Tobacco tax proponents gird for battle

As the budget battle reaches fever pitch in Sacramento, the fate of a tobacco tax to fund cancer research hangs in the balance.

As of now, the ballot measure shepherded by former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and backed by the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and American Cancer Society is scheduled for the February 2012 primary. But if Gov. Jerry Brown succeeds in calling a special election this year to ask voters whether they want to extend existing income, sales and car taxes for another five years as part of the budget solution, the tobacco tax measure will be bumped up onto that ballot.

Proponents clearly are preparing for that eventuality.

Last week they rolled out cycling champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong’s support, and yesterday, the Washington, D.C.-based Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund put another $25,000 into the ballot measure’s Californians for a Cure committee, doubling its ante thus far; it had given $5,000 last month and $20,000 last July.

The biggest donor to the measure thus far remains Perata’s separate Hope 2010 Cure Cancer committee; it gave Californians for a Cure a total of $485,000 from November 2009 through June 2010. That’s actually a pretty small slice of Hope 2010’s $1,426,119.36 in total spending over the two-year cycle – $627,075.22 in 2009, $799,044.16 in 2010 – although to be fair, Hope 2010 formerly was Perata’s Leadership California committee and wasn’t re-tasked to this tobacco-tax measure until late in 2009.

Hope 2010 ended last year essentially depleted but has pulled down $40,000 in new, big-ticket donations since the start of this year: $25,000 from former Dreyer’s Ice Cream executive and former Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco board chairman T. Gary Rogers of Oakalnd; $10,000 from billionaire Gap Inc. heir and investor John J. Fisher of San Francisco; and $5,000 from retired real estate developer Jon Q. Reynolds of Concord. It has yet to pass any of that money along to Californians for a Cure.

Meanwhile, Californians for a Cure spent a total of about $1.293 million in 2009-10, the lion’s share of which – $480,000 – went to Carlsbad-based Arno Political Consultants for petition circulation; the next biggest beneficiary was Polka Consulting, run by longtime Perata associate Sandra Polka, at $69,791.37.

The tobacco industry and anti-tax groups have not yet formed a committee to oppose the measure, (see update below) but rest assured that when they do, it’ll soon be brimming with tobacco money.

The measure would raise taxes on cigarettes by $1 per pack, with the proceeds – estimated as about $575 million in the first year and then declining as more people quit the habit – placed in a trust fund. It requires that 60 cents of every dollar in that fund be spent to fund research on causes, prevention and treatment of cancer and other smoking-related illnesses; 20 cents be spent to fund smoking cessation and tobacco use prevention programs; 15 cents be spent to fund research facilities and equipment; 3 cents be spent to fund anti-tobacco and anti-smuggling enforcement; and no more than 2 cents per dollar be spent for administrative costs.

UPDATE @ 5:15 P.M.: I stand corrected – the tobacco industry has indeed begun organizing and spending to fight this measure. Philip Morris, through its parent company Altria, in early February created Taxpayers Against Out-of-Control Spending with an initial bankroll of $128,115.99.


Longtime Perata aide to work for Gov. Brown

A longtime aide to former state Senate President Pro Tem and 2010 Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata has been named to an important post in Gov. Jerry Brown’s office.

Gareth Elliott, 40, of Sacramento, will serve as Brown’s legislative affairs secretary, the governor’s office announced today. The legislative affairs secretary is a lynchpin of the governor’s policy development and legislative strategy – a key role in the coming weeks as Brown tries to rally support for his budget plan.

Elliott has served as policy director for state Sen. Alex Padilla since 2008, but before that was policy director and deputy chief of staff for Perata from 2004 to 2008; earlier, he was a legislative aide and then legislative director for Perata from 1996 to 2004. Elliott’s appointment doesn’t require Senate confirmation; the Democrat will be paid an annual salary of $147,900.

Follow me after the jump for other appointments announced today by Brown’s office…
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Inside Don Perata’s mayoral election defeat

So former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata – who entered Oakland’s mayoral race with big-time name recognition and fundraising prowess, and who outspent all his rivals enormously – lost the race to City Councilmember Jean Quan. He conceded this morning.

This was Oakland’s first foray into ranked-choice voting, and there were 10 candidates in the field. Perata held the lead in every elimination round until the last, when City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan was cut and her supporters’ second and third choices broke almost three-to-one in Quan’s favor, catapulting her past Perata to win.

In the end, Perata’s somewhat polarizing personality and past may have proved to be his undoing, as many had predicted could happen. People tend to either love him or hate him, with not many in between; those who love him were quick to name him their top choice, and the rest were much less likely to write him in somewhere below.

John Whitehurst, a longtime Perata consultant who was one of three paid by the mayoral campaign, was still shaking his head later Thursday, and basically said his only mistake was not attacking Quan and Kaplan more.

“It’s still hard for me to swallow the fact that we won by 11,000 votes, 10 percent of the vote, and the person that won the election lost in 80 percent of the precincts,” he said.

But Perata didn’t “win” by 11,000 votes – he finished that far ahead in the first round, putting him nowhere close to the 50 percent mark he’d have had to exceed to win outright.

“The purpose of the ranked-choice voting was to make the campaigns shorter, less expensive and less negative and all three turned out to be completely false,” Whitehurst complained, saying that all the new method accomplished was to turn the election into an episode of the reality television show “Survivor,” in which candidates had to build alliances to outlast their rivals.

“Hindsight is always 20-20, and if I were to run the election again, I would’ve gone negative on Jean and negative on Rebecca the way that they went negative on Don,” he continued, noting none of Perata’s campaign literature attacked his rivals.

He acknowledged there were direct mail pieces sent out by independent expenditure committees that attacked Quan, but he said that of a dozen mailings that Quan sent out, 10 attacked Perata in some way.

“We invested a ton of money in field operations,” Whitehurst said. “Jean pretty hypocritically today said hers was a grassroots campaign, but she didn’t have a grassroots campaign, she put out 12 pieces of mail of which 10 were negative.”

Some might find it hard to see how Perata – who outspent Quan by far – was more “grassroots” than Quan, who had a smaller bankroll but still had a substantial number of volunteers pounding the pavement for her. Asked why Perata was paying three different consultants for the same campaign, Whitehurst replied he was only paid about $1,000 per month.

“I was cheaper for that campaign than a basic field organizer was, so don’t go there,” he said. “A campaign that does not have organizers is not a serious grassroots campaign.”

Whitehurst said he believes this outcome will sour Oakland’s electorate on ranked-choice voting. “This is the first time that instant-runoff voting has produced this result. It happened in San Francisco too, and I think you might see people taking another look at the system now that, in three elections, the first place winner didn’t win the race.”

“I think less than 5 percent of the people understand ranked-choice voting; walk outside the office and ask somebody how it works, I don’t think they’ll know,” he charged. “Choosing a leader is not about a game of ‘Survivor’ on TV, y’know? It’s just not.”


FPPC: No problem with Perata’s campaign loan

There’s no evidence that Don Perata violated the state’s campaign finance laws when he loaned money from his company to his Oakland mayoral campaign, the state’s political watchdog agency says.

Don PerataCalifornia’s Fair Political Practices Commission notified the former state Senate President Pro Tem in an Oct. 14 letter that it had “initiated an investigation of allegations that you may have violated the Political Reform Act when you made a loan of funds from Perata Consulting LLC to finance your mayoral campaign.”

But 12 days later, it sent him another letter saying that based on the FPPC’s review of his campaign finance reports, “we are closing this case with no further action.”

Because no sworn complaint was ever received, the FPPC won’t disclose the source of the allegations that sparked its investigation.

Perata Consulting – run by Perata and his son, Nick Perata – loaned Perata’s mayoral campaign $50,000 on June 30 of this year. The consulting firm’s major client over the past two years has been the California Correctional Peace Officers Association; the prison guards’ union’s committees have paid Perata Consulting a total of at least $468,893.81. CCPOA committees also have paid at least $57,548.75 to Liquid Logistics, a company run by Nick Perata.

Despite Perata’s record spending in this campaign, the Oakland mayoral race remains too close to call as the Alameda County voter registrar continues counting last-minute vote-by-mail and provisional ballots. This was Oakland’s first outing with ranked-choice voting, and although Perata led his competitors in a preliminary first-choice count, a subsequent, unofficial tally of second- and third-choice votes showed City Councilwoman Jean Quan in the lead.


Perata launches first TV ad of mayoral campaign

Former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata over the weekend launched the first television ad of the Oakland mayoral campaign:

Perata campaign spokesman Rhys Williams wouldn’t discuss the ad buy’s size: “We don’t disclose strategy to other campaigns – directly or via press – but it will be on air enough for all Oaklanders to have an opportunity to see it.”

Meanwhile, mayoral candidate and Oakland Councilwoman Jean Quan – whom a poll last week showed running a close second to Perata – is busy pounding the pavement (and getting her purse snatched) as well as putting a lot of direct mail in the field.

One recent mailer, a “Meet Jean Quan” piece, is a positive piece touting her record and promising to cut the mayor’s salary by 25 percent, make no back-room deals, be accessible to the public, support local schools with a volunteerism drive and get more police officers out from behind desks and onto the streets.

The other recent mailer, “Which way, Oakland?”, goes negative on Perata, noting that he was the subject of a years-long FBI investigation, helped engineer the Raiders deal that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, paid his son with campaign funds and has collected a tidy sum as a consultant to the state prison guards union.

That piece latter directs readers to www.notdon.org, a “Anybody But Perata for Mayor of Oakland” site that says it’s “an independent website not affiliated with any political officeholder or candidate or political campaign.” The site is run by Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor, an Oakland-based columnist perhaps best known for his work in the now-defunct UrbanView newspaper and then in the Berkeley Daily Planet; he also runs the “How Very Jerry” website collecting about 75 pieces he wrote about Jerry Brown’s Oakland mayoral administration.


Perata’s tobacco tax qualfied for 2012 primary

The California Cancer Research Act, a tobacco-tax-for-cancer-research ballot measure that Oakland mayoral candidate and former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata helped launch and fund, was certified yesterday by Secretary of State Debra Bowen for the Feb. 7, 2012 presidential primary election ballot.

As I’d reported when they submitted the petition signatures at the end of June, Perata and his allies – including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids – hope the high voter turnout of a presidential election year will help the measure, even as it’s attacked by the tobacco industry and anti-tax groups.

But the way I see it, the 2012 Democratic presidential primary isn’t likely to be heavily contested, as incumbent President Barack Obama presumably will seek a second term; the Republican presidential primary is much likelier to be a hot fight, with more press, advertising and voter turnout. And Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to vote for taxes of any kind.

The Attorney General’s official title and summary of the initiative is as follows:

IMPOSES ADDITIONAL TAX ON CIGARETTES FOR CANCER RESEARCH. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Imposes additional five cent tax on each cigarette distributed ($1.00 per pack), and an equivalent tax increase on other tobacco products, to fund cancer research and other specified purposes. Requires tax revenues be deposited into a special fund to finance research and research facilities focused on detecting, preventing, treating, and curing cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other tobacco-related diseases, and to finance prevention programs. Creates nine-member committee charged with administering the fund. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Increase in new cigarette tax revenues of about $855 million annually by 2011-12, declining slightly annually thereafter, for various health research and tobacco-related programs. Increase of about $45 million annually to existing health, natural resources, and research programs funded by existing tobacco taxes. Increase in state and local sales taxes of about $32 million annually. (09-0097.)

To qualify, it needed 433,971 valid petition signatures, which is 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2006 general election. But an initiative can qualify via random sampling, without further verification, if the sampling projects a number of valid signatures greater than 110 percent of the required number; this initiative needed at least 477,369 projected valid signatures to qualify by random sampling, and it did so.