Staff with the Oakland Public Ethics Commission has found that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s campaign accepted donations over the legal limit from the owner of several large properties in the city, and has recommend she return the contributions and pay a fine.
An investigation by the ethics commission found that 11 West Partners LLC donated $2,400 more to Schaaf’s campaign for mayor than the legal limit of $800. Investigators recommended that Schaaf forfeit the $2,400 to the city’s general fund and pay a $600 penalty.
The properties owned by 11 West Partners include the artist studio complex American Steel in West Oakland and a retail complex in downtown Oakland that includes the former Smart and Final store, which closed last year.
At the time of the contributions, 11 West Partners was also negotiating to purchase a city-owned parking lot near the Smart and Final store. The company was fined $5,600 for violating a ban on contributions by city contractors in May.
For the findings against Schaaf, the baseline penalty is $1,000 and could be as much as three times the illegal contribution – in this case $7,200. But the ethics commission’s staff recommended that Schaaf only pay a reduced penalty of $600.
The ethics commission’s staff cited several mitigating factors, writing that the contributions came from different entities all owned by the same company, so it was not immediately clear that accepting them constituted a violation.
Ethics commission staff also wrote that Schaaf’s campaign cooperated with the investigation and offered to return the donations immediately when contacted about the issue.
The illegal contribution was less than 1 percent of the $262,193.66 that Schaaf had raised for her campaign by the end of 2017, according to the ethics commission.
Schaaf’s campaign also was found to have violated ethics rules in her 2014 campaign, when four entities owned by the same person made contributions that were $2,100 over the legal limit.
The 2018 campaign finance violations came after a fundraiser for the Schaaf campaign reached out to 11 West Partners owner Adam Goldenberg and asked him to attend an upcoming fundraiser.
Monica Ng of 11 West Partners then sent emails to three affiliated companies requesting they each send $800 to Schaaf’s campaign. In all, Schaaf’s campaign received four checks of $800 each from 11 West Partners affiliated entities.
Emily Matthews, the spokesperson for Schaaf’s 2018 campaign, said:
“Oakland’s campaign finance rules are critical safeguards for electoral integrity. While campaign donors are generally responsible for complying, this case has caused us to place additional safeguards as part of our contribution processing to ensure we never again unknowingly accept unauthorized contributions.”
The Public Ethics Commission is scheduled to vote whether to impose the fines at its Aug. 5 meeting.