Who Are the Political Consultants Working for Corporate Landlords to Stop Rent Control Measure in California?

Group of businesspeople in a dimly lit meeting room with multiple screens in the background.

HOUSING – For this coming election in California, corporate landlords have hired a small army of political consultants to kill a pro-rent control measure called the Yes on 33 Act and to pass an anti-AIDS Healthcare Foundation initiative known as Protect Patients Now. So far, the consultants have worked largely under the radar, earning lucrative fees to carry out Big Real Estate’s anti-rent control agenda. But the public should know who’s pulling the strings behind the scenes.

This year, a broad coalition of housing justice groups, labor unions, social justice organizations, and civic leaders – including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta – is working to pass the Yes on 33 Act. The ballot measure, which is only 23 words, is simple: it will repeal California’s rent control restrictions and allow cities to expand rent regulations. With unaffordable rents linked to higher death rates, and with unfair, sky-high rents fueling the housing affordability and homelessness crises, the Yes on 33 Act is an urgent solution to help people and save lives.

Corporate landlords, though, want to keep charging higher and higher rents so they can keep boosting their outsized profits year after year – no matter the consequences to millions of California tenants. Starting in 2023, corporate landlords and its lobbying organization, the California Apartment Association, hired a group of high-priced campaign consultants to kill the Yes on 33 Act – and to stop the expansion of rent control in California.

In addition, corporate landlords are ramping up their defense of statewide rent control restrictions by trying to silence AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the parent organization of Housing Is A Human Right, through a ballot measure called Protect Patients Now sponsored by the California Apartment Association.

The initiative aims to stop AHF’s work to pass pro-rent control ballot measures – and to end the organization’s housing justice advocacy done on the behalf of poor and middle- and working-class Californians. It’s a measure that seeks to kill AHF’s participation in the democratic process.

The California Apartment Association Issues Committee, a political action committee, is contributing to both Californians for Responsible Housing (a No on Yes on 33 Act committee) and Protect Patients Now. But actually a shell game is taking place: corporate landlords send millions to the CAA Issues Committee, and then the CAA moves their money to Californians for Responsible Housing and Protect Patients Now.

An exclusive Housing Is A Human Right investigation revealed that 10 of the largest corporate landlords in the United States have contributed more than $13 million to the CAA Issues Committee. So far, much of that money has been spent on hiring political consultants, who create TV, radio, and social media ads, provide strategic advice, feed reporters slanted news items, and constantly spin the facts in favor of their uber-wealthy, corporate clients.

Here are the profiles of those consultants – many of whom are working for both Californians for Responsible Housing and Protect Patients Now.

  1. Bearstar Strategies: Run by Ace Smith and a group of partners, Bearstar Strategies is strongly connected to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who, in the past, has stood with corporate landlords and opposed the end of statewide rent control restrictions in California. Bearstar has been paid a total of $52,749 to work for Protect Patients Now and Californians for Responsible Housing. The firm also worked on two previous Big Real Estate campaigns, in 2018 and 2020, to stop pro-rent control ballot measures Proposition 10 and Proposition 21. Both initiatives were widely supported by housing justice groups, labor unions, and social justice organizations.
  2. DeBoo Communications: Founded by Jim DeBoo, DeBoo Communications has raked in a whopping $225,000 in Big Real Estate cash to work for Protect Patients Now and Californians for Responsible Housing. DeBoo is also a Newsom insider, working as the chief of staff for the governor. Like Ace Smith, DeBoo carried out two misinformation campaigns funded by corporate landlords to stop Prop 10 and Prop 21.
  3. JSQ Group: Led by Joshua Heller and Johan Rognerud, JSQ Group has banked $140,000 in real estate industry cash to work for Protect Patients Now and Californians for Responsible Housing. Like their colleagues, Heller and Rogneraud are taking the big payday to silence AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s housing justice advocacy and to stop the pro-rent control work of a broad coalition of grassroots groups and labor unions.
  4. Click Strategies: Run by Nathan Click, Click Strategies has raked in $80,000 from Big Real Estate to work for Protect Patients Now and Californians for Responsible Housing. Click is yet another Newsom insider – see the trend here?
  5. Forward Observer: Founded by Joseph Rodota, Forward Observer has been paid $80,000 to work for Protect Patients Now and Californians for Responsible HousingRodota has been a longtime Republican operative, which includes working on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful recall campaign that ousted Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and then put Schwarzenegger in the governor’s mansion in Sacramento. Along with Ace Smith and Jim DeBoo, Rodota is now coming up with plans to end AHF’s participation in the democratic process through the Protect Patients Now ballot measure.
  6. The Messina Group: Led by Jim Messina, the Messina Group has taken $30,000 to work for Protect Patients Now, which is ultimately funded by such corporate landlords as Essex Property Trust, AvalonBay Communities, and Equity Residential. Messina is also trying to silence AHF’s housing justice work.
  7. Blueprint Advocacy: There’s little information about Blueprint Advocacy – it doesn’t have an official website and doesn’t appear to have a social media presence. According to the California Secretary of State website, it’s based in San Francisco. Which begs a question: What is Blueprint Advocacy hiding? The campaign consultant has been paid $72,000 to work for Protect Patients Now and Californians for Responsible Housing.
  8. TMG LLC: TMG is another name for The Messina Group, according to its LinkedIn profile. Why The Messina Group is trying to hide its identity is anyone’s guess – perhaps Jim Messina doesn’t want people to know that he’s taking Big Real Estate money? TMG is raking in $30,000 from Protect Patients Now. Add in the other $30,000, and The Messina Group is banking $60,000 to kill AHF’s housing justice advocacy.
  9. TD Strategies: TD Strategies is yet another secretive campaign consultant. It was paid $12,500 by Californians for Responsible Housing on March 13, 2024. According to the California Secretary of State website, TD Strategies is based in Fountain Valley, California, under the name of Tyler Diep – the “TD” may stand for Tyler Diep. In 2017, he successfully ran as a conservative Republican for the California State Assembly, representing the 72nd District in Orange County. As an Assembly member, Diep received campaign cash from the California Apartment Association, including two contributions totaling $4,700. Diep lost his re-election bid and came under fire, in 2019, for appearing to use anti-Semitic tropes in political mailers that were aimed at his opponent, Josh Lowenthal.

And that’s the small army that corporate landlords and the California Apartment Association have hired to kill the expansion of rent control in California and to silence AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s housing justice advocacy.

It includes numerous Newsom insiders, a longtime Republican operative, a former conservative Republican State Assembly member, and a group of campaign consultants trying to fly under the radar. Quite the bunch. Corporate landlords are expected to spend tens of millions to have their consultants carry out massive misinformation campaigns this fall.

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(Patrick Range McDonald, author and journalist, Best Activism Journalism: Los Angeles Press Club, Journalist of the Year: Los Angeles Press Club, Public Service Award: Association of Alternative Newsmedia, and a contributor to CityWatch.)