How People Hide Political Contributions

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.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

16 Comments

  1. > 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.

    Hello?  What?

    I am totally mystified by this strange, weird lapse into common sense on the part of Rich Robinson.

    It seems unnatural, weird and creepy, but he is actually agreeing with me.

    I swear, I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!

    I suspect a hostage situation.

    Someone should alert the authorities.

  2. Rich,

    You spoke about the greasy developers and Council Members. Care to say anything about the pim… uhh… the lobbyists?

  3. I neither said nor implied that Council members, developers or lobbyists were “greasy”.

    There are good and bad in all categories.  The point is that if a group of folks from the same industry are bundling for a particular candidate, it is information the voters should be able to easily access.  Having a person called “homemaker”, when their true interest in the election is Real Estate does not serve the public interest.

    • Rich,

      You did mention both developers and the City Council.  The adjective “greasy” is mine as anyone can see by reading your posting and my reply. 

      You said nothing about lobbyists, who are not greasy because they fall into the lower “slimy” category.  You’ve got me scratching my head about there being good and bad in all categories.  I cannot think of one lobbyist I’d trust to mow my lawn.

  4. Would the numerous Merc editorial pieces and articles that exort its readers to vote for Measeure B also be a form of in-lieu campaign contribution, especially if Merc publisher, Mac Tully, is on the SV Chamber of Commerce executive committee?

    • The free press is exempt from political regulations.  But there is also a difference between the editorials and news stories.

      The standard for newstories is “accuracy” not truth.  In addition, news stories are suppose to strive for being objective.  The oxymoron as applied to FOX News is “fair and balanced”.

      There has been a fair amount of critisism regarding the Mercury News—most of it is because the once great newspaper has been a victim of lay-offs, budget cuts, ownership changes and the fast paced rise of technology and the speed at which news travels.

      Twenty years ago we had to wait for a story to be published the next day.  Today, we can access it as soon as it is written.  Still the publlished paper—which has day old news—is an essential part of our City and society.

      I have tremendous respect for the third estate and the people who continue to produce news in an ethical manner, utilizing standards of reporting that are quickly being lost in the technology we now use to communicate.

      The Mercury News still utilizes those methods for news gathering.  Though the medium is changing,  we need those professionals to continue working and we need to demand that the objective working press be distinguished from the current babble that fills our computers, our ipads and our television screens.

      That doesn’t mean we get perfection, absolute truth or will always agree with the printed word.  But the absence of journalistic standards in producing content is dangerous to a free society.

      So as far as the Mercury News and Metro and Community Papers go, I support their continued existance—for if they ever disappear we will have nothing but unsubstantiated rumor, facts and opinion on whicth o rely.  In fact, we have too much of that already—

      It is

      • Speaking of babble, Rich Robinson wrote a few weeks back:

        “The Sheriff pulled her endorsement of Rose because of fraud, but has yet to endorse anyone else.”

        There were a couple of questions asked of Mr. Robinson that were never answered:

        1) Is Sheriff Smith accusing Ms. Herrera of committing a crime of fraud?

        2) If yes, please provide the penal code(s) Ms. Herrera has violated.

        • Asked and answered.  The statute of limitations has run—was their fraud—yes.

          Look up the fraud statutes youself, you google just as well as I do.

        • Mr. Robinson, 

          Why are you being so evasive in answering two simple questions about the serious accusations you have made against Ms. Herrera?  You still have not answered if Sheriff Smith is accusing Ms. Herrera of committing a crime of fraud.  You as a lawyer should know there are a range of crimes in the California Penal Code under the broad category of fraud (470-483.5 to start).  Please provide us with the penal code section so we can know exactly what crime you are accusing Ms. Herrera of committing.

        • Fraud is not only a criminal act. I understand Herrera committed fraud and was held accountable in a civil context. For a public servant whether the fraud is punished in the civil or criminal context should not matter—it is still fraud.

      • > So as far as the Mercury News and Metro and Community Papers go, I support their continued existance—for if they ever disappear we will have nothing but unsubstantiated rumor, facts and opinion on whicth o rely.

        You mean “unsubstantiated rumor” as in the Mercury news publishing a picture of George Zimmerman purporting to show that he had no injuries from his encounter with Trayvon Martin, and therefore “white Hispanic” Zimmerman was likely just some out of control racist gunslinging cowboy?

        As long as I can remember, the “dominant mainstream” news media have been faking “journalistic standards” and selling it has some kind of mystical holy water.

        Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Pinch Sulzeberger were all biased, dishonest, pompous frauds.

        When the “dominant mainstream media” ultimately disintigrates, the news consuming public will realize that circumspection, skepticism, and even cynicism is and always has been necessary in judging EVERY news report from EVERY source.

      • The problem is that the journalistic standards are not being upheld. The line between the editorials and news stories is often blurred.  This could be because the staff is so lean that the same people are writing both but the standards for the MN have long ago disappeared.

  5. Hat’s off to you on this one Rich.  My only thoughts are that most people that read this blog are already aware of the methods.  Perhaps I, or you know the audience better but anyways it sheds light on the red headed stepchild of politics.  Most watchdogs don’t publish the affiliation networks of campaign contribution. It’s a job I would not envy connecting these types of dots is a mental workout.  I think if nothing else what you present us with is a need for a consistent factual accounting of interest. A column in the spreadsheet for scanning that summarizes a candidates leanings.  Are they truly for the people (fair and balanced) or for particular interest (commercial property)?

  6. > The remedy here is to eliminate by the repeal of the “entitlement programs” known as the Prevailing Wage and Living Wage Ordinances. These ordinances cost taxpayers dearly by making publically financed construction projects much more expensive and by causing to finance the Office of Equality Assurance which oversees these accursed programs. The Office of Equality Assurance is nested in the grotesquely incompetent and over staffed Office of the City Manager. But, the cost to taxpayers does not stop there for the Office of the City Attorney must allocate resources to deal with all issues associated with the Prevailing Wage and Living Wage Ordinances.

    It took a long time to wade through this and sort out the complex prose, but if I grasp what you’re saying here . . .

    you are correct.

    Giving governments, regulators, and bureacrats a say-so in setting the price for anything in a market economy is basically giving them a license to ask for and receive bribes.