Money talks, and as voters it is important that we pay close attention to who is funding our local council races. After all, it is those interests that the candidate, if elected, will really represent. I have found that reviewing the six city council candidates' campaign finance disclosure forms, called Form 460s, reveals a lot more about the candidates' real positions than their own campaign materials or partisan letters to the editor.
In my review, I determined the following: Contributions from interests outside Petaluma amount to more than 40 percent of the nearly $60,000 raised by the candidates collectively. Less than a third of the total was raised within Petaluma, with the remaining roughly 25 percent coming from debt financing. One has to be very concerned about candidates who rely almost exclusively on funding from outside Petaluma.
For example, according to my calculations, 78 percent of Gabe Kearney's support comes from outside Petaluma (only nine of Kearney's contributors could be accurately identified as being from within city limits, if you include Council Member Mike Harris's contribution). As another example, only 18 percent of the funds that Mike Healy raised for his campaign came from Petaluma. By contrast, Jason Davies and Alicia Kae Herries received the majority of their funding from local sources.
These numbers speak volumes about how the candidates will perform in office, who will have access to them, and who will best represent the interests of Petaluma. The candidates know this, and a number of them have completed their financial disclosure forms in ways that may obscure their actual funding sources. For example, Mike Healy's most recent disclosures — these are certified under penalty of perjury as true, complete and correct — lists a Mr. Larry Wasem as "Investor, self-employed" when Mr. Healy knows full well that Mr. Wasem is the managing general partner of the Airport Business Center, and also lists a Mr. Matthew Sherrill as "consultant, self-employed" when he, and anyone with an internet connection, knows that Mr. Sherrill is a former vice president of Basin Street Properties ("BS Properties") and remains close to BS Properties, builder of the Theater District and the major developer in town.
In another instance, Mr. Healy lists the individual who helped prepare the EIR for Dutra's asphalt plant without providing any information whatsoever as to that individual's occupation and employer. Indeed, there are more than half a dozen additional examples where the candidate's funding sources are obscured by what appear to be less than accurate or complete answers about who is funding his campaign.
Of course, campaign contributions aren't the only source of potential conflicts of interests: the candidates' "day jobs" should be considered as an indicator of where else the candidates' real sympathies may lie. The two candidates that are attorneys — Healy and Miller — might very well represent private business interests that come before the City Council. They therefore owe the voters full and affirmative disclosure as to their past and present clients so that the public can assess whether they have a conflict. (As an attorney, I have to question the wisdom of having any attorneys who won't disclose who their clients are, on the council, much less two of them.)
For voters, the choices couldn't be clearer. If we continue to elect these "same old, same old" candidates, many of whom lack any kind of actual local support in Petaluma and are propped up either by money from outside interests or from debt financing — we are sure to get the same old results. Or, we can throw our full support behind the candidates who are locally funded, and who won't have their professional interests come before the public interest. If we don't follow the money, and don't demand full transparency both in financial disclosure and in professional conflicts, we are doomed to more of the same.
Before you cast your vote, follow the money. We certainly don't want candidates that are bought and paid for by outside interests, and we don't need any council members who won't tell us who else they represent when they're not representing us, either.
(Andrew Packard is an attorney who works and resides in Petaluma.)