Sacramento’s strong-mayor campaign is now a $1 million battle.
The campaign committees supporting and opposing Measure L on the November ballot have raised a combined total of just over $1 million, according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the City Clerk’s office.
Most of that money – $827,000 – has been collected by the two campaign committees trying to persuade voters to pass Measure L.
Those groups – Sacramento Tomorrow and Protecting Sacramento – took in sizable donations this week. They included $49,000 from Laurene Powell Jobs, a Silicon Valley executive and the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs; $45,000 from communications giant Comcast; and $25,000 from Ron Burkle, the Southern California billionaire who led an attempt to purchase the Sacramento Kings last year before dropping out of the bid.
The top two donors to the effort since it was launched earlier this year are Sacramento developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and Sacramento Republic FC lead investor Kevin Nagle. Both have given $100,000. Powell Jobs has donated a total of $99,000, records show. Former New York City Mayor and media mogul Michael Bloomberg gave $45,000 earlier this year, and local developer and minority Kings owner Mark Friedman donated $62,300.
Measure L would allow the mayor to appoint and fire the city manager, essentially transferring the executive duties at City Hall from a city manager hired by the City Council to the mayor.
Supporters, led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, argue Measure L would create a more nimble city government in which voters will have a clear understanding of who is in charge at City Hall. Opponents have characterized the effort as a “power grab” that could make the city more vulnerable to influence by powerful special interests, and argue the current system is working fine.
Joshua Wood, a spokesman for Sacramento Tomorrow, the lead committee advocating for Measure L, said the outside interests that have donated to the campaign are doing so because “they are excited about the energy here and they want to see our city succeed.”
“Sacramento is on the map in a different way,” he said.
Stop the Power Grab, the committee fighting the ballot measure, has reported donations of $177,375, records show. The local plumbers union is the largest donor at $49,900, followed by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) with $34,000.
Councilman Steve Hansen, a leader of the opposition campaign, once again predicted that money wouldn’t determine the outcome of the race. “When it comes to money, they’re blowing us out of the water,” he said. “It’s intimidating, but thankfully money doesn’t buy votes.”
Hansen was particularly critical of the Comcast donation, saying, “Such a big, mega-corporation giving to something so personal to the city of Sacramento doesn’t make sense.” Bryan Byrd, a Comcast spokesman, said the Philadelphia-based company “is a significant employer in Sacramento, and has sponsored many community events and initiatives in the capital region over the years.”
Wood fired back at Stop the Power Grab, calling the city management group “a special interest whose sole purpose is to protect city managers.”
The management group issued a statement saying Measure L “will not strengthen the city’s government.”
“Instead it would weaken the policymaking and representative role of the elected governing body as a whole and diminish the role of professional management while strengthening the powers of a single individual – the mayor,” the statement read.
While many of the names on the campaign donor lists are established in local politics, some are new to Sacramento, including Powell Jobs.
Both the mayor and Powell Jobs are heavily involved in the national education reform movement, and an organization founded by Powell Jobs – called College Track – recently opened its first office in Sacramento.
College Track’s new office here is housed in the former site of the 40 Acres art gallery on Third Avenue in Oak Park. That building is owned by St. Hope Development Company, according to public records. Johnson founded St. Hope after retiring from the NBA, but is no longer actively involved in the organization.
Amy Low, a spokeswoman for Emerson Collective, another organization founded by Powell Jobs that invests in education causes, said “Laurene (Powell Jobs) doesn’t comment on political contributions.”
Tsakopoulos, the region’s most prominent land developer, is a longtime supporter of Johnson.
“The whole idea is that the system of a strong mayor seems to work better for a city of our size and for our region,” Tsakopoulos said. “I believe (Johnson) when he says that it will work better.”
Nagle has also supported the mayor in the past, donating thousands of dollars to nonprofit organizations at Johnson’s request. Nagle said he has studied local government – he has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California – and that the strong mayor model works.
“When you look at different forms of government, in my mind, it makes all the sense in the world for large cities to have a governance where a chief executive (mayor) should be in charge to allow it to be fast and efficient,” Nagle said.
The money raised by Sacramento Tomorrow and Protecting Sacramento has funded mail pieces and two television advertisements, along with other campaign-related activities. It was expected that the campaign would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“This is one of the most significant changes in the city’s history, and I think we always knew this was a complicated issue and that we needed to give voters plenty of information,” Wood said.