A record $3.6 million spent in Berkeley campaigns

During Sunday Streets, the Yes on Measure R and the No on Measure R campaigns crossed paths. The race over the future of Berkeley's downtown has drawn record donations from developers. Photo: Franes Dinkelspiel

During Sunday Streets, the Yes on Measure R and the No on Measure R campaigns crossed paths. The race over the future of Berkeley’s downtown has drawn record donations from developers. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

2014 will go down in history as the most expensive election ever held in Berkeley, with around $3.6 million spent on two ballot items alone.

The two items — Measure D, which would levy a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, and Measure R, which would substantially strengthen the environmental requirements for tall buildings in downtown Berkeley (and which critics contend would kill new construction)  — drew campaign donations from all over the country. The race to replace Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner also attracted huge outside donations.

The soda industry has spent around $2.4 million — or $30 per registered voter — to defeat Measure D. It saturated Berkeley BART stations and bus shelters with ads, and put No on Measure D posters on billboards around town. Berkeleyside, The Daily Californian, the East Bay Express, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Tribune and The Berkeley Times all ran large No on D ads. The campaign also ran television commercials and sent canvassers to hand out flyers at BART stations and drop them on doorstops. The main donor was the American Beverage Association California PAC, although the company that owns Landmark Theatres donated around $9,100 in in-kind funds for ads to run before movies. Regal Entertainment donated $500, among others.

The No on Measure D campaign covered the Ashby BART station with signs - on the floor, on the walls, and next to the ticket machines. BART made the campaign takes some of the signs down on Oc. 8. Photo: Marian Mabel

The No on Measure D campaign covered the Ashby BART station with signs – on the floor, on the walls, and next to the ticket machines. Photo: Marian Mabel

The Yes on Measure D campaign drew donations from many Berkeley residents and regional public health groups for a total of about $564,000. Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was the campaign’s biggest donor. On Oct. 30 he donated another $115,000 to the campaign, bringing his direct contributions to $295,000. Bloomberg has also spent an additional $362,000 to run commercials on both network and cable television. Bloomberg’s grand total? $657,000.

And late last week, the Action Now Initiative, a political group funded by hedge fund Texas billionaire John Arnold and his wife Laura (both have made money in the energy business) donated $70,000. Kat Taylor, the CEO of Beneficial State Bank and the wife of billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent $85 million in the 2014 election, donated $5,000 to the Yes on Measure D campaign. (These donations are included in the $564,000 total.)

All you need to know about the elections is at Berkeleyside’s Election Hub.

In any other year, the contributions coming into the No on Measure R campaign would have distorted Berkeley’s electoral process. After all, residents were surprised in 2010 when Sam Zell, the developer behind the Acheson Commons project on University Avenue, donated $25,000 to support that year’s Measure R, which established a blueprint for the Downtown Area Plan.

The contribution now looks small compared to the money developers are pouring into the 2014 Measure R fight. Developers and real estate groups from across the country have donated to the campaign, swelling its coffers to around $250,000. The contributors all include developers who have major projects in the planning pipeline as well as developers who have long built in Berkeley. The National Association of Realtors also chipped in $95,000. (See a breakdown of some of those donations here.) The Yes on Measure R campaign, in contrast, has only raised about $22,500.

Taken together, donors have spent about $3.6 million on just these two ballot measures.

Echols and Thurmond debated each other in Berkeley on Oct. 7. Photo: Lance Knobel

Echols and Thurmond debated each other in Berkeley on Oct. 7. Photo: Lance Knobel

The other race that has attracted a substantial amount of outside donations is for the Assembly District 15 seat. Nancy Skinner has been termed out and Elizabeth Echols, an administrator for the Small Business Administration, is facing Tony Thurmond, a former Richmond City Council member.

Independent expenditure groups have donated generously to Thurmond. So far, they have contributed $612,312 to his campaign. In contrast, independent expenditure groups have given Echols $188,803, according to campaign reports.

Echols has raised around $861,628 for her campaign, including a $65,000 loan she made to herself, according to Cal Access, the campaign finance data base kept by the Secretary of State’s office. Thurmond has raised about $633,494.

Be sure to check out Berkeleyside’s Election Hub, where you will find all the stories we have written on the 2014 campaign.

And be sure to check back with us Tuesday night, as we live blog Berkeley’s election results.

Beverage companies donate $800,000 to fight soda tax (09.22.14)
Campaign donations reach record levels in Berkeley
Beverage companies spend $1.675m to defeat soda tax (10.09.14)
Bloomberg donates $85k to support Berkeley soda tax (10.16.14)
Outside money, solar funds in Assembly race (10.22.14)
Berkeley ballot snafu, more money for 2014 election (10.22.14)
Michael Bloomberg has now spent $370k on Measure D (10.27.14)

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  • Yes on R = No on D

    Yes on R has illegally posted their signs in the median strips all along Sacramento and San Pablo. I guess they couldn’t get enough people to support their deceptive anti-development measure so they had to resort to littering public property with their signs.

    Shame on the Yes on R campaign for using the same illegal astroturfing tactics as Big Soda’s No on D campaign.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Dear Anonymous Guest:

    I think I see the comparison you’re trying to make, but it’s a little jarring considering the money spent by No on D, which is more analogous to No on R than it is to Yes on R . I think this is a case of false equivalence for the sake of politics rather than thoughtful analysis.

  • B2B

    Hate to tell you this, but it’s not an allegation, it’s fact — I drive down Sac all the time and it’s not just the No on D campaign, it’s ALL the campaigns that are littering the median on Sacramento. Oh, and just to smear the Yes on D folks a little bit, some Yes on D person spray painted over the No on D purchased space on the bus stop at Ashby and Sacramento with red spray, so AC Transit is going to have to replace the plexiglass covering. Yeah, no one’s an angel.

  • Biker 94703

    Biking around town I see both Yes and No in the medians. Under the concept of broken windows policing I should stop and yank them all out, but who has the time?

  • djoelt1

    Hey, if we can get the soda industry to throw away millions per year to fight things like Prop D, let it lose and bring it back every 2 year for an encore!

  • Eric Panzer

    Why can’t we all just get a lawn? Perhaps we need some sort of mediator to sort out these divides.

    I know, I’m a terrible comedian.

  • berkeleyan

    I have seen both “No on R” and “Yes on R” signs on the medians.

  • Yes on R = astroturfers

    I am less interested in the money than I am in who is astroturfing and littering the landscape with illegally placed advertising.

  • southberkeleyres

    I was astounded to see that Chevron spent $72 per registered voter in Richmond to push their slate for council and mayor. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Chevron-spends-3-million-in-attempt-to-sway-5863605.php Price of oil still going down. Take that Koch brothers.

  • guest

    The campaigns take them down the day after the election. If the signs are still there on Thursday morning, anybody is welcome to recycle.

  • Mbfarrel

    Good grief people, where have you been? Every election any campaign which can afford too posts signs anywhere they can. This is nothing new.

  • guest

    I drive the length of Sacramento 2-5 times a day, every day, Before this weekend I’d put the numbers at maybe 25 Yes versus 5 No. Today I’d put it at 50 Yes, zero No. Mysteriously, the proliferation of Yes signs correlated with a total disappearance of the No signs. Shocking.

  • Tizzielish

    signs on the medians are not illegal. The campaigns have to remove them immediately after election but they are not illegal leading up to election day. They are illegal in the traffic rounds in some residential areas because, I suspect, signs could prevent drivers from seeing the full circle of possible traffic. Median signs are legal.

  • Tizzielish

    educate yourself on the law about campaign signs. I have called city staff several times and was told each time that within a short span of time before the election (I forget that length of time), median signs are perfectly legal.”

    There have been a few median signs on the narrow Shattuck medium for weeks. In recent days, yes indeed, lots of law signs popped up but it is most definitely legal as long as the campaigns remove them immediately after Nov 3rd.

  • guest

    Doesn’t matter if they take them down or not. Posting signs on public property is still illegal.

  • Curious

    So are you saying that the Yes on D campaign was lying when they said that posting signs in medians and roundabouts was illegal, and used that as a justification to rip out No on D signs?

  • Median signs are illegal.

    You’re the one who needs an education, Tizzielish.

    In Berkeley, campaign signs are not allowed on wooden utility poles, curbs or median strips. Temporary signs are allowed on city-owned metal utility poles, but they must be removed within 15 days of the election.


  • southberkeleyres

    BarbaraLee signs just got removed from before the primaries on May. It took me about 15 calls complaining to get them removed. Clarence Hunt signs took many calls, emails and 6 months to get removed after primary elections.

  • RWP


  • RWP

    Hello California District 15 and Berkeley Electorate,c

    I was a Stanford Law School classmate of Elizabeth Echols. I knew Nancy Skinner a bit we were both grad students at UC Berkeley organizing students against apartheid in South Africa and in favor of unionizing grad student workers. I don’t doubt that both of them sincerely feel themselves to be decent and capable people who are capable of larger things. But they both have recently worked overtime to indict themselves as part of the uber-inbred all-white clique that they and the Hancock-Bates machine have constituted since I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley in the 80s.

    But, lately, we all have to recognize that the sleazy attacks by Elizabeth Echols directed against Tony Thurmond and — a fortiori — against any real progressive policy in the 15th Assembly District have been both appalling and contemptible.

    I invite any and all Berkeley and Assembly District 15 voters simply to take a close look at all the Elizabeth Echols flyers that have overloaded our mailboxes every day for months now. Please just look at Echols’ election campaign photos.

    Let us simply ask District 15 voters to look closely at Echols’ flyers’ images — most particularly at their captions and at her campaign photos. In particular, let us urge voters to go through the group photos of Hancock, Bates, Skinner, and Echols, et al.

    Of course, what we see in these photos are images of the Bates-Hancock clique (including Nancy Skinner and now Elizabeth Echols) that are reminiscent of George and Lurleen Wallace and the Alabama White Citizens Council. In a MAJORITY NON-WHITE DISTRICT, how do thes Bates-Hancock-Skinnier-Echols people feel so suffused with white privilege that they can conduct their smear campaigns against Tony Thurmond and any other person of color who dares to seek admission to their segregated club?

    Along with many, many other voters in Berkeley and in CA Assembly District 15, I will vote only for candidates NOT tied to the Bates-Hancock-Skinner Machine — Echols is just the new candidate of the Bates-Hancock white-lager status quo.

    I — and every sensible person I know — will vote only for Tony Thurmond. Our other votes will be cheerfully apportioned among any real progressives who dare stand up to the corrupt Bates-Hancock-Skinner-Echols syndicate.

  • Guest

    Dear city of Berkeley employee who posts in a public forum during work hours,

    Get back to “work” or whatever you call what it is you do there.

    – CoB taxpayers

  • Hoot

    Hard for some to grock this, but the community’s interest in building more housing near transit, overlaps with developers interest to build it. Also R is hardly better for the environment because it makes transit-oriented development more difficult.

  • guest

    Wondering how the Soda companies organized opposition in SF – according to this report, they bought it http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2014/11/03/big-soda-spends-9-million-in-sf-election-did-a-progressive-political-club-sell-out-to-the-beverage-industry

  • Pop

    That’s called stimulus spending.

  • Hildah

    Shame on you for using “the race card” plus accusing others of criminal activity. With friends like you, Thurmond needs no enemies.

  • Hildah

    Are we taxpayers paying Sanchez’s salary? I, then, sincerely hope the auditor is aware of this.

  • Hildah

    You don’t know what you are talking about. It is absolutely illegal to post in the public way. Are you perhaps the guilty party?

  • guest

    The city code says:
    “No sign, poster, placard, card, sticker, banner, or other device
    calculated to attract attention of the public shall be posted, printed,
    stamped, stuck or otherwise affixed to or placed upon any public
    sidewalk, crosswalk, median strip, curb, lamppost”

    It makes an exception for ” Temporary signs concerning noncommercial events in the form of posters,
    placards, cards, stickers, or flyers that do not cause a hazard to
    pedestrian or vehicle traffic,”
    I don’t think an election poster is a sign concerning an event.


    This provision does not mention roundabouts. Can you cite another provision that does?

  • guest

    Does anyone have the relevant municipal code about were signs are and aren’t legal to be posted?

    A citizen action group should be formed next election cycle to regularly remove illegally posted signs from around town.

  • Guest

    Race counts. Only white people (and I’m one) talk about the “race card”. The only “criminal activity” even alluded to that I’ve seen is Bates stealing Daily Cals that endorsed his opponent, and this writer didn’t even say that. But sleazy, yes, what I’ve gotten from Echols meets my definition of “sleazy”/

  • Hildah

    BMC 20.16.010

  • Guest

    Racism, harping on events from 12+ years ago, making slanderous accusations, insulting anyone who doesn’t agree with you.

    Funny, you’re personally guilty of every thing you attack Echols for.

  • guest

    Everyone stops paying attention as soon as you mention Bates stealing Daily Cals. Mentioning that irrelevant point shows that you are an extreme partisan who can’t be taken seriously.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Dear Anonymous Hildah,

    If it pleases you, I will email her myself and send her my timecard that shows last Friday, and this Monday and Tuesday as Vacation days, but I appreciate your negative intent, though.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Dear Anonymous and Negative Guest:

    I am salaried and work at all hours. Though that point is moot in the instant case and I am using vacation hours for this past week.

    I do hope you can get past the anger/frustration.

  • Mbfarrel

    Why should a councilmember’s aide not be involved in promoting his boss’s point of view? Sounds like part of his job.

  • guest

    How many vacation hours to Berkeley taxpayers pay for you to have? How many vacation hours do you pay for your Walnut Creek council members’ staff to have?

    How much do Berkeley city council staff get paid? How much do Walnut Creek’s city council staff get paid?

    I know Berkeley overpays most of our public employees, relative to our neighboring cities, but I wonder if that extends as far as the salaries of our city council staffers?