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Campaign contributions largely from outside Richmond, finance records show

on November 5, 2016

This article and the graph above were updated with new contribution totals as of 6:15 p.m. Nov. 7.

Who’s your money on for the Richmond City Council election? And where are you from?

A local election doesn’t necessarily mean local money. In fact, as our interactive graph above shows, Vinay Pimplé is the only Richmond City Council candidate to have received the majority of his campaign contributions from Richmond donors.

When it comes to campaign funds from Richmond alone, the race is fairly close, with many candidates having received around $15,000 from supporters within the city limits. Nat Bates leads with over $26,000 in contributions from Richmond.

But it’s the money coming from outside Richmond that really sets the candidates apart.

Nat Bates and Jael Myrick lead significantly in contributions from elsewhere in California, most notably Martinez and Oakland. Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) candidates Ben Choi and Melvin Willis received sizeable amounts from Sacramento, namely from the California Nurses Association, University of California employee union, and Service Employees International Union.

And then there’s the money from outside California.

Choi and Willis have more out-of-state contributions than any other candidate. As of Oct. 27, each had received nearly $5,000 through Our Revolution, the political non-profit started by Bernie Sanders supporters in the wake of Sanders’ campaign for president.

Our Revolution endorsed 104 candidates this year, “from U.S. Senate all the way to school board,” said the organization’s Political Outreach Manager, Erika Andiola.

Choi and Willis were included in an Oct. 12 Our Revolution email with seven other candidates from across the country. They received contributions from 48 states and Washington, D.C., plus France, Germany and Spain. Many contributions were small, amounting to as little as $1 each when divided among the candidates.

But Our Revolution’s outreach was not the only reason far-flung donors gave to Choi and Willis. Gabrielle Semel of Brooklyn, New York, donated $150 to each of them because she is a “big supporter of Bernie Sanders and his campaign,” and learned about Choi and Willis through friends who live in Richmond. Johanna Brenner of Portland, Oregon, who also has friends in Richmond, said she sees the RPA as “a model for what we should be doing in other cities.” She donated $500 each to Choi and Willis.

The largest out-of-state contributions for Nat Bates, Corky Boozé, Jael Myrick and Cesar Zepeda were from Republic Services, the Phoenix, Arizona-based waste management company that serves Richmond.

For Bates, a long-time Richmond politician, this fundraising is just how the game is played.

“I take a position and people will make a contribution,” he said. “That’s the political process.”

Our Methods

To create this graph, we used contributions reported by candidates on campaign finance forms filed with the Richmond City Clerk’s office. Those forms do not require that contributions under $100 be itemized, so we contacted each candidate for information on contributions that fell under this amount. Some obliged; others did not.

We totaled contributions for each candidate by the cities in the donors’ addresses. For donations from Our Revolution, we grouped very small contributions by state, not city.

In some cases, the overall total we calculated for each candidate did not exactly match the overall total they reported on campaign finance forms filed with the city. In no case did the difference amount to more than $2,000.

If contributions are shown as “unspecified” in the graph above, that is because the candidate did not did not itemize that money on forms filed with the City Clerk, and either did not respond to our requests for information or chose not to disclose the requested information.


  1. ritchie cook on November 6, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Any councilperson faced with decisions where Republic services has an interest should not be allowed to vote. Unfortunately , Nate Bates has voted like that is the political process.

  2. Don Gosney on November 9, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    You know, of course, that many businesses here in Richmond have their checks processed elsewhere–especially PAC checks.

    Labor unions play a big role in most elections–especially in democratically controlled races. Many of these unions have offices that may not be in Richmond and this makes it look as if the contributions are coming from outside of Richmond. It can provide a false set of data that is not entirely indicative of reality.

    And then you have businesses that are definitely local but their corporate offices are elsewhere. For example, Richmond Sanitary has been here in Richmond since forever and even though they’re now owned by Republic Services, they’re still Richmond Sanitary. Yet their political checks come out of Arizona. So should these contributions be in the Richmond pile or the Outside of California pile?

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