Disparity in Fundraising Apparent in Council Race

Photo: Berkeley City Council 2010 election fundraising by candidate and district.
Katherine Maslyn and Persia Salehi/Staff
Berkeley City Council 2010 election fundraising by candidate and district.

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With this year's Berkeley City Council elections only two weeks away, significant gaps in funding for the four district races has both drawn attention to the high levels of money spent by some candidates and left others frustrated with current campaign finance rules.

Seats in Districts 1, 4, 7 and 8 - occupied by incumbents Linda Maio, Jesse Arreguin, Kriss Worthington and Gordon Wozniak, respectively - are up for election Nov. 2, with District 7 candidates raising the most money to fund their campaigns and District 1 candidates raising the least. Of the three candidates for District 7's seat, Cecilia Rosales has raised the least - but still $7,290 more than District 1's top-grossing Maio, according to the most recent city campaign statement filings, which cover contributions raised up until Sept. 30.

"Just the amount of money you spend on getting such a small amount of votes - it's ridiculous," said District 8 candidate Stewart Jones.

Of the 13 candidates across the four district races, District 7 candidate George Beier leads in campaign funding at $36,798, followed by Wozniak with $31,660, according to the filings.

"I don't think anybody in Berkeley's history has come close to Beier and Wozniak," Worthington said. "They are the mega-bucks of Berkeley elections. They've changed the face of their campaigns by their mega-bucks spending."

While contributions are necessary to run a campaign, most candidates agree that money is not the deciding factor in this year's elections.

"What really matters is having a good ... campaign to get out there and talk to voters," Arreguin said. "Unfortunately, in politics, you need money to get your message out there."

The race for the District 7 seat - between candidates Beier, Rosales and Worthington - has drawn attention as the city's most expensive council race. Behind Beier's $36,798, Worthington has raised roughly $20,481 while Rosales trails at $11,285.

Beier has earned a reputation for outspending his competitors, losing to Worthington by a margin of about 200 votes after raising $106,387 - about $60,000 more than Worthington's campaign - in 2006.

"The fact that (Beier) spends a lot of money gets him extra votes, but the voters of Berkeley are pretty smart and just the amount of money he spends hasn't gotten him elected the last two times," Worthington said.

This year, Beier said he is approaching fundraising and campaigning with more "authenticity."

"Four years ago, I spent a lot of my own money," he said. "We're doing the opposite this time ... I've learned it's all about message."

Candidates from every district race expressed the need for campaign finance reform to set a limit on total contributions. Contributions from individual supporters are currently capped at $250.

"When I chose to run, I wasn't thinking about money," Rosales said. "I believe you should be able to run because you believe in something passionately."

District 4 candidate Jim Novosel, who has raised $7,215, said since the District 7 race is neck-and-neck, the amount raised for those campaigns is much higher than funding for his race will ever be.

"I'd rather spend that money on my kids' education or give it to a charity," he said.

Some candidates accused their most well-funded peers - particularly Beier and Wozniak - of accepting contributions from big corporations and developers, which Arreguin said could be perceived as "buying votes."

According to the filings, a large number of individual contributors with contracting and real estate-related jobs, such as two donations from contributors with San Rafael's Wareham Property Group, have donated to Beier's campaign.

Both Beier and Wozniak said that despite accusations of running "big money" campaigns, they are running grassroots campaigns due to the $250 limit on individual contributions and their door-to-door campaigning.

In comparison, Worthington has received contributions from several environmental workers, Rent Stabilization Board Commissioners and the Berkeley Firefighters Association.

Though some candidates disapprove of the high funding levels achieved by others, the impact of money on this year's election remains unclear.

"I would hope that the money would not be a factor in it - that people would make an intelligent decision based on what the city needs - but maybe I'm just an idealist," Novosel said. "I don't know really if it's going to be a factor until Nov. 2. We'll see how it plays out."


Contact Mary Susman at [email protected]

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