Commentary: Who are the Democrats fighting to stop rent control in California?

A group of powerful Democrats has been carrying out Big Real Estate’s unscrupulous push to kill the expansion of rent control in California. Seniors on fixed incomes, labor union members, and millions of others may end up paying the life-altering consequences.

For the past six years, Gov. Gavin Newsom and political consultant Ace Smith, among other Democratic strategists, have been working closely with corporate landlords and their front group, the California Apartment Association, to ensure that the real estate industry can keep charging wildly inflated rents, which have fueled the housing affordability and homelessness crises.

It all started in 2018, when a broad coalition of housing justice groups, labor unions, and numerous Democrats aimed to repeal statewide rent control restrictions in California through Proposition 10. Housing Is A Human Right and its parent organization, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, helped lead the Yes on Proposition 10 campaign.

Corporate landlords fought back, funneling millions in campaign cash to the main No on Prop 10 committee that was sponsored by the California Apartment Association. Enter Newsom, and Democratic consultants Ace Smith and Jim DeBoo.

Newsom publicly opposed Yes on Prop 10, and Smith’s firm raked in at least $105,000 in consulting fees from No on Prop 10: Californians for Responsible Housing, sponsored by the California Apartment Association. Smith, in other words, was Big Real Estate’s hired gun.

But Smith wasn’t the only one who prospered by working with corporate landlords. Newsom, who was running for governor in 2018, grabbed at least $400,000 in campaign cash from Big Real Estate, including contributions from the California Association of Realtors and the California Apartment Association. Democratic consultant Jim DeBoo of DeBoo Communications also worked for the corporate landlords’ No on Prop 10 campaign.

In the end, the real estate industry shelled out a whopping $77.3 million to kill Proposition 10, with the help of Newsom, Smith, and DeBoo. And the housing affordability and homelessness crises only worsened.

In 2020, a second grassroots coalition pushed forward another ballot measure, Proposition 21, to end statewide rent control restrictions. Housing Is A Human Right and AIDS Healthcare Foundation again led the pro-rent control battle. And again Newsom, Smith, and DeBoo joined forces with corporate landlords for another big payday.

Leading up to the 2020 election, numerous real estate insiders, including the California Building Industry Association, delivered at least $165,000 in campaign contributions to the California governor. Newsom then took a more active role in stopping the grassroots push to end statewide rent control restrictions, appearing in a misleading No on Prop 21 TV ad and allowing his image to be used on the No on Prop 21 website.

For Democrat Ace Smith, his firm bagged at least $140,000 from No on Prop 21: Californians for Responsible Housing. That committee was sponsored by the California Apartment Association and bankrolled by numerous real estate heavyweights. In addition, Democrat Jim DeBoo hauled in tens of thousands in consulting fees from No on Prop 21.

By November 2020, corporate landlords shelled out nearly $100 million to successfully defeat Proposition 21. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic was slamming California tenants who lost work and couldn’t afford astronomical rents.

Most recently, more Democratic insiders have been hired by the California Apartment Association and corporate landlords to stop AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s work on expanding rent control. AHF and Housing Is A Human Right are leading another grassroots coalition to repeal statewide rent control restrictions through a 2024 initiative called the Yes on 33 Act.

Big Real Estate responded with a bogus ballot measure called the Protect Patients Now Act. If passed, it would stop AHF from spending money on initiatives.

Guess who’s working on that? Democratic consultants Ace Smith and Sean Clegg; Democratic strategist Nathan Click; and Democratic consultant Jim Messina of The Messina Group. Protect Patients Now, sponsored by the California Apartment Association, hired them all to do Big Real Estate’s dirty work.

As hired guns for the Protect Patients Now campaign, Smith, Clegg, Click, and Messina are now strategizing to stop AHF’s participation in the democratic process. Smith, Clegg, Click, and Messina may also be engineering the shady shell game that the California Apartment Association and a group of corporate landlords are carrying out to fund Protect Patients Now.

Corporate landlords have been contributing millions to the California Apartment Association Issues Committee, which then moves Big Real Estate cash to Protect Patients Now. In other words, the CAA is trying to hide the fact that corporate landlords are essentially funding Protect Patients Now.

But perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. Gavin Newsom, Ace Smith. and the other consultants have a disturbing track record of doing anything for corporate landlords when the money is right.

Patrick Range McDonald is the award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.