Steven Tavares has an interesting story on the 15th Congressional District race in today’s East Bay Express:
On June 5, just hours after casting a vote for himself in the East Bay’s 15th Congressional District primary against incumbent Congressman Pete Stark, Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell voted to approve a no-bid, monopoly contract to a local garbage company while members of that firm’s upper management sat in attendance. Swalwell, however, never publicly disclosed that those four top-level employees of Amador Valley Industries were large contributors to his congressional campaign in the months before the deal. Also in attendance was a consultant for the garbage company who not only had recently donated to Swalwell, but also has a history of violating campaign finance laws.
In some cities, including Oakland, what AVI and Swalwell did would have been illegal. It’s unlawful in those cities for a prospective government contractor, such as AVI, to make donations to councilmembers’ political campaigns in the months before those councilmembers vote on the actual contract. Good government advocates throughout California have pushed hard over the years to eliminate this type of pay-to-play politics.
Dublin, however, has no such prohibition. The city allows councilmembers to take donations from government contractors and then vote to award public contracts to those companies, said Jim Bakker, Dublin’s city attorney.
“A respected regional newspaper is raising new and troubling questions about Eric Swalwell’s role in pay-to-play for municipal contracts,” Michael Terris, Stark’s campaign consultant, said today. “Swalwell has thrown a lot of mud in this campaign, but he owes voters real answers to these serious allegations. An unregistered lobbyist for garbage contractors, whose owners and employees have donated $15,000 to Swalwell’s campaign, even raises questions about Swalwell’s integrity for failing to disclose major contributions while voting on no-bid contracts.”
Swalwell campaign manager Lisa Tucker, when asked today if there was any connection between the contributions and Swalwell’s vote, replied, “Absolutely not.” She noted that the agenda item on which he voted was initiated by the city’s staff, not by any member of the council, and that the vote was 4-1, so Swalwell’s wasn’t the deciding vote.
“Every contribution Eric received was disclosed properly to the public prior to the meeting,” she said, referring to Swalwell’s mandatory campaign finance filings to the Federal Election Commission.
Asked whether Swalwell had any ethical obligation to verbally disclose the contributions before casting that vote, Tucker noted that Swalwell is an Alameda County prosecutor and insisted he “has followed every ethics and disclosure law before taking the vote. Eric is proud that his support comes from individuals, compared to 65 percent of Congressman Stark’s contributions come from PACs, including almost $200,000 from health professionals with issues before his subcommittee.”
“Every claim Rep. Stark has made against Eric has resulted in him apologizing or has been debunked by a third-party media source,” she said. “This claim, by a blogger with a demonstrated bias on his blog for Rep. Stark, is an extension of Rep. Stark’s efforts to deceive voters.”
Tavares’ story today in the Express notes that Stark in April – two months before Swalwell cast this vote – had gotten into hot water for claiming at a debate that Swalwell had accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes,” a claim he later acknowledged was unsubstantiated and for which he apologized.
Here are the AVI-related donations I’ve been able to find at a glance, some that occurred before the June 5 vote and some that occurred afterward:
The Express story also included this:
Even a paid consultant for AVI, Gordon Galvan, who also donated to Swalwell, distanced himself from Swalwell’s failure to disclose his ties to AVI. “If he didn’t disclose it, I think that is wrong. It’s all on him,” said Galvan, who gave Swalwell the legal federal limit of $2,500 in successive years totaling $5,000. “The ethical thing to do is — I would have said, ‘These are people who have contributed to my congressional campaign and it has nothing to do with the City of Dublin or my vote.’”
Nonetheless, Galvan, who is also a lobbyist and a former San Leandro councilman, characterized what Swalwell and AVI did as being no big deal. “It’s a dynamic that happens all the time,” said Galvan, adding that he believes Swalwell has been at a financial disadvantage during the campaign because of Stark’s political connections. “[Swalwell] can’t get PAC money because it’s a good ol’ boys’ network. If you’re a forty-year incumbent you have access to all that money. To me, that’s a lot dirtier.”
Galvan today said he had told Tavares that if Swalwell was legally obliged to report the contributions and hadn’t, then that would be on him – but that’s not the case here.
“I’m supporting Swalwell, so why would I say something that calls into question his ethics?” Galvan said. “It makes it sounds like I’m questioning Swalwell’s ethics or I think he did something illegal, and that’s not true at all … I didn’t say anything like that.”