Campaign finance: Accountable Belvedere pours big money into fighting Measure D
Accountable Belvedere, the committee opposing the city’s Measure D charter-and-tax plan to raise funding for a proposed road-fortification project, has spent at least $40,000 so far in its efforts to defeat the initiative — more than six times the spending of the Yes on D coalition and more than all other local races combined.
That figure could be even higher, as the organization initially formed as a 501(c)(4) social-welfare nonprofit that doesn’t need to disclose its activities until the end of the year, after the election, or reveal its donors at all.
Meanwhile, the committee in support of the Nov. 8 ballot measure, Neighbors for Keeping Belvedere Safe, has raised nearly twice as much in reported donations at more than $21,000 to Accountable Belvedere’s $12,000, though the latter’s earlier nonprofit likely has more yet-undisclosed income.
Under Fair Political Practices Commission requirements, the first set of pre-election campaign-finance reports for all committees and candidates was due Sept. 29 for a period covering July 1-Sept. 24. That includes the committees for the Measure D campaign as well as for Measure M, the parcel-tax proposal for southern peninsula residents to preserve 110 acres of private Tiburon Ridge land as open space, and the candidates for the Belvedere and Tiburon councils, Tiburon fire district board and Reed Union school board, among others.
All committees were also required to file a semi-annual report by Aug. 1 for any election activity prior to July 1.
Accountable Belvedere, launched by residents David Flaherty, Suzanne Du Molin and Greg Wood, argues the proposed 0.8-percent real-estate transfer tax is an unfair “exit tax” that skirts voter protections and would generate a blank check for City Hall. Transfer taxes are a general tax that require only a simple-majority vote, and the charter is necessary for Belvedere to legally levy it. General-tax revenue goes into a city’s general fund, so the city isn’t legally bound to spend the revenue on the infrastructure plan. Opponents say this is ripe for abuse and makes promises that future councils aren’t required to keep. They say the city should follow the spirt of the law, in which specified-purpose projects must be funded by either a parcel or property tax that requires two-thirds’ voter approval, and then revenue can be spent only on the intended project.
They also say voters should have had the chance to cast their ballots on an approved, shovel-ready project, not one still facing revisions; the draft environmental-impact report was released just last week and won’t be reviewed by the City Council until after the election.
In its first report, Accountable Belvedere listed no fundraising, loans or expenditures. Wood, acting as committee treasurer, said early Ark advertisements, emailed newsletters and other activities were instead paid for by the 501(c)(4) — a legal but controversial entity since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, which allowed social-welfare nonprofits to engage directly in politics with loose guidelines and limited disclosure rules. Such nonprofits are subject to oversight by the IRS, which has been criticized for lax enforcement of the nonprofits. Accountable Belvedere’s nonprofit purchased Ark ads totaling $2,244, but no other activity was known at press time.
The group declined to provide the nonprofit’s filing early, saying it would not be prepared until closer to its actual end-of-year deadline, but Du Molin did say there has been no additional, concurrent activity under the nonprofit since the campaign committee was created in June.
In the committee’s second filing, Accountable Belvedere reported nearly $12,000 in contributions, including $1,000 from Wood and $500 each from Belvedere City Council candidates Brian Davis and Richard Snyder, who have made fighting Measure D — and potentially repealing it if it passes — central to their campaigns.
The top contributor was Joan Glick-Emery donating $5,000, followed by Christian Sundt at $2,000 and Thomas Chen donating $1,600. Giving $1,000 each were Michele Lapine and Olivia Decker. Janis Cherry, James Draeger, David Lake and Cynthia Webbe all gave $500, Wendy Stovell $300, Jeff Finegold $250 and Phyllis Garrick $100.
The committee reported another $61 total in individual contributions of less than $100, which don’t have to be itemized.
Flaherty and Du Molin did not make reportable donations to the campaign, but Flaherty loaned Accountable Belvedere $11,250, bringing total fundraising — donations plus loans — to $26,561.
Accountable Belvedere's major expense was to campaign-consultant Strategy Insights of Woodland for about $22,000. Of its total $39,653 in expenditures, $27,755 was unpaid at the filing deadline.
Yes on D committee
By comparison, the pro-Measure D group, Neighbors for Keeping Belvedere Safe, had raised $21,023 in donations, $2,102 of which came from small individual donations of less than $100.
Early donors to the campaign included a number of those in city government who’ve worked on creating the infrastructure project and its funding plans from its infancy over the past decade. Yes on D Chair Bob McCaskill, a member of the city’s Finance Committee and a former mayor, donated $1,000, as did current Mayor Sally Wilkinson, herself a former Finance Committee member credited with creating the charter-and-tax plan and who sat on the now-defunct Committee to Protect Belvedere’s Seawalls, Levees and Utilities. Wilkinson is seeking election on the Nov. 8 ballot to a two-year term.
Her husband, Serge Marquie, was the largest donor at $4,000. Kevin Burke, Wilkinson’s campaign treasurer and a member of the Planning Commission, donated $1,000.
All the remaining councilmembers — James Campbell, Nancy Kemnitzer, Jim Lynch and Peter Mark — also donated $1,000. Mark is seeking election to a four-year term on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Former Mayor Sandy Donnell, whose husband, Justin Faggioli, is also a former mayor who sat on the Finance Committee that developed the tax plan, donated $500.
Other major donors include Steve Silberstein, $2,500; Andrew Allen, Ben Jacoby and Laleh Zelinsky, $1,000; Janis Crum and Elle Stephens, $500; Robin Eber, $300; Magda Wesslund, $250; Sue Hoeschler, $200; and Geri Thayer, $180.
Of Keeping Belvedere Safe’s $6,800 in expenses — $3,580 unpaid — about half, $3,225, was to The Ark in the form of advertisements. It spent about $1,400 on campaign mailers from MSI Litho of San Rafael and $1,430 on campaign consulting with PMCohen Public Affairs of San Rafael.
Keeping Belvedere Safe’s organizers say the tax initiative is needed to fortify San Rafael Avenue and Beach Road as a public-safety measure to protect utilities and infrastructure, and to ensure the two main arteries are passable for first responders and residents in the event of a major disaster, such as an earthquake.
According to geotechnical evaluations by Miller Pacific Engineering Group, San Rafael Avenue and Beach Road levees were built on bay mud and have settled 4 feet since construction roughly 80 years ago, with another half a foot expected in the next 30 years and 1.2 feet over 100 years. It said a major quake could displace the roads 3 to 24 inches, while the U.S. Geological Survey says there’s a 72-percent chance a 6.7 or greater magnitude quake will hit the Bay Area before 2044.
Officials have pledged to use the entirety of the transfer-tax toward retiring the bond debt and then initiate another ballot initiative to sunset the tax early; the tax would otherwise sunset automatically in 30 years.
Belvedere City Council
Belvedere’s two City Council races are fueled in part by Measure D factionalizing, with unofficial slates campaigning heavily for potential control of the board. Three total seats are up for election, enough that the anti-Measure D candidates can gain a majority vote if they sweep the ballot.
In the race for two four-year seats, incumbent Mark and candidate Jane Cooper support the project, while candidates Davis and Snyder oppose it. For the single two-year seat, incumbent Wilkinson supports and challenger Carolyn Lund opposes.
Wilkinson: She has brought in donations of $3,589, of which two-thirds, $2,389, was in small non-itemized contributions of less than $100. Her major donors are Andrew Allen and Elle Stephens, giving $500 each, and Sandy Donnell giving $200.
Her $2,471 in expenses went mostly to campaign mailers, as well as to an ad in The Ark and to stationary.
Lund: She filed as a campaign committee rather than a candidate, having collected $1,500 in donations. Her donors were Janis Cherry, $500; Spencer Hosie and David Lake, $200; and Anne Butler, Edith Gibson, Reese Jones, Margaret Pozzo, Linda Remy and William Rothman, $100. She had $1,596 in expenses, mostly for Ark ads.
Lund also purchased a $599 ad as “Friends Supporting Richard Snyder, Carolyn Lund and Brian Davis for City Council 2022.”
Mark: He reported receiving $3,171 in donations, including $1,000 from himself and $1,971 in small donations. Former Councilmember Steve Block — whom Mark was appointed to replace on the council — donated another $200. Mark had $458 in expenditures on buttons, stickers and other campaign materials.
Though the report is required to cover July 1-Sept. 24, his report only lists activity from Aug. 3 to Sept. 13, the date he filed. In a text message, Mark said he had no campaign activity before Aug. 3 and was away on a trip, so there was no activity after Sept. 13.
Cooper: She received $2,341 in donations, including $500 from herself, $941 from small donations and $100 from Superintendent of Marin Schools Mary Jane Burke, as well as $185 worth of campaign pins from Pat Carapiet, who chairs the city’s Planning Commission. Her major donors include John Carapiet, $500; Elle Stephens, $200; and Melvyn Mark, $100.
She had $1,214 in expenditures, half of which was in Ark advertisements and the rest on campaign filings and materials.
Davis: He reported no donations, but he loaned himself $25,000 and has spent $9,502 to date — including nearly $4,000 on custom campaign playing cards, about $1,800 on legal services and about $1,300 on yard signs.
Snyder: He said he’s been self-funding his campaign and did not expect to receive or spend more than $2,000, and he wasn’t required to file a report.
Tiburon Town Council
The only Tiburon Town Council candidate to file a finance report was incumbent Alice Fredericks, who raised $2,087, including a $1,500 loan to herself and an $87 self-gift for her campaign website and email. She received $500 in donations, including $200 from former Mayor Tom Gram and $100 each from Len Sellers, former Mayor Joan Bergsund and former Marin Planning Commissioner Randy Greenberg.
She reported no expenditures.
Fredericks is in a three-way race for four seats with incumbent Mayor Jon Welner, incumbent Councilmember Jack Ryan and challenger Isaac Nikfar, a member of the Parks, Open Space and Trails Commission; they did not file reports because they hadn’t raised or spent $2,000.
Tiburon Fire Protection District board
Challenger John Hamilton was the only Tiburon Fire Protection District board candidate to file a report, having raised $1,600 in donations plus a $750 loan to himself, as well as the disclosure of $135 in event tickets from the Marin Professional Firefighters union, which has endorsed his campaign.
Hamilton also received $250 from the Democratic Central Committee of Marin, which also endorsed his campaign, and he received $400 in small donations. His other major donors were Lori Grace, $300; Ellery Johannessen of Washington state, $250; and at $100 each, Alan Shoen of Los Gatos, Philip Mazzara of Menlo Park, Aron Kirschner of Oakland and George Thampy of San Francisco.
His $2,033 in expenses were mostly for campaign literature and mailings, as well as for his website and for photography services.
Hamilton is one of five candidates seeking three seats on the fire-district board. He faces incumbents Richard Jones, Emmett O’Donnell and Cheryl Woodford, as well as challenger Brette Daniels. In a separate race for a two-year seat, incumbent Mark Capell is running unopposed.
None of the other candidates filed finance reports, having received or spent less than $2,000.
Reed Union School District board
Four candidates are seeking three seats on the board — though none reported receiving or spending more than $2,000.
Incumbents Sherry Wangenheim and Afsaneh Zolfaghari are facing newcomers Shelby Pasarell Tsai and Sarah Buck-Gerber.
Measure M: Tiburon Open Space District
Residents of Belvedere and of Tiburon south of Trestle Glen Boulevard will vote on Measure M, a parcel-tax measure that seeks to raise up to $23 million to help purchase the 110-acre Martha Co. property on the southern Tiburon Ridge and preserve it as open space. The Martha Co. has made a deal to sell the property for $42.1 million to the Trust for Public Land, which will then sell it to the county at a discount.
Voters would have to assess themselves $335 the first year, increasing 2-percent per year for 30 years, to pay off the bonds.
The trust’s campaign committee, the California Trust for Public Land Action Fund, filed its finance report with the California secretary of state but provided a copy to The Ark on request.
The acquisition fund currently has two open-space campaigns in the state — the other in Los Angeles — and doesn’t separate the reporting; the only Bay Area donor listed on the form was Michael Parish of San Francisco, giving $1,000.
However, footnotes do provide insights, including that the Martha Co. itself made a $100,000 donation to the campaign effort.
The committee also made a $10,000 payment for consulting pertaining to Measure M to San Francisco law firm of Terris, Barnes & Walters.