No one has fought Occupy Oakland as viciously as the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, and OakPAC, the Chamber’s Political Action Committee is the cash in every council member’s campaign. The Chamber is not a lobbyist; they are the lobbyist, in Oakland. They have been the political push behind the generally limp and befuddled elected officials. They have catalyzed the Oakland City Council, famous for its inability to agree on anything, into an orgy of consensus and an eagerness to act without regard for costs.
Shockingly, the press applauded the council’s “common sense” approach to Occupy Oakland. The press’s lockstep agreement with the council’s approach to Occupy Oakland was further bolstered by a “scientific survey” showing that the public agreed with the Chamber and the Oakland City Council and the blundering mayor, when she agreed with the Chamber. Something had to be done; Occupy Oakland was a crisis, a disaster. The home invasions, armed robberies and record murder year could wait, the Chamber was right, the people of Oakland must fight the tents.
So how did the good people of Oakland all come to agree so quickly and completely with the Chamber? Who elected the Oakland City Council, OakPAC did, and who surveyed the public, EMC Research, a Chamber member. Who reported the story: the Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, ABC-7 (KGO-TV), CBS 5 and KTVU, all Chamber of Commerce members. So how did the Chamber come to have such a huge influence over Oakland Politics?
Here’s the history. Oakland has long had a problem with “pay to play “machine politics which starved the poorer neighborhoods and citizens of services and representation. Paul Rockwell wrote an insightful if not prophetic piece about the Chamber and its PAC (OakPAC) in 2006. The City of Oakland attempted to limit lobbyist control over Oakland politics with a Campaign Reform Act in 2000, the object being to create freer elections. The Chamber agreed to the reform and their influence, through OakPAC, was curtailed.
So between 2000 and 2006 Oakland’s people had more influence over local elections. Ron Dellums became mayor and in 2006 there was a contested race for a council seat where the OakPAC candidate, Pat Kerninghan was in a tight race against Aimee Allison. The Chamber, unhappy with the possibility of losing a council seat, threatened legal action against Oakland’s Campaign Reform Act and a judge deemed Oakland’s Campaign Reform act unconstitutional, saying it violated the groups’ freedom of speech.
The City’s Campaign Reform Ordinance was revoked and OakPAC was once again free to pour unlimited funds into political campaigns. Their candidate won and the City of Oakland paid a $75,000 settlement to OakPAC. So Oakland taxpayers paid OakPAC, who in turn bought politicians, who then promoted the Chamber’s position, which was then researched and reported on by the Chamber’s members and this is how Oakland has come so quickly and completely to support the Chamber’s position on the occupy protests.
Oaklander’s need no longer be bothered with tedious tasks like choosing their council people, or researching issues, the Chamber can do it for them. As for public opinion, they have the Chamber’s research and their reporters to tell them what to think. So what if one’s council member doesn’t have time for office hours and sends their staff; they can’t be expected to miss a “Power Breakfast” with the Chamber. Without a “Power Breakfast” with the Chamber of Commerce Oakland City Council members would have no idea what their positions are.