocates for transparency in government.

“A contribution is an implicit statement that ‘We are on the same page,’” says Greg Reisinger, chairman of the 11-year-old group, which is also a political action committee and endorses candidates. “When someone makes a contribution they expect access, particularly on a local level.”

The organization (which has endorsed Alicia Kae Herries and Jason Davies) has recently put out a report analyzing contributions to the six Petaluma City Council candidates, including how much of the funding comes from what the group describes as “outside interests.”

Read the full report on the right

By Reisinger’s definition, an outside interest is a person who does not live or work in Petaluma or a company that is not based here, yet seeks to influence local politics through their contributions.

As an example, Reisinger cites Basin Street Properties, the real estate developer which owns Theater Square, the Golden Eagle Shopping Center and many other properties around Petaluma and whose headquarters are in Reno (the company has an office in Petaluma).

Another is Ghilotti Brothers, based in San Rafael and whose owner lives in Marin County, but that is a frequent bidder for local road works projects.

“Here is somebody who doesn’t live in Petaluma and doesn’t have a business here, yet wants business here and is consistently contributing money to local candidates to acquire that,” he says. “It’s important to know that a candidate is getting a significant amount of their funding from people who can’t even vote in Petaluma.”

The report found that 41 percent of all campaign contributions came from outside Petaluma and that some candidates’ campaigns were almost completely reliant on outside funds. The maximum an individual can contribute in a city election is $200, which many argue is limiting and forces candidates to seek funding anywhere they can get it.

Gabe Kearney, appointed to council in January 2011 and who is seeking reelection, received 79 percent of all his contributions from people living outside Petaluma, according to the report. Councilman Mike Healy received 67 percent and former Planning Commissioner Kathy Miller 58 percent.

Tiffany Renee also received 57 percent of her contributions from out of town, Alicia Kae Herries 43 percent and Jason Davies 35 percent, the report found.

But not everyone agrees that people living outside of Petaluma is automatically an “outside interest.”

Kathy Miller, in a questionnaire by Occupy Petaluma said that many people living outside the city are impacted by decisions made here, including its roads, available stores and recreational amenities.

(Miller is one of the authors of Measure X, which seeks a parcel tax to fund improvements for local parks and sports fields.)

“I'm glad that I have support from the residents of Petaluma as well as those non-residents who are directly impacted by decisions made by the Petaluma City Council,” Miller told Patch in an email.

“Of course I will be representing the residents of Petaluma if I am elected. However, I'm finding in my discussions with voters who live in Petaluma as well as those people who don't but consider Petaluma to be their town, that they all want the same things - better roads, increased funding for public safety and better recreational facilities.”  

Kearney said that he had supporters not only in Petaluma, but throughout California and the country as a result of years of networking.

“Limiting myself to donations from only within the city limits is prohibitive to my ability to raise funds for my campaign,” he said.

Sound off. Are you concerned about the influence of outside money on local elections? Don’t consider it a big deal? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Greg Reisinger October 31, 2012 at 08:12 AM
Bill, Nothing wrong with it and there are many reasons why a candidate may receive out of town contributions. They can range from a supportive friend or family member to a special interest hoping to promote their view. At the same time it is informative and says something about a candidate who receives a preponderance of their contributions from outside interests -- more than that contributed by the community electing them. To Jaimiey's point below, Petaluma Tomorrow proudly and publically contributed to Susan Gorin. We did so because, if elected, she will be voting on issues of direct impact on Petaluma and represent everyone in the County so it is somewhat different from the head of a development company based in Nevada contributing to Petaluma City Council candidates. In the last six years Petaluma Tomorrow was an “outside interest”one other time when it made a contribution to Deb Fudge for Supervisor. Hope that sets the record straight! Greg Reisinger
Bill Fishman October 31, 2012 at 10:45 PM
I'll put your point of view in my pipe and smoke it, Greg. My problem is that where a politician gets his or her money gets trumped, in my view, by what he or she believes and how he or she behaves. I don't much care for hat tricks and back-stabbing. I don't care for people whose real agendas are hidden. I get annoyed when a politician doesn't answer a direct question clearly and honestly. And I have had it with negativity -- both on the campaign trail and in council chambers, legislative halls, and Congress. I'll admit to being more tolerant of politicians that I agree with than those that I don't. But a mad dog is a mad dog whether he's yours or somebody else's. Either way, he's likely to bite you if you don't keep him on a short leash.
Bruce Keating November 05, 2012 at 05:08 AM
Have you actually reviewed the campaign finance statements or are you just relying on the erroneous assertions and skewed numbers of Petaluma Tomorrow, which has endorsed two candidates and paid for inaccurate hit pieces targeting three of the candidates? Did you know that all the candidates stated they would not engage in negative campaigning? If we can't trust Herries and Davies to abide by that simple promise, do we really want them on our city council? I think not.
Sharpie November 05, 2012 at 03:15 PM
"Support for Kill List and NDAA make Obama and Romney Unfit for Office" Read more: http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/reawakening-liberty/2012/nov/2/support-kill-list-and-ndaa-make-obama-and-romney-u/ See if there is a clear winner to our Presidential Election 2012. Make a special note to watch the Free and Equal Election Debate between third party Presidential candidates, Gov. Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Dr. Jill Stein (Green), to be aired tonight on Monday evening, Nov. 5th from 9:00 - 10:30 pm Eastern Time. Perform a worthwhile civic duty, and be certain to listen in on this historic debate so that you can make an informed decision on voting day. Third party candidates who will be on the ballot in most states deserve to be heard. http://freeandequal.org/?v=1
George Barich November 06, 2012 at 05:38 AM
Of course money can corrupt an election or candidate. For over a decade, as a candidate for local office I have refused to accept any and all donations as not to be another bought and sold politician in the back pocket of somebody, somewhere. The issue is my time is worth something, no?. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars of my own time and money running for public office or defending my seat on the council for daring to tell the truth and not go along just to get along.... There is no place on FPPC forms to list these expenses or contribution of my time, sweat, and lost hair. There is no way to list the money I spent on my education in government, economics, and public administration on FPPC forms either which I bring to the job. The income lost from my normal job by being active in local affairs for 15 years can't even be calculated with any certainty. The time away from my family and friends untold. The vacations I never took, ignored. Outside contributions, if any, would be a drop in the bucket and not even worth my time to hold my hand out.

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