This isn’t the easiest post to write, so let me set the table for you.
At last year’s California Democratic Party Convention, the big news was the election of a new Party chair – progressive Eric Bauman or more progressive Kimberly Ellis. When Ellis spoke before the DPOC, the foundation of her platform was about keeping “Dark Money” out of our party. This Dark Money was defined as contributions from big banks, big pharma, and big petroleum. Ellis never addressed how she, as chair, might handle a significant contribution from the Silicon Valley billionaires and her failure to do so soured me on her candidacy.
It takes money to run for office. You can’t really do it effectively on $27 in individual contributions. And candidates can’t control how PACs and IEs spend their money to help or hurt a campaign. But there are still rules about how much money you can collect from individuals depending on the office you seek.
The Democratic Party still stands for public financing of election campaigns and wants to keep big money out of politics ($30 million paid by the NRA to elect Trump and he certainly knows where his bread is buttered when it comes to policy).
President Trump launched his re-election campaign the day after he was sworn in. So he filed for an election that was three years and nine months away in January 2017. Many chuckled.
In Irvine, candidates for city council can raise $490 per contributor. $980 per couple. IEs tied to developers spend millions sending mail to promote candidates of both parties and tear down candidates of both parties. And these same developers tend to spread the money around and make “non-partisan“contributions but always pro-development. The beneficiaries are the candidates who remember the developers who buttered their bread (see Don Wagner and Christina Shea as shining examples of this).
Melissa Fox is the sole Democrat on the Irvine City Council. She has aligned herself with Wagner and Shea – two of the most homophobic electeds in Orange County – and has become a reliable pro-developer vote. Votes that benefit FivePoint and their consultant Starpointe Ventures, and other developers like The Irvine Company and Sapetto Development.
Last year, Fox opened a “Melissa Fox for County Central Committee 2020.” An elective office where the election is scheduled for the Primary vote date in 2020 – three years before any voter can cast a ballot. The report is on file wih the county ROV (the PDF won’t attach for me here). This office doesn’t have the limitations of running for city office. For example, Fox is being honored at a 50th birthday party fundraiser at TAPS Fish House on Jamboree in Irvine this Wednesday at lunch hour. Suggested contributions are $75 to $2,500.
The invitation features Fox’s position as an Irvine City Council member and some have questioned how she can collect way over the city’s campaign contribution limitations. The answer is the position she’s running for is not a city office.
With very few exceptions, running for DPOC Central Committee races – an unpaid and volunteer position with six representatives per assembly district – costs nothing. The vast majority of candidates raise no money and do little campaigning. Some districts don’t have enough candidates and require recruitment to appoint members.
Through 12.31.17, Fox’s Central Committee campaign coffers have raised nearly $21,600 and she’s spent more than $17,500.
Fox has used this account to make contributions to several Democratic candidates including Ashleigh Aitken for Anaheim Mayor, Betty Yee for Controller, State Senator Connie Leyva, Ed Hernandez for Lt. Governor, Vince Sarmiento for Santa Ana City Council, David Heywood for Anaheim Elementary School District, Jamison Power for Westminster City Council, Jose Solorio for Santa Ana City Council, State Rep. Tom Daly, and a maximum campaign contribution for Lauren Johnson-Norris for Irvine City Council (Johnson-Norris also received $490 from Fox’s law practice, The Fox Firm and $490 from Michael Fox for a total of $1,570 from the Fox’s and entities they control). This account also paid $850 to the DPOC, presumably for Truman dinner tickets and an ad based on the September timing).
Additionally, this account paid more than $3,100 to Winning Strategy Campaigns in Anaheim, just under $2,000 to Daniel Robertson for campaign paraphernalia/misc, nearly $2,500 for credit card payments with no explanation what expenses the payments covered, and $130.42 to Gina’s Pizza 7 Pastaria for “office expenses” – some paperclips with your pepperoni?
It is highly unusual for a Democrat who is an elected official to have a committee to raise funds for an election for a volunteer post where the election is three years away.
Significant contributions to the Fox for Central Committee 2020 account include:
• $5,000 from AAGG in Cupertino, CA
• $1,000 from Little Tree Montessori International School in Campbell, CA
• $1,500 from Southwest Regional Council of Carpenter’s in Los Angeles
• $2,500 from Oliver Wyss, the general manager of OC Soccer Club that plays games at the Great Park under very favorable terms from the city.
One contribution that sticks out is $10,000 from the Orange County Victory Fund made on November 2, 2017. That form is on file with the California Secretary of State’s office by searching for Orange County Victory Fund.
This fund used to be managed by former DPOC chair Frank Barbaro where it principally benefitted Miguel Pulido in Santa Ana and Larry Agran in Irvine. But the fund was dormant for almost all of 2017 until it received a $12,000 contribution on October 27, 2017 from Starpointe Ventures, a FivePoint Consultancy managed by Patrick Strader; a week later Fox’s Central Committee account was $10,000 richer with a check from the OC Victory Fund.
And around that time, Fox was hosting training sessions in her Irvine home to instruct volunteers on how to block petition gatherers for the Ed Pope Referendum on opposing the Veteran’s Cemetery land swap – a referendum FivePoint hoped to defeat. And more than 19,000 Irvine residents – mostly Democrats – went through triage to sign that petition that will come to a vote on June 5.
Is this “dark money?”
In early December, Fox voted with Wagner and Shea to approve two 15-story buildings – a hotel and an office building near John Wayne Airport — where the city sided with a FAA consultant who was paid for by the developer to approve a project that the city’s Airport Land Use Commission and the California Department of Transportation labeled “a potential air travel hazard.”
In January, the City Council majority favored a Strader backed IBC development with limited affordable housing over a competing project with nearly three times the affordable/low income housing.
On Fox’s part; as voters, we must question the ethics of accepting $10,000 from a dormant PAC that had one contribution from a developer with multiple projects before the city council.
But on the question of legality, Strader might not be in the clear here. But this is a question for the FPPC to determine. I am filing a complaint this week.