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Some School Board Candidates Disregard Campaign Finance Transparency Requirements

California’s campaign finance laws serve an important purpose – they prevent contributors from using anonymity to control policy outcomes.  By requiring disclosure of where campaign funds come from, the laws enable and empower voters to be able to assess the validity of campaign claims.  Trust is established through the transparency of having enough disclosure so people know what they need to know about the candidates.  Unfortunately, not all of the candidates in the upcoming election for the Board of Trustees of the Belmont Redwood Shores School District believe that it is necessary to comply with California’s campaign finance laws.  The resulting lack of transparency from these candidates informs me whether I can trust them to be the best stewards for the education of our communities’ children.

On September 26, all candidates and political action committees were required to make filings in compliance with California’s campaign finance laws.  I have approached all but one of the candidates and the committees supporting them to inquire of their filings to better understand who is supporting them (the one candidate who I did not approach made filings which I obtained directly from the San Mateo County election officials).  The responses (or lack thereof) are telling.  Only three of the candidates have complied with the law, Kelly Redmon completely ignored it, and there are significant transparency issues involving Amy Koo and Herb  Neuman and a political action committee acting on their behalf.

The law allows candidates to make one of two different types of filings.  The first is a filing which states that a candidate will raise and spend less than $1,000.  The idea behind this disclosure is that this is a de minimis amount and does not allow for a contributor to exert outside influence on an elected candidate.  The other filing is for use when a candidate may seek to raise and spend more than $999, and it also requires disclosure of the sources of the contributions, thus providing the transparency of who is behind a candidate and the messages the candidate is selling in support of his or her candidacy.

What I have learned from the school board candidates is that not all of them believe in the transparency that the system has established.  Although some have made one or the other of the two types of filings, others have acted in disregard of the disclosure requirements.

Two candidates – Chuck Velschow and Suvarna Bhopale – have elected to spend less than $1,000 in support of the campaign, and have made filings with the San Mateo County election officials to that effect.  This gives the appropriate disclosure.

Two other candidates – Rakesh Hegde and Naomi Nishimoto – stated in their filings that they may spend more than $999.  However, Rakesh Hegde also stated that he had so far spent less than $1,000, and that he was the source of his funds.  Again, appropriate disclosure.  Naomi Nishimoto, on the other hand, did not fully complete her filing, and as a result it is unclear how she is funding her campaign.

One candidate, Kelly Redmon, completely failed to make any filings and did not respond back to me.

The last two candidates – Amy Koo and Herb Neuman – gave unsatisfactory information to San Mateo County election officials, and likewise, to all of us voters.  Herb Neuman did not respond to my inquiries, but I was able to learn from the election office that he made a filing with that office stating that he intended to raise and spend less than $1,000.  However, in public statements he has said something different.  Last week Herb Neuman posted on his campaign website the following statement as part of a fundraising invitation:

“Vote By Mail ballots will be out shortly and I need to fund a direct mail postcard to get our message out before the early voters mail back their ballots.  Such a mailing costs up to $10,000 for a single postcard.”

When I asked Herb Neuman  to explain this discrepancy between his filings that he intended to raise less than $1,000 and his public statement that he intended to raise up to $10,000, he did not respond.  On his campaign website he charges that “[t]here’s a lack of transparency,” but the only lack of transparency seems to be the one which he has provided regarding his campaign finances.

Unlike Herb Neuman, his running mate Amy Koo did respond to my inquiries and referred me to San Mateo County election officials for a copy her filing.  According to the filing which they provided, Amy Koo also stated that she intended to raise and spend less than $1,000.  However, she stated that she also had knowledge of a political action committee which had been primarily formed to receive contributions and make expenditures on her behalf – the American Dream Fund.  Upon further investigation with the State of California, I determined that the American Dream Fund has told the state in its filings that it was NOT formed to support specific candidates in a single election.  So which is it?

An examination of the American Dream Fund’s website (http://www.americandreamfund.org/) shows that it is campaigning for both Amy Koo and Herb Neuman (and interestingly, unlike Amy Koo who acknowledged the existence of the American Dream Fund, Herb Neuman did not do so in his filings with San Mateo County).  Accuracy and transparency are the hallmarks of California’s campaign finance laws, but is not to be found from the filings being made by Amy Koo, Herb Neuman or the American Dream Fund.  Furthermore, the American Dream Fund was required to make filings with San Mateo County election officials on September 26 to state who are its donors, but appears to have not done so.  Just as with the individual candidates, I have reached out to the principal officer of the American Dream Fund, Carol Ford, to be able to obtain the information about who is funding the campaigns of Amy Koo and Herb Neuman, but she has failed to provide any response; just as the American Dream Fund has failed to inform San Mateo County election officials.  The American Dream Fund asserts that if Amy Koo and Herb Neuman are elected, they “will bring dramatic change to the district.”  If this dramatic change is to impose the same disregard for the law and casual treatment of transparency that has been done with California’s campaign finance laws, I will pass.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

KP October 03, 2013 at 10:51 PM
Scarlett, your ignorance of the facts is showing. You might want to tuck that back in. Nesbit is filled with more than desirable and fantastic children. I challenge you to look at the scores. Compare apples to apples. Nesbit actually tests higher than most other schools when you compare non ESL students. It is a bit difficult for a little child who does not fluently speak English to score high on a test administered in English. That does not measure that child's actual intelligence. My son was lucky enough to be seated next to a kid in 3rd grade that didn't speak 20 words of Eng. at the beginning of the school year. They became fast friends and learned each other's language. I'm ashamed that you would judge some little kid with an obviously elitist filter. Shame on you
KP October 03, 2013 at 11:05 PM
Bullying is not defined as asking question of a candidate running for office on a public forum. Just because you disagree with what I consider facts not make me a bully.
KP October 03, 2013 at 11:06 PM
PS same ol same ol is not defined as voting for 1 incumbent and 2 new faces
KP October 03, 2013 at 11:19 PM
So you want an "open" school board but you don't mind if a couple of the candidates that you support aren't even capable of being open with their fund raising? Do you actually think that the board business that is done in closed session should be open? All personnel decisions should be public? Their are LAWS that have to be followed. Just because you don't understand how the system must operate doesn't make it wrong.
KP October 03, 2013 at 11:25 PM
Then I would recommend voting for candidates that don't have any ethical problems. That have more than 1 agenda. That have some experience (on any level). That have the most basic grasp on the system
KP October 03, 2013 at 11:31 PM
News flash, I am well within my right to question and inform what I feel is improper in the school district that I have invested 12 years and literally thousands of volunteer hours.
KP October 03, 2013 at 11:44 PM
Not sure that I made that error but I can assure you I do know the difference. I do believe that is slightly off topic but oh well.
KP October 03, 2013 at 11:57 PM
Got it, please forgive the obvious error. Again, way off topic but hey I'm human and typing quickly on my phone. Oh and at home recovering from surgery and on pain meds. So perhaps since you can forgive violating more than one campaign law you can forgive one typo. Or not, it makes not difference in my life.
Belmont96 October 04, 2013 at 01:02 PM
Belmont - apology accepted. Thank you.
Justin October 04, 2013 at 01:16 PM
I'd be happy with any of these people: Nishimoto, Velschow, Bohaple, Hegde. I don't think we could go wrong. I too like Nishimoto. She has been to nearly all board meetings, and has contributed. She also works in the classrooms, and appears to be smart (they all are!). But as I said any three out of those 4 are clearly a win-win.
Belmont October 04, 2013 at 08:25 PM
Belmont96 I just deleted all my comments. I never realized how terribly threatening it is to people to change the status quo. My family will vote for the following: 1) Yes on Measure R 2) Chuck Velschow, Suvarna Bhopale, Rakesh Hedge for BRSSD 3) Warren Lieberman, Eric Reed and Charles Stone for Belmont City Council In my opinion, the choice in November 2013 is very clear, continue with the policies of the past, or push forward in a new direction...one that sees Belmont prosper so it can meet the needs of the next generation .....we need to vote for candidates who are pro-child , pro-education and are running for the right reasons....
Belmont October 04, 2013 at 09:14 PM
Hi Justin, you are right, the majority will prevail and the City Council will be respected whomever gets voted in. I really don't want to blog anymore. I will just say it is absolutely imperative to the future of the children in Belmont that we have a City Council that will work proactively with the School District. If we want to make change in the BRSSD we need Lieberman, Reed and Stone to be elected. The school district is at a very critical juncture. We finally have a great Superintendent, who has a PhD from Stanford University! Those are amazing qualifications. Please read the following article in this week's San Mateo Daily Journal if you have not already read it. http://www.smdailyjournal.com/articles/opinions/2013-10-02/editorial-lieberman-reed-stone-for-belmont-city-council/1776310.html One very last comment, if we do not change the world will pass us by. You can not stop progress. Just my two cents Justin...
Justin October 04, 2013 at 09:45 PM
I'll have a much better idea on who I'm leaning toward after the next forum (which will thankfully not be sponsored by the chamber).
Mike Talbot October 13, 2013 at 01:58 AM
Thanks Belmont96. The great thing about SM Daily Journal, they are independent and actually interviewed ALL candidates, not just 5 of 7.
KP October 25, 2013 at 11:28 PM
I am easy to find but it was not my lawn that the signs were placed on rather the lawn of dear friends. I am happy to be the contact person if the Koo/Neumann candidates wish to apologize for this incident. Kppatton@comcast.net Or Belmont PD case #131025054. It sure is surprising that neither candidate has publically addressed the repeated misplacement of campaign signs. And now this targeted attack that involved theft, trespassing, littering and vandalism.
Mike Talbot October 26, 2013 at 12:13 AM
I agree Kim, whoever STOLE those lawn signs and placed them near your house should be charged. Why would KOO/Neuman do that with their (NOT THERE) own signs? Think about it. Makes no sense. Anyhow, hopefully RWC police catch them.
AP October 26, 2013 at 12:44 AM
Mike lets not turn this into something ugly. It shouldn't matter who she voted for? What difference does it make? Also yes you're right those signs that belong to Hedge and Bhopale are exactly where they should be. They're supporters haven't stolen them and placed them in "unsuspecting" yards.
KP October 26, 2013 at 12:45 AM
Hedge, Bhopale and Velschow are my candidates and have all three conducted themselves with honor and dignity. They have not illegally placed signs but I do not think that was accidental I believe they are just good people who can follow the law. I also believe that any one of those candidates would immediately apologize and ask that their supports not continue the criminal activity.
Vivian October 26, 2013 at 12:56 AM
Campaign signs were removed from several RWS homes, and neighborhood security cameras have videos of this activity and RWC and Belmont police are alerted, so let the police do their investigation if they have the resources. Now for KPatton to post publicly, stating that Herb Neuman and Amy Koo are responsible for these actions and need to apologize for their actions - she is stating they are guilty and responsible? Does she have proof and facts to support her claims? If not, I would say be mindful - defamation of character and libel...a person or persons who have been defamed can sue for false and injurious statements to their reputations and character.
Mike Talbot October 26, 2013 at 01:58 AM
Great point Vivian. Wonder what proof KP has that KOO/Neunam (or their supporters) are stealing their own signs and placing them at one house???? To publicly blame Koo/Neunam on FB without proof, that's a lawsuit waiting to happen (libel).
KP October 26, 2013 at 01:18 PM
I received the following email from Amy Koo. Looks as if accountability and compassion are not her strong suits. My reply email follows her message. Hi Kim, People have been filling me in on the Facebook and Patch postings you have made – I am not in the FB group where you posted, and I have not been following all the comments in the Patch as I have been focused on talking to people face to face. I am pretty positive that my supporters would not have removed lawn signs and placed them in a non-supporters yard. I have two lawn signs at my own house and those two disappeared this morning. I noticed many of my neighbors’ lawn signs had also disappeared; many of them are angry and incredulous at what happened. When I filed the police report with Redwood City (T13000924), I did not know that the signs had reappeared somewhere else, and this was not mentioned in the police report. Prior to this incident, I was already aware of more than 50 signs that had gone missing since beginning of September, mostly signs that were installed legally in public space in Redwood Shores per Redwood City sign ordinances. However, I had wanted to stay positive and not accuse anyone of wrongdoing; therefore, other than filing police reports, I had not publicized the issue. This time because of the attack on personal property vs. public spaces, enough is enough, and I’m encouraging everyone to file police reports. We have not done anything wrong, and therefore, there is no need to apologize. Regards, Amy Amy, I would like to humbly remind you that as a candidate for public office you are accountable for both your campaign and your campaign signs. At the very least I believe that you need to own what your supporters did. How would you feel if a bunch of signs for one of your opponents suddenly showed up in your yard? Your lack of empathy for someone who had the sanctity of her property violated is quite telling. Your whole "I'm a victim too" doesn't speak to strength of character. It speaks to someone who refuses to be accountable. Not good for someone who seeks the support of the public for elected office. I do not believe that you had a direct hand in this troubling event however, I still believe that you need to publicly denounce the actions of those responsible. To do otherwise condones the behavior. Kim
Mike Talbot October 26, 2013 at 07:37 PM
KIM, again you are assuming Koo/Nueman supporters did this. What proof do you have? If it is a supporter, obviously NOT OK. It's the opposite in that Koo supporters are upset their signs are missing. If Koo supporters wanted to pull a prank like this, they could easily ask for a number of Koo/Nueman signs and put them somewhere. It's nice that you get to be the judge and jury.
Mike Talbot October 26, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Maybe you know who did this prank since you keep accusing others. AT this point, unfortunately the police are involved and security footage shows 2 adults being responsible for at least one sign theft. Hopefully everybody gets answers before the election.
Mike Talbot October 26, 2013 at 07:41 PM
What a waste of police resources BTW.
Mike Talbot October 27, 2013 at 02:10 AM
That was pretty funny Smith N Wesson. Wonder why Kim doesn't ask her candidates to ask this childish sign stealing behavior to stop?
Mike Talbot October 27, 2013 at 03:12 AM
AP (or Theresa): I find it funny that you are here defending Kim and the Koo signs end up on YOUR yard. Hmmm. You are PTA President at Nesbit? Let's set a good example?
Mike Talbot October 27, 2013 at 03:36 AM
AP/Teresa: I find it disingenuous that you come on this blog and hide the fact that the signs ended up on your yard. Yet you send your friend, Kim, to say it ended up on a dear friend's lawn. If it were me and I truly wanted to get the bottom of this childish prank, instead of yelling for Amy to say sorry, I would want to find out who really did this vs assuming Amy's supporters stole their own signs to place them at your house. This whole pranks smells of a set up like Smith N Wesson called it. Glad there is video evidence and the police can get to the bottom of it.
Mike Talbot October 27, 2013 at 03:37 AM
Clearly throughout this whole race there are a few haters who keep doing negative campaigns against Koo/Neunam. The public is smarter than that and can see right through this whole thing!
Smith N. Wesson October 27, 2013 at 07:24 AM
My post was BANISHED! This is a fascist publication like the the old Soviet Tass and Pravda where if the editor does not like the comments she deletes them. Was it too many multi- syllabic words? Or was it because I picked on the Nesbit neighborhood? I used no profanity and I told the truth so I will tell it again! ( sans the meanie weenie Nesbit comment) Congratulations to all of the BRSSD sycophants and the mind-numbingly boring, disingenuous and duplicitous candidates running as suck-ups to the District. You sank to the lowest level of low. By permitting a talking head on a stick to post defamatory FB postings with pictures (cached forever) and continue to libel Amy Koo and accuse her supporters of sleuthing around Redwood Shores in the wee hours of the morning stealing their own campaign signs (with security cameras pointed directly at them) so they can plant the signs on a lawn in the Nesbit neighborhood, makes all of you complicit and despicable partners in what was OBVIOUSLY an attempt at a set-up, concocted by a moron. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence recognized it as sophomoric foul-play that turned into a transparent and poorly executed series of trespassing and theft crimes committed by bottom feeders and slugs, most of whom have ties to Belmont. The Belmont community should be embarrassed and ashamed. And if the candidates running against Amy Koo had any moral compasses, they would tell THEIR supporters to stand down and stop the Chicago style thug politics.
Mike Talbot October 27, 2013 at 08:43 AM
Joan, if you're going to delete comments, you should also delete the comments where Kim is accusing Koo/Koo supporters of this childish prank without PROOF (talk about a slew of illegal post there and probably against the patch TOS). I find Joan's comment deleting pretty biased.

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