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 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.)
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.
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 (10.07.14)
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)