Linda Toeniskoetter is a yoga instructor, Kelley Rubino is a hair stylist, Kristina Campisi is a homemaker, and Lee Brandenburg is retired; but they’re all major contributors to local campaigns.
Make no mistake, the contributions are legal and the contributors have every right to engage in the political system. But their listed occupations fail to connect them to interests that normally cause people to become major players in local politics.
Ms. Toeniskoetter is married to Chuck Toeniskoetter, whose business is commercial real estate. Ms. Rubino is related to Salvatore Rubino Jr., who is a manager at Valley View Packing. In addition, retirees Rebecca and Sal Rubino Sr. are also maxed out contributors. Kristina Campisi is related to four other Campisi family members who maxed out constributions—their business is Campisi Construction. And Lee Brandenburg is the patriarch and former head of Brandenburg Properties. His son and an employee are also listed as major donors.
The practice these folks engage in is called bundling. To get around contribution limits, special interests collect individual checks from family members, employees and personal friends, and deliver the checks to a campaign. While it is legal, the practice is a circumvention of the campaign laws’ intent, which is to limit the influence of special interest contributions.
The ethics laws imposed by the City of San Jose and others are a joke. Limiting contributions and expenditures has simply forced more creativity in the process. Individual council campaigns may have expenditure limits, but third-party independent expenditure committees do not. The law effectively relieves candidates from the responsibility of messaging that goes out on their behalf.
The remedy for the problem is to simplify the law. Remove contribution and expenditure limits, but strictly require full disclosure of contributors. All contributions should be posted publically within 24 hours of receipt—we live in the age of technology, when information is actually more important than money.
That is not to say money doesn’t have influence on the process. But if money were the only factor that determined elections, our Governor would be Meg Whitman.
Developers, real estate interests, garbage and construction companies are not necessarily bad people. But if a candidate gets major funding from these interests, it is fair and important to point out. Where a person gets their financial support is usually a good gauge of the philosophy that person will bring to public office.
It can also explain why the San Jose City Council might vote to give developers $3 million in tax breaks. Heck, for $3 million I could get my wife and four kids to max out. Sometimes it pays to have a large family.