Sacramento council races reveal City of Money Trees

Big bucks influence the race for Midtown and downtown

On Kendrick Lamar’s new album, currently the most popular hip-hop record in the country, the emcee raps about how “money trees are the perfect place for shade.” And while I’m sure that chilling under a canopy of Benjamins is probably awesome—as a journalist, I’ll never know—I was alarmed recently, while poring over last week’s city of Sacramento campaign-finance reports, that Sacramento’s become a city of money trees during this election cycle.

Which is not unforeseen: Campaigns run on cheese, and it would be naive to presume that even a Sacramento City Council candidacy in the year 2012 doesn’t necessitate some mighty fine Point Reyes toma.

Yes, there’s serious coin jangling in campaign coffers, and the upped war-chest ante will undoubtedly impact the candidacy landscape in years to come. Such as: Will Sacto ever see a true and viable political-reform city-council hopeful again, instead of the customary Democratic-machine wannabes or inside-baseball attorneys, lobbyists and Capitol staffers? It’ll be that much harder for fresh voices to enter the fray—and it won’t help if the city keeps frozen its program for matching campaign funds.

Things are bound to get a little shady under these money trees, right?

Here in the grid, Joe Yee and Steve Hansen’s neck-and-necker to be the next mayor of Midtown—a.k.a. council member of District 4, which also includes downtown, Land Park and that ’hood near Chevy’s on the river—is being fueled by a robust eleventh-hour influx of campaign contributions.

Hansen leads this infusion: The attorney raked in some $34,000 in only 20 days of October, according to the city clerk’s latest campaign-disclosure statements. This number is nearly one-fifth of what Hansen brought in during the entire year; final contribution reports won’t be available until after Tuesday’s election.

Yee, too, has been no slouch in the fundraising department. The architect and planning commissioner accrued more than $30,000 during these same three weeks, which amounts for almost 20 percent of his contributions received in 2012.

Think about it: In just 20 days, the two guys brought in only $2,000 less than what Councilman Steve Cohn raised in all of 2010 (granted, he did not have a November runoff).

When it’s all said and done, Hansen and Yee likely will amass half-a-million dollars in contributions over the past two years (Hansen sitting at $267,429; Yee at $176,694) for the District 4 race, a very healthy uptick over the Jay Schenirer-Patrick Kennedy District 5 contest in 2010 (those two together raked in nearly $293,000).

And, as the saying goes, mo’ money mo’ problems.

Including shenanigans: On October 25, Hansen’s attorney Amber Maltbie was paid to file a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission that Yee is using office space near the Midtown Safeway, owned by mega-developer Paul Petrovich, without disclosing it on finance reports.

But the FPPC hasn’t filed any charges. And Yee still has time to make disclosures on statements if necessary.

Another instance: Hansen’s spent more on mailers than any other candidate, some $36,000 in charges recently, all to Portland, Ore.-based firm Morel Ink. The candidate explained to SN&R, however, that he wasn’t spending big cash with an out-of-town business, and that all mailers were printed locally at Pacific Standard Print (the company also confirmed this). Morel Ink handles the transaction, turns out, because a friend involved with the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund runs the outfit.

No harm, no foul. Just more big special-interest money impacting Sacto (although electing the city’s first-ever gay council member is a noble cause).

Still, critics worry that Hansen—who’s taken from cops and the chamber of commerce—and Yee—developers and labor—won’t stand up for public interests when special interests come knocking (read Cosmo Garvin’s Bites column this week, on the next page).

It’s a legit concern. And those money trees keep on growing.