Rush to Endorsement by League of Women Voters
The League of Women Voters of Oakland applauds the Oakland Public Library for the vision it has shown in the master plan for a new Main Library in the Kaiser Center. The current Main Library does not have enough space to make most of its books directly available to the public. It needs updating to provide information to the public using the latest technology and formats. The cost to fix the current building or build a new building is huge. Remodeling the Kaiser Center is the most cost-effective plan to get an up-to-date Main Library downtown.
The Kaiser Center is a public asset. The city should make the highest and best use of it. We cannot think of a better use than a public library, adjacent to Laney College and the Oakland Museum and near public transportation.
Our mission is to encourage active and informed participation in government. Libraries are essential in this as a major source of knowledge and information. We ask the City Council to vote for a new Main Library in the Kaiser Center.
– Aug. 21, 2006
League of Women Voters Approves Campaign Corruption
"Measure O: A Clean, Grassroots, Educational Campaign" was the title that Helen Hutchison, president of LWV-O, gave her post-election commentary. Measure O instituted a form of instant runoff voting in Oakland elections. Affirming the image of the League of Women Voters as a group devoted to clean government, Ms. Hutchison wrote:
"The campaign [for Measure O] was a model of what all local campaigns should be – run by a coalition of Oakland activists, on a very small budget, with an essentially all-volunteer crew. ... This was not a big-budget campaign. There were no highly paid consultants. There were a lot of volunteers and a very low-paid graphic artist." (See Grand Lake Guardian, Dec. 5, 2006.)
An ORPN activist posted a comment in reply: "Too bad the Measure N campaign for a palace library was just the opposite. Councilmember Quan and her committee raised more than $150,000, about half of it from special business interests holding or seeking contracts with the City. Since the League of Women Voters Oakland endorsed Measure N, will Ms. Hutchison criticize the Measure N sleaze as forthrightly as she praises the Measure O campaign?"
As for highly paid consultants, Measure N used super-cynical Larry Tramutola. He was paid at least $46,000.
Ms. Hutchison replied first with an explanation that the League has two "sides." One side is a non-profit education fund that does not engage in advocacy. "At the same time, on the other 'side' of our organization, the League is politically active and works to influence policy through advocacy."
Specifically on the sleazy Measure N campaign, Ms. Hutchison wrote:
- A professionally conducted campaign does not by definition equal sleaze, although it can. We (the League) believe the Measure N campaign was conducted openly and honestly. Since this was a bond measure, it was appropriate that leadership be provided by City officials. However, Measure N also had many volunteers from throughout the community who gave their time and energy in an effort to build a library system in Oakland for the coming decades.
- The League supported Measure N because of long standing policies of support for libraries, a belief that a strong library system is a key part of our democratic system. Furthermore, we reviewed the master plan the the library prepared, and found it to be well done, logical and and inclusive.
- Measure N required a greater level of spending to educate the public because the bar was set higher (two-thirds rather than a majority), and there was vocal opposition which needed to be answered.
- While the League endorsed Measure N as well as O, League members were not the driving force behind the N campaign, as they were with O. My article was meant to celebrate the success of the Measure O campaign.
There you have it: if the League of Women Voters Oakland supports something, the League sees no problem when a councilmember takes tens of thousands in contributions from businesses that have City contracts, are angling for City contracts, and want to renew City contracts. This is the structural problem with the two-headed League, a supposed non-partisan guardian of civic virtue yet also an advocate for specific programs. The League apologizes for blatant corruption because its leaders back the particular position on an issue.
It is ludicrous to say that because Measure N was a bond and tax measure, City officials should campaign for its passage by soliciting big contributions from special interests doing business with the City.
As for the opposition, indeed it was vocal – and it prevailed with no campaign committee, no organized fund raising, only individual out-of-pocket copying of leaflets and such for a few dollars. Again, how does this justify a councilmember taking big contributions from special interests? Regardless of the defeat of Measure N, the inside players will remind councilmembers that they "came through" when asked.
The League does not need to answer to the IRS about its tax exemption. It needs to answer to the voters of Oakland. Until the League of Women Voters of Oakland sets things right by condemning councilmember Quan's fundraising and calling for suitable reform, everyone should understand that the League's self-praise as a provider of balanced information is false.
– Dec. 7, 2006