Don Perata & friends paid by Prop. 29 campaign

Former state Senate President Pro Tem and 2010 Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata, who helped conceive, introduce and raise money for the tobacco-tax ballot measure on this June’s ballot, has a lot of friends who are making money from the campaign, new reports show.

Don PerataPerata’s “Hope 2012” ballot-measure committee began raising money for what’s now known as Proposition 29 way back in 2009, and has transferred $488,500 to Californians for a Cure – the primary committee backing the measure, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Heart Association and a group of cancer research doctors. Prop. 29 would impose a $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes, and equivalent tax hikes on other tobacco products, to fund cancer research; Perata is a cancer survivor.

Now Perata himself has received $5,792.17 since July from Californians for a Cure, including $2,607.19 for “meetings and appearances” and $2,508.36 for travel expenses.

One of Perata’s current employees also has been paid by Californians for a Cure. Anne Willcoxon, 58, of Moraga, has been paid $27,760 since last May, with the lion’s share of that – $15,000 – paid in the first two months of this year under the designation “campaign consultants.”

Anne Willcoxon’s LinkedIn profile lists her position since January 2011 as “charges d’affaires” at Perata Consulting LLC – that’s a French term for a subordinate diplomat who substitutes for an absent ambassador or minister. She ranked high among Perata’s 2010 Oakland mayoral campaign staffers. And her husband, Michael Willcoxon, is general counsel for Dublin-based DeSilva Gates Construction; founder Ed DeSilva for years has been among Perata’s most generous political contributors.

The rest of Californians for a Cure’s expenditure list reads like a who’s-who of former Perata aides and consultants:

    The Sacramento consulting business of former Perata staffer Sandi Polka has been paid $53,887.03 since the beginning of 2011.
    Chris Lehman, a former Perata staffer, has been paid $47,196.04 in the past year, mostly for campaign consulting, including more than $19,000 so far in 2012.
    Maurice Williams, another of Perata’s state Senate aides, has been paid $32,000 by Californians for a Cure since last June, including $7,000 in this year’s first two months, for campaign consulting and fundraising.
    Rhys Williams, who was Perata’s mayoral campaign press secretary, is now the ballot measure’s online campaign director; he has been paid $60,250 since last June, including $18,250 so far in 2012.
    Stephenie DeHerrera, who worked on Perata’s mayoral campaign while a fellow at The Organizing and Leadership Academy in Oakland, has been paid $13,073.34 since November for campaign consulting and fundraising.
    TOLA is run by veteran political consultant Larry Tramutola, who helped run Perata’s 2010 mayoral campaign. Californians for a Cure has paid Tramutola $86,546.00 since last June, mostly for campaign consulting.

Polka, Lehman, Williams and other former Perata aides also were paid generously by Perata’s Hope 2012 committee as he got the initiative off the ground in 2009 and 2010.

Questions and eyebrows arose in 2010 when Perata’s Hope 2012 committee gave money to two nonprofits – neither of which had anything to do with cancer – led by his former campaign treasurer, a close confidante whom some said had been romantically involved with Perata. Earlier, Hope 2012 in 2009 had paid $25,000 for campaign consulting by Oakland Councilman Ignacio de la Fuente, a longtime Perata ally and political lieutenant.

And there were also questions in 2010 of whether Perata was thought to be leveraging the nascent tobacco-tax campaign to widen his name recognition as he also campaigned for mayor.

Perata and some of his political associates were the subjects of a five-year-long FBI corruption probe, which ended in 2009 without anyone ever charges ever filed.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Scratch the surface of anything in which Perata is involved and the stink of corruption is overwhelming.

  • Headline: “Politician runs initiative campaign to cure cancer; hires long-time, loyal, and experienced campaign staff; pays them very little for full-time work.” SCANDAL!!!

    Josh, you are usually not this dumb. Big Tobacco tip you off to this scandal? Taking advice from the laziest journalist in America, Robert Gammon?

  • Our family has been friends with Don for going on 40-plus years. Not sure why that’s grounds for a poorly-researched hit piece from the Trib.

    Also, we don’t like cancer. So helping with Prop. 29 was a no-brainer!

  • Just more shameful conduct by a politician and PR propagandists.

  • Truth Seeker

    If Cancer researchers found a cure for the disease, Don Perata would vanish.

  • Jim Knox

    Mr. Richmond, perhaps if you had made the slightest effort to investigate the facts you might have realized that you got the wrong story. Rather than a get-rich-quick scheme, you would have found that the consulting team working on behalf of Proposition 29 has endured significant personal sacrifice on behalf of this measure that will save lives, protect kids from tobacco and maybe find a cure for cancer. Most of those mentioned have been working on this effort for nearly three years – and for extended stretches without pay. Chris Lehman has been the full time campaign manager for nearly three years and had gone more than a year without pay. Sandi Polka also went without pay for well over a year – and the figure you cite is actually money owed to her for work on the signature gathering drive nearly two years ago – and still not fully repaid. The others are all performing important functions for the campaign. It does cost money to run a statewide initiative campaign. And what this team is getting paid is way at the bottom end of the scale. Want proof? Why don’t you look at what the tobacco companies are paying their consultants? It is about ten times more than what the Yes on 29 team is getting. This is an epic battle in which the No on 29 tobacco companies will vastly outspend the Yes on 29 coalition led by Perata, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association. Now there is a story!
    -Jim Knox, Vice President, Legislative Advocacy, American Cacner Society, California Division.

  • Elwood

    @ #6

    Even Perata has fans.

    What a wonderful world!

  • SlpgDragon

    I think it is totally amazing..how many BILLIONS of dollars have already been given to a small group researching Cancer?? For how many decades?? I say we should ask where is our money going??? Cause this is pure BS!!! No more raising our taxes when these so called agencies can not produce…this is a scam. They do not know anything more than when they started researching, other than to whom to point the fingers. I say SHUT DOWN the American Cancer Society, and The American Lung Association…use the Billions of dollars to save others.

  • John W.

    Re: #8

    If you’re referring to the group supported by Perata, “BILLIONS” is a slight exaggeration. I’m not sure the total is even to a million yet.

    As for the more general comment about the value of cancer research, the war on cancer began with Nixon and the work of the National Institutes of Health, working through a variety of medical research and treatment centers around the country. People snickered about the term “War on Cancer.” But cancer is one of the few areas where the United States can legitimately claim to have measurably better medical outcomes than other developed nations. So, evidently something is working. That’s not to say that Perata’s initiative deserves support or that some of these other organizations can’t become bloated and lose some of their original effectiveness over time.

  • marv madsen

    This is just another attempt by the state to raise taxes so that another politician can hire his friends and cronies to feed off the public dole in the guise of research. they are already getting enough from the taxpayers and their overregulation and taxes. I quit cigarettes over 30 yrs ago and am tired of the way public employees have taken over the taxpayer dollars and continue to ask for more under anything they can come up with to fill their own pockets. NO MORE TAXES, stop the government employees from taking more.

  • Mark Just

    I am sure you are all aware that Don Perata is smoker. If you didn’t, now you do!

  • Stephanie

    Josh Richman,

    I’m Stephanie DeHerrera, the one from this article and the same Stephanie DeHerrera you met in the summer of 2010 when you were a GUEST SPEAKER FOR TOLA, the fellowship you mention here. Then you looked at me and the 7 other fellows and told us we were doing great work. It has been less than two years and all of a sudden I’m some newsworthy, political insider. HA! Absolutely not. You know better.

    I don’t know how it works in the world of journalism, but in the professional world that I’ve known since I was 15 y.o. (whether it was in food service, fundraising (for Cal), campaign work, etc.) if you do good work, opportunities open for you. Yes, I worked on Don’s campaign briefly in 2010 and got paid very very little. Since TOLA I worked for a builders association in Oakland and now I am so lucky to have the opportunity to work on Prop 29, again being compensated very little as you have “discovered” in all your “research.”

    I didn’t leave the builders association because Don Perata asked me too. HE NEVER DID! I left because my grandma, Joyce DeHerrera, and my grandpa, Robert Clark, both died of cancer recently. My dog and cockatoo died of cancer. My friend’s uncle recently died of cancer. My friend has cancer. And since 1 out of 2 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, I PROBABLY WILL GET CANCER one day too and same with you!

    Prop 29 will raise over $735 million for cancer research and smoking cessation programs. This is why I am committed to Prop 29. It has absolutely nothing to do with my measly paycheck or my previous campaign work.

    And for the record: I am not “friends” with Don Perata. I don’t have his cell phone number. I won’t be invited to his birthday celebration (whenever that is I honestly don’t know). And I won’t be posting on his Facebook anytime soon! But I do have great respect for Don Perata. He is a great leader of CA and has accomplished much for his state.

    I think you need to get a clue.

    Sincerely Disappointed,

    Stephanie DeHerrera

  • Elwood

    “But I do have great respect for Don Perata. He is a great leader of CA and has accomplished much for his state.”

    If Don Perata is a great leader, I’m the frickin’ Pope.

  • JohnW

    Nothing mentioned here suggests that the employees mentioned are getting rich off this. But they shouldn’t be surprised when people start sniffing around for ulterior motives when Don Perata’s name is connected to a project. I lost a mother (at 59), grandfather and other acquaintances to smoking-related cancer and emphysema. I can smell a cigarette from a mile away. The habit disgusts me, as does all the money big tobacco is spending to oppose measures like this.

    But I will probably vote against Prop 29. Why? It imposes an additional annual tax burden of about $800 million in a state where where taxes in most categories are already among the highest in the country, with very little to show for it. Californians are always voting for taxes (or, in the case of Prop. 13, tax cuts) that OTHER people pay for. That same $800 million (taxed in this or some other way) could be used for higher priorities. California already has one of the lowest smoking rates in the country and, therefore, would be raising taxes to fund research that would disproportionately benefit other states. The ads big tobacco is running against Prop.29 are totally self-serving, but their claim that much of the research grant money from this could end up going out-of-state seems valid. According to BallotPedia, there’s a 2% cap on administrative costs, not including capital costs and rent; but that’s still about $16 million. There are already numerous tobacco-related cancer research programs out there. They may be struggling for funds, but why establish another institution, with all the inevitable creeping bureaucracy? Well-intentioned but misguided.

  • Truthclubber

    Hellwoody — you’re avoiding me, and that won’t be allowed.

    Let’s make a bet:

    Romney wins this November — I will forever STFU and never come on this blog again (no BS about “GOP fascism”, etc.)
    Obama wins this November — you will forever STFU and never come on this blog again (no BS about “cooking sherry” etc.)

    Deal? Got the cojones to back it up? I bet you don’t…and the rest of this blog’s commenters will see that you don’t.

    P.S. Every time you post anything to this blog, regardless of topic, my message (above) is going to appear, so if you don’t have the cojones to take on my bet, get used to it…

  • Elwood


    Bite me.

    And stay out of the cooking sherry. That comment sure does blow your dress over your head, doesn’t it?

    Hiding something are we?

  • Truthclubber

    Hellwoody —

    Clearly, you have no cojones to stand up for Romney, your standard bearer for fascism (aka the GOP) — since you know both he and you are so far out of the mainstream of American politics that both of you are going to lose this November.

    “Actions” (like your now clearly apparent cowardice) “speak louder than” the pitiful ‘cooking sherry BS’ “words” of hate that you spew…

    And from your most recent (and homophobic) comments — are you a closet gay that can’t stand yourself?

    To use your words — “help is available…”

  • Elwood


    Bite me.

    And stay out of the cooking sherry.

    My associate, Dr. Wacko Cracko, the noted prison psychiatrist says that it is obvious that the cooking sherry has destroyed your brain.

    He also notes that you are obviously a closeted gay.

  • Truthclubber

    That’s all you got? No cojones, obviously — no wonder you’re still in the closet, lashing out at people…

    Sure do like to use your mouth a lot (bite, suck, etc.) — got an oral fixation to go with your sexual predilection?

    And you’re talking to imaginary people? Hopefully not when you’re out in public — that’ll get you back behind bars real fast.

    To use your words — “help is available…”

  • Josh Richman

    Re #18 & #19:
    Enough from both of you. Further exchanges of personal insults, without any discussion of the issues raised in the items on this blog, will no longer be permitted here; I will delete such comments, and if you persist in trying to post them, I will permanently bar you from posting comments to this blog. This is not subject to debate. Either discuss politics or find somewhere else to continue your odd relationship.

  • Stephanie

    I appreciate your comment regarding #18 and #19. That really needed to be said. But no response to my comment…I would like to hear what you have to say.

  • Josh Richman

    Re #21: I didn’t mean to ignore you, Stephanie, but I thought John W’s comment at #14 summed up my sentiment: “Nothing mentioned here suggests that the employees mentioned are getting rich off this. But they shouldn’t be surprised when people start sniffing around for ulterior motives when Don Perata’s name is connected to a project.”

    The fact is, Don Perata’s political activities and financial relationships were the subject of a years-long federal investigation. It’s true that no charges were filed as a result of that probe, but we know some of his political entities – his Leadership California committee, most notably – have served as a sort of “full employment act” for his family, friends and political associates. Not to mention that a lot of money raised by that committee ostensibly for other causes – such as recalling state Sen. Jeff Denham or opposing 2008’s Prop. 11 – instead ended up in Perata’s legal defense fund.

    So although it can be argued that Perata has a proud legislative record and that a good cause underlies this measure, every dollar he raises and spends is due extra scrutiny, and we’ll continue giving it.

  • Elwood

    Well, you can’t beat Perata’s slogan:

    “Never been indicted!”

  • Mike

    Isn’t it true that over half the cost of a pack of cigs goes to some form of taxes already. Now while I’m not a smoker, I do have an issue with people coming together to add taxes to things because they feel its necessary. What if vehicles are the next target. We’re already hearing about candy bars and soda being taxed, REALLY!!
    How about we do the right thing here, lets find out how much money the state is paying those less fortunate for living expenses and find out how much of that money is going toward cigarettes….and it does I managed a grocery store for years. Lets take a 5% cut from that and now we have some funding. No taxes are increased and people who shouldnt be smoking will be smoking less. Oh then we can go to the EBT/Food side of welfare and do the samething. Cut there benefits by 5-10% for the amount people are paying for soda, ice cream, candy, lobster and NY Steaks, again yes they are…
    While I don’t see this prop hurting me, I’m tired of the state taking in money and then wasting it. Its depressing and sad

  • JohnW

    According to what I looked up online (can’t verify accuracy), California’s current $.87 tax per pack ranks 33rd among the states. Adding a dollar would move us up to 21st. That doesn’t seem so terrible.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that this would result in significantly fewer smokers. According to the info I found online, California has the second lowest adult smoking rate. Only Utah (Mormons don’t smoke) has a lower percentage.

    Big tobacco obviously has a strong self-interest in spending money to oppose this. The doctor featured in their TV ad (yes, she’s a real medical doctor) blows my mind. They must have paid her a bundle. But they can be evil and still not be wrong about Prop. 29.