Mountain View Voice

News - June 1, 2012

Measure G supporters raise big bucks

by Nick Veronin

Supporters of Measure G have raised far more than opponents of the $198 million school bond set to go to a vote in the June 5 election — by about 60 to one.

Mountain View for Safe and Efficient Schools — a group backing the Mountain View Whisman School District measure — raised $61,250 between March 18 and May 19, according to papers recently filed with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. The biggest contribution came from Piper Jaffray, a Minneapolis-based investment bank that contributed $25,000.

The same documents indicate the campaign spent a little more than half of the money raised — $32,412.27 — over the same time period.

While the pro-Measure G campaign's fund-raising success could be seen as an indication of the bond's future success at the polls, the man leading the opposition to Measure G said it is only evidence of a corrupt political process.

TBWB Strategies was paid a total of $26,402 for the help it provided the campaign, according to Fiona Walter, a district board member and chair of the pro-Measure G campaign. The San Francisco-based political strategy and communications firm was paid a flat $20,000; the remaining $6,402 went for reimbursements for various campaign expenses — such as the creation of special "Yes on G" envelopes, fliers and buttons.

Walter was also paid $6,010.27 from the campaign fund — reimbursement for money she spent printing "Yes on G" T-shirts, a mailbox for campaign purposes, as well as for lawn signs and other miscellaneous items.

Over a longer period of time — beginning Jan. 1 — the group opposing the measure raised a little more than $1,000, according to Steve Nelson, chair of No on June Bond Measure G. The majority of the money was donated by Nelson, with a smaller amount coming from Alan J. Keith, co-chair of the No on June Bond Measure G, according to campaign filings with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters's office.

The campaign spent the majority of the money on advertisements with the Mountain View Voice, the filings show.

Craig Goldman, superintendent of the district, said he views the gap in funds raised as evidence of a similar gap in support.

'Bad public policy'

Nelson argued that the large sum raised by the pro-Measure G campaign is not necessarily indicative of massive community support for the bond measure. Rather, he said, the spending offers a window into a broken system — one which allows contractors to put up money in support of bond measures from which they stand to gain.

"These kinds of campaigns are generally funded by the companies outside the community that are going to directly benefit from the bond money that is going to be spent," Nelson said, referring to a number of construction firms and financial organizations that have either been guaranteed a piece of the Measure G pie, or will have a shot at getting a slice, if the bond passes next week.

Piper Jaffray will work with the district to issue the bonds should the measure win. The agreement between MVWSD and Piper Jaffray was reached before the campaign began.

"It's perfectly legal what they're doing." Nelson noted. "I think it's just bad public policy."

He said Piper Jaffray's campaign contribution represents a conflict of interest. If two of the other contributors — civil engineering firm Brio Engineering Associates and contract architects Artik — get contracts with the district for Measure G projects, it would amount to a "pay to play" scenario. Records show the two San Jose companies gave $2,500 and $7,500 respectively to the pro-Measure G campaign.

"There is absolutely no quid pro quo," Goldman said, countering Nelson. "I don't know who has contributed to the campaign or how much they've contributed, and, furthermore, as a district, we do not make our contractual decisions based upon who makes a financial contribution."

"I think what they (contractors) are looking for — not surprisingly — is an opportunity to bid on these contracts," Goldman said.

An opportunity is not a guarantee, he said. "You don't have the opportunity to bid on a contract if the contract doesn't exist."

School bonds are good for the entire community, Goldman reasoned. They stimulate the economy by creating work for a variety of contractors. And just as parents shouldn't be precluded from contributing to a campaign that would benefit their children or improve their property value (as better schools are known to do), contractors shouldn't be stopped from donating to causes that might ultimately result in more business.

"The bottom line, just like in all campaigns, is that there is a clear prohibition against any kind of quid pro quo," Goldman said.

Nelson noted that almost all of the major contributors to Mountain View for Safe and Efficient Schools are contractors or financial firms that stand to benefit from the passage of the bond.

25-year bond

The proposed bond, which will appear on the June 5 ballot, would be supported by district homeowners who would pay up to $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value annually for 25 years. It requires a yes vote of 55 percent to pass. It would come on top of Measure C, the eight-year, $3 million voter-approved parcel tax that went into effect in 2009. Depending on parcel size, property owners are assessed anywhere from nearly $150 to over $1,000 a year under Measure C.

Proponents of Measure G say the Mountain View Whisman School District needs the money to pay for an array of projects at all nine of its campuses — including major structural repairs, safety and accessibility improvements, technological upgrades, and the construction of new, energy efficient classrooms, along with the removal of permanent and portable structures past their prime.

Nelson said the district should have sought more community input and that it overlooked simpler, more cost-effective solutions.

Nelson has been challenging Measure G back when it was merely an idea being bounced about in MVWSD board meetings. He has pushed the district to do a better job of including the public in the planning process, called the plan disorganized and spent his own money taking the district court in an effort to get the pro-G description found in the county voter's guide reworded (he called the original MVWSD wording "misleading"). A judge denied his claims.

Nelson said it's not that he doesn't like the idea of improving local schools, he just feels this current plan is the wrong plan.

Goldman said Nelson's critique of Measure G's campaign finances is simply the latest in a slew of ill-fated attempts to stop a bond that has broad community support. Nelson has tried, and failed, numerous times before to derail the project, Goldman said.

"It's unfortunate that he (Nelson) is trying to cast very ethical service providers (Piper Jaffry, et al.) in a negative light. He has misrepresented the district's position on a number of occasions and it doesn't surprise me that he is continuing to do so in the final days prior to the election."

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