Extremely Civil Parasites: Post-Election Reports Detail One Lobbyists Inordinate Control of Oakland Politics

Posted on February 3, 2019


Semi-annual financial disclosure reports were handed in to the Oakland Ethics Commission Friday, and they reveal vast–actually unprecedented–spending in the 2018 city council and mayoral elections.

Specifically, the anti-Desley Brooks PAC started by Police Commissioner Jose Dorado, Oaklanders for Responsible Leadership […], reported final fund-raising of $163,000, and spending of $195,000. This was by far the most money collected or spent by any single candidate fund-raising committee in any race in Oakland this election cycle, and perhaps ever. Even Abel Guillen and Loren Taylor, who finished the cycle as the star fund-raising city council candidates, raised and spent significantly less. Only Schaaf raised and spent more in the candidate races.


Added together, the funds of the two anti-Desley Brooks PACs, Oaklanders for Responsible[…] and Citizens for a United Oakland […] total nearly 230,000, an unheard of amount for an Oakland council race. And when all the spending against Brooks from the PACs, and her opponents Middleton, Taylor, Whittaker and Rodriquez are added together, just shy of half a million dollars was spent to oust Brooks as District 6 council person. According to my unofficial count, it’s the largest amount raised in any district council race in 2018.

Moreover, Dorado’s PAC raised quite a bit of money AFTER November 6. There could be several reasons contributors would want to donate after the election–of course, there may be internal fiscal year spending rubrics, taxes, etc. But other plausible reasons could include a desire to help a PAC pay outstanding debts. And Dorado’s PAC which spent money like Monopoly dollars looks to have had such debts.

In other cases, the PAC may overspend with the promise of reimbursement from later contributors–or even with the intent of hiding certain financers to avoid bad publicity in the run up to the election. Such funders would evade active scrutiny if they contributed late. And many would avoid the immediate filing of a 497 form which alerts the public to donations of $1000 or more within 90 days before the election. All contributors after the election are bundled into just one report, due to the city on January 31, over two months after the excitement and news of the election has dwindled.

PAC to PAC: Oakland Chamber’s PAC Funded 1/3 of the Anti-Desley Brooks PAC

Some late contributors to Dorado’s PAC should raise an eyebrow. Elaine Brown donated $1000 to Dorado’s PAC on November 19, 2018. Brown had already most likely violated Oakland’s campaign finance rules by contributing to Taylor and Middleton within 180 days of closing her purchase of land and securing of financing from the city of Oakland. Three Oakland cannabis entrepeneurs donated a total of $4,000. Two of them, Ron Gershoni and Michael McDonald, are partners in Oakland industrial cannabis producer Jetty Extracts, recently valued at $30 million. Robert Raich, a famed cannabis lawyer also contributed. Gershoni and Raich publicly opposed Brooks’ cannabis equity plan–with Gershoni’s astro-turf (or astro-weed) Oakland Diversity and Equity Cannabis Coalition going as far as submitting a similar, but diluted counter-proposal to undercut Brooks’ plan. Corporate cannabis money shows up again and again in the anti-Brooks funding and there can be no doubt it’s a response to her cannabis equity legislation.

But by far the most significant late donation came from the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s PAC, OakPAC. OakPAC’s contribution to Dorado’s PAC running up to the November 6 election was already substantial–$20,000 in three separate donations. But between November 8 and 19th, OAKpac donated even more–$37,000 more, for a total of $57,000.



OakPAC’s funding largesse is unprecedented to say the least. The 57k total donation to Dorado’s PAC represented over 90% of the Chamber’s political contributions for the entire year, and it was 95% of what OakPAC spent on all races for the November 6 election period. Yes, getting rid of Brooks was almost the only thing the chamber spent money on this year. Incredibly, the contributions to the anti-Desley Brooks PAC are greater than the amount the Chamber’s PAC spent in each Oakland election cycle of 2012, 2014 and 2016 election. Only 2014, with Measure Z and Mayoral race came close at 56,000. And it’s 1/3 of the entire sum of contributions the Chamber has made in Oakland races since 2012.



Like any PAC, OakPAC’s money comes from companies, orgs and individuals that share the goals of the Oakland Chamber–sometimes these are big-timers and sometimes small-money. But OakPAC’s donor profile switches from diverse donors with modest donations, to large single donations from high-powered real estate and development concerns on November 5 (the de facto financial end of the election period). In fact, OakPAC collected $42,000 in contributions between November 5 and November 16, and basically turned around and gave almost all of it to Dorado’s PAC.

Those contributors were all involved in Bay Area real estate and development, including Lane Partners (the developer of the Sears building for Uber) , Best Bay Apartments, Inc, and TMG Partners. In fact, these three real estate interests represented 30,000 of the amount raised during that period. Kiva Sales and Service, yet another Oakland-based corporate cannabis group, also made a large donation during that period.


A majority of the money OakPAC gave to Dorado’s PAC came late in the game and avoided scrutiny and was from large corporate donors, mostly involved in real estate/development. The OakPAC money represented 1/3 of the total amount raised by Dorado.


OakPAC, Gooding and the Tell-Tale Lobbyist Disclosure

Oakland’s lobbying disclosure forms are due on the same date as the financial disclosures, and they shed some more light on OakPAC’s entanglements. OakPAC’s Chair is John Gooding, a long time Oakland government insider and lobbyist (he is also in charge of Barbara Lee’s campaign fundraising), now part owner of Milo Group, a  lobbying firm. Gooding, Milo Group and its employees have been prolific funders of city council members over the years–Schaaf, Kaplan and Kalb have all received large direct donations.



Most recently, McElhaney made news when Gooding and his employees reached out to pay her legal bills for her ethics violations defense.


There’s a good reason for all this funding from Milo and its agents. Though Gooding’s bio at Milo presents him as some kind of Democratic party progressive, he enjoys a dual life as a mustache-twirling capitalist heel. At Milo (and elsewhere), Gooding represents the kind of unsavory corporations and interests that you would expect to see emerge in a floating fortress headquarters from a swamp somewhere in Louisiana.


Gooding’s Milo represented Waymo, Skip Scooters, Airbnb, and cannabis corporation, Harborside. Interestingly, Gooding also represented CannaRoyalty, a Canadian cannabis investment group buying into Oakland’s weed economy during the same time the company donated $5,000 to Dorado’s PAC.

Gooding also represented charter school and housing developer, Pacific companies, while Pacific tried to close a deal to buy city land to build a charter school. As public opposition to the deal grew, Gooding received at least $20,000 from Pacific to push the deal. And though public opposition finally won out, and apparently killed the deal, Gooding seems to still be on Pacific’s payroll and may be lurking in the broom closets and toilets of city hall waiting to revive it.



Finally, Lehigh Hanson, another of Gooding’s current clients trying to find a site in Oakland, is a serial polluter, the corporate equivalent of Godzilla’s Smog Monster, sucking cities and counties dry with lawsuits, polluting their waters, land and air. The company has sued to allow burning hazardous waste to fuel its kilns and was fined nearly ten million dollars for polluting an SF Bay draining creek. Gooding, the manager of OakPAC, the fund that gave the single largest contribution to the anti-Desley Brooks PAC, helps corporations like Airbnb and Lehigh suck urban centers dry by buying city council people and making them beholden to him for campaign dollars–councilors who may fear his reprisals should they stray.

And here’s the funny part. Lobbyists are required to list the names of the council people they lobby for each company they represent. Consistently and without fail, one name is missing from Gooding’s list and the lists of all Milo’s agents–Desley Brooks, either because she wouldn’t meet with Milo, or because alone among the council, Gooding saw no advantage in lobbying her.

There’s been a lot hit pieces and political attacks aimed at Desley Brooks in recent months, recounting her toxicity, mean-spiritedness and single-handed impediment to city council consensus. You can find this received wisdom in every current story about the new city council, and its new improved, “civil” politics now that Taylor sits in her seat.

Even if Brooks were half as bad as this deluge of media has suggested, what’s weird is that wealthy political players like Gooding not only refused to court her, but also spent every dime they could find to kick her out of office–at the same time representing parasitic companies displacing people and sucking resources from one city after another. Maybe they were civil, or something.

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