A political action committee aimed explicitly at unseating Portola Valley Town Council members up for reelection this fall has raised close to $29,000, according to finance filings. Its donors are two council candidates and a former ambassador to former President Barack Obama.
The political action committee (PAC), called "Our Future Together PAC Opposing Hughes, Derwin and Richards for Town Council 2022," is aimed at unseating Mayor Craig Hughes and council members Maryann Derwin and John Richards. Only Hughes is seeking reelection in November. The PAC has not yet announced who it plans to endorse for council.
The funds already far exceed what past candidates have raised in prior elections. In 2020, council members Jeff Aalfs and Sarah Wernikoff each spent about $3,000 on their campaigns, according to campaign finance reports. Town Attorney Cara Silver said that, to her knowledge, there hasn't been another PAC in Portola Valley in recent history.
Portola Valley resident Eileen Donahoe, Obama's U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and executive director of the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University, gave the largest donation of $10,000 in June.
Donahoe told The Almanac she was walking in her Westridge neighborhood when a neighbor asked her to donate to the PAC. She said her simple motivation for donating was that she trusts her neighbors' judgment and would like to see council members who support fire safety in town.
Contributions came from council candidates Dale Pfau ($500) and Mary Hufty ($100), according to the filings that cover January 1 to June 30. Both contributions are listed for June 9, prior to the nomination period that began last month.
The town removed Pfau as the Wildfire Preparedness Committee's vice chair in April, but didn't explain why. He serves as chair to the Emergency Preparedness Committee. Pfau said in an email that he donated to the PAC well before he decided to run for office.
"After I decided to become a candidate and before I had completed my filing documents, I requested that the PAC return my contribution to avoid any potential conflict," he said.
Hufty founded Portola Valley Neighbors United (PVNU), a group focused on "fire and seismic safety, affordable housing, and natural habitat, to encourage informed and active participation in governance, and to influence public policies through education and advocacy" in 2020, according to its website.
Hufty did not respond to a request for comment.
Rusty Day, also part of PVNU and a candidate for the Woodside Fire Protection District board, gave $5,000. PAC member and Nathhorst Triangle neighborhood resident Bruce Roberts gave $5,000.
Robert Younge, who serves on the Emergency Preparedness Committee, gave $1,000.
The PAC spent about $9,500. The biggest portion of that money — almost $7,000 — went toward legal services. About $1,600 have been spent on campaign paraphernalia.
Residents reported receiving mailers from the PAC in early June.
While election years have gone by in Portola Valley without a contested election, this year is different. Prior to 2020, the last contested election in town was in 2013, according to Town Clerk Melissa Thurman. Five candidates are seeking the three seats on the Nov. 8 ballot. Along with Hufty, Hughes and Pfau, Planning Commissioners Craig Taylor and Judith Hasko are also running for a seat on the council. The final day to file nomination papers is Wednesday, Aug. 17.