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City Council Race 2013: Who’s Behind The Candidates?

Weekly Column by Sharon Byrne, as featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel

sbview_election2Money in elections is not the sole indicator of who wins, but it is a big one.

There are 43,300 registered voters in our city. If every registered voter gave $25 to one top desired candidate, and no one outside the city was allowed to contribute money, we’d be looking at over $1,000,000 in campaign financing for a city council election. That’s a lot of money for a city of this size, but the playing field would be very level, because no one could dominate financially, unless groups organized to pool their $25 contributions behind a particular candidate. Contributions would also be exactly reflective of the popular vote because the candidate with the most $25 contributions is also the candidate that presumably got the most votes.

In the US, campaigns have learned all too well from the corporate sphere that level playing fields are precisely what they don’t want. Just as in business, where winning market share is decidedly NOT about having the best product but rather the best marketing, campaigns market their candidates aggressively, which requires image-building and advertising. Dominating the airwaves and mailboxes is the goal. So elections are less about great ideas or the best candidates for the job. They’re about the best marketing strategy to ensure maximum penetration across the voting ‘market’.

Therefore it’s important to understand who is backing a candidate, who is shifting the playing field in their favor. A campaign stacked with large contributions means a few influencers are pushing that candidate, and they intend to get their agenda served by the candidate’s election. In contrast, a candidate funded primarily by small donations indicates broader voter support.

Hypothetical Example:

Candidates A and B each have fundraising totals of $1,000. Candidate A received 50 donations of $20. Candidate B received one donation of $1,000. It’s hard to see how a single donor could hold sway over Candidate A, because everyone gave $20.

In contrast, Candidate B, if elected, will be quite beholden to the one large donor that funded their campaign.

It’s great to support your candidate by writing a small check to their campaign, but you certainly won’t own them, and that’s how it should work.

City council seats cost $80,000+ these days, so large donors are key to raising funds quickly, and thus can exert influence over the candidate.

The following has been compiled by looking at the campaign finance reports filed through 9/6/13 with the city’s elections portal (free public access):

It’s early, so things can change. We’ll look again in October and right before the election.

Bendy White
Monetary Contributions: $40,660
Loans to self: $0
Non-monetary (In-kind): $0
Total raised: $40,660

Large Donors ($1,000+)
Helene Schneider for mayor: $2,500
Ernst Benzien, retired, CT: $1,500
Salud Carbajal: $1,000
Towbes Group, $1,000
Richard Gunner, Real Estate Investor / Owner: $1,000
Lee Heller: $1,000
Ron Pulice, retired: $1,000
Marc Recordon, developer: $1,000
Virginia Sloan, retired: $1,000
Raymond Smith, retired: $1,000
Total from large donors: $ 12,000

Percentage of monetary contribution from large donors: 29%
Note: Bendy received many $500 donations. In a fundraising total of this size, those also bring influence, albeit less than larger donors.

Frank Hotchkiss:
Monetary Contributions: $37,772
Loans to self: $0
Non-monetary (In-kind): $0
Total raised: $37,772

Large Donors ($1,000+)
Chuck’s Waterfront Grill: $2,156 (possible mischaracterization, as Frank’s kick off event was held here. This could be the value of facilities and refreshments, which would actually be a nonmonetary contribution)
John Price: $2,000
Assad Mora, dentist: $1,225
Sharon Westby, retired: $1,075
Jim Westby, retired: $1,000
Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians: $1,000
John Coffin, retired: $1,000
Jane Manasse, retired: $1,000
Barbara Sanborn, retired: $1,000
Richard Gunner, retired: $1,000
Dwight Lowel, retired; $1,000
Michael Towbes: $1,000
Kent Hodgetts: retired, $1,000
Patrick Corrigan: retired, $1,000

Total from large donors: $ 16,456
Percentage of monetary contribution from large donors: 44%
If Chuck’s is mischaracterized, 33%

David Landecker
Monetary Contributions: $36.275
Loans to self: $0
Non-monetary (In-kind): $557
Total raised: $37,832

Large Donors ($1,000+)
Squier Properties, Santa Monica: $2,500
David Landecker: $2,000
Eva Menkin, retired: $2,000
Helene Schneider for Mayor: $1,500
Tania Israel: Professor, UCSB: $1,250 + 400 in-kind in rent
Salud Carbajal for Supervisor: $1,000
Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians: $1,000
Rinaldo Brutoco, World Academy: $1,000
Dr. Daniel Curham, Sansum: $1,000
John Steed, retired: $1,000
Bronwen Jones, retired: $1,000
Gene Zannon, Investor, Anacapa Fund: $1,000
Gerald Flake: Galileo Coaching, Inc. $1,000
Gail Osherenko, Educator UCSB, $1,000
Susan Bower, retired $1,000
Paul Gertman, retired, $1,000
Nancy Brown, Pismo: $1,000
Enrique Dominguez, Concept Synergy: $1,000
Alice Gillaroo: $1,000
Gary Hill, Attorney: $1,000
Mott Warsh Funds: $1,000
Spumoni Holdings: $1,000
D3 Partners: $1,000
Betty Stephens, retired: $1,000

Total from large donors:  $28,650
Percentage of monetary contribution from large donors: 79%

Greg Hart:
Monetary Contributions: $20,547
Loans to self: $10,000
Non-monetary (In-kind): $5,600
Total raised: $36,147

Large Donors ($1,000+)
Russell Trenholme: $5,000
Lillian Lovelace: $2,500
Salud Carbajal for Supervisor: $1,000
Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians: $1,000
Metropolitan Theaters for Good Government: $1,000
Robert Hazard: $1,000
Reginald Drew, Santa Barbara Trolley Co.: $1,000
Spumoni Holding Co: $1,000

Total from large donors: $13,500
Percentage of monetary contribution from large donors: 65.7%

Lesley Wiscomb:
Monetary Contributions: $18,034
Loans to self: $1,600
Non-Monetary (In-kind): $0
Total raised: $19,634

Large donors: ($1,000 +)
Sheila Lodge, retired, $1,000
James Westby, retired: $1,000
Sharon Westby, retired: $1,000
Richard Berti, Real Estate Development: $1,000
Patrick Corrigan, Retired: $1,000
John Coffin:. Retired: $1,000

Total from large donors: $6,000
Percentage of monetary contribution from large donors: 33%

Megan Alley:
Monetary Contributions: $13,297
Loans to self: $2,000
Non-Monetary (In-kind): $2,127
Total raised: $17,424

Large donors: ($1,000 +)
Russell Trenholme: $6,000
Daniel Litten, Physician: $1,000
Total from large donors: $7,000
Percentage of monetary contribution from large donors: 53%

Michael Jordan
Monetary Contributions: $6,709
Loans to self: $4,000
Non-monetary (In-kind): $0
Total raised: $10,709

Large donors: ($1,000 +)
Victoria St Partners LLC: $1,500
Total from large donors: $ 1,500
Percentage of monetary contribution from large donors: 22%

Jason Nelson
Monetary Contributions: $9.145
Loans to self: $0
Non-monetary (In-kind): $0
Total raised: $9,145

Large donors: ($1,000 +)
Molly Rosencrance, retired: $2,000
Larry Crandell: $1,250
Joann Younger, businesswoman: $1,000

Total from large donors: $ 4,250
Percentage of monetary contribution from large donors: 46%

16 Responses to “City Council Race 2013: Who’s Behind The Candidates?”

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for this Sharon. One of the glaring aspects of this report is that the two largest contributions listed are from the same person, Russell Trenholme, who gave $5000 to Gregg Hart and $6000 to Megan Alley. Who the heck is this guy, and why his he giving them so much??? This is a significant amount, and I wish you would look into it.

  2. Steve Cook

    Thanks for shedding light on this situation. Let the candidate with the best ideas win!

    I’m looking for more information on these candidates, and the ones in office currently, as I’d love to know more about how they voted, who they support, who backs them long-term, etc.

    There is more than money that backs a candidate. Lots of large corporations (non-profits are corporations) play in this game in Santa Barbara – the Sierra Club, Women’s Political Committee, etc. They all have influence that even donations would not eclipse.

    This might be another tangent for this coverage – which committees, non-profits, local celebrities, leaders, businesses, and ceo’s are endorsing candidates, and who has endorsed them in the past.

    Let transparency win the day!

  3. el_smurfo

    Much more significant to me is the presence of big developers with active/pending projects. This is how SB has been sold out to the unfulfilled promise of “sustainable” living.

  4. Anonymous

    One of the more important pieces I’ve seen published. Now you know why the Mayor is campaigning even though unopposed. Saw Michael Towbes (developer extraordinaire) pop up a couple of times on my first skim and who is this Russell Trenholme?

  5. Captain Haley

    Thanks for the information. It’s quite revealing. However I’d like to take issue with your suggestion about everyone in town donating $25 to a single candidate. This method would favor those with name recognition at the beginning of the campaign, and make it nearly impossible for an unknown to break into the ruling circle. In a similar vein, sometimes one or two large donors who believe in an unknown can put that candidate into a competitive position. So there are several ways to view things.

  6. You'D B Surprised

    How much of this money comes from outside of Santa Barbara

  7. Joe Allegretti

    Sorry, Sharon, but I’m calling “shenanigans” on your methodology. Even if it’s just a theory, it’s setting off an alarm on the Bogus Scale.

    For starters:

    – Obviously, candidates who contribute smaller amounts (due to ability, I presume) to their own campaigns will be likely to end up appearing as though much of their money comes from “large donors” (that sounds scarier than real people — like you and I — writing $1000 checks).

    – On the one hand, you started out by praising the idea that if a candidate racked up a lot of $25 donations, that would be further proof of a kind of democracy in action … however, if people give $1000, that’s not the same thing? Most of those people up there on the list of donors just happen to be city residents with higher incomes. It doesn’t mean that their votes are more suspect than the votes of $25 donors.

    The tone of this (or is it my imagination?) makes it look or sound as though Landecker (and maybe Hart) have all kinds of “big wigs” “bankrolling” (I hate these terms) their campaigns, while poor man-of-the-people Bendy White is beating the pavement canvassing to get the common workin’ man to spare $20… not like those other political wheeler-dealers!

    Look, I love slicing and dicing data too. It’s fun. I’m just skeptical about drawing conclusions about how the data here are — possibly? — supposed to reflect how our little (mid-sized) local SB council race is “tainted” with evil, dirty money… “just like those crooks in Washington!” (the latter is a common refrain that I don’t really get much mileage from anyway). Am I connecting too many dots where you were actually being ambiguous? If I am, forgive me, but I feel as though you’re suggesting something downright nefarious (!) when no such thing is going on other than (to me) it seems some people have twenty friends and business contacts with $1000 to spare, and others have only five. I can’t look at the donor list above and see any kind of sleazy “large donor” cabal. But it’s an interesting angle from which to look at it.

    Let’s frame it this way: If one looks at Hart, Hotchkiss, & White by percentage of “large donor” contributions, they’re 66%, 44%, and 29%. Significantly different! (And… hey! Potentially suspicious!!!) But looking at net dollar amounts? $13.5K, $16.5K, and $12K, a difference to which I’d assign no statistical level of significance.

    Landecker is definitely an outlier on the high end of the range with 79%/$29K. But I guess it depends how much one sees “deep pocketed”, so-called political special interests in the type of people affiliated with or supportive of the EDC (a SB institution if there ever was, whether one supports it or not). And given that it’s a legal organization whose team is probably on good terms with several other attorneys and assorted professionals, it doesn’t surprise me to see a list of more than twenty $1000+ donors — an amount I don’t find shockingly large, by the way, even if I can’t come close to affording (or wanting to give) an election campaign donation of that amount.

    By the way, if it seems like I’m making excuses for Landecker’s fundraising advantage, I should say I’m ashamed at my ignorance about this campaign and of his name in particular … for a moment, quickly skimming that list of donors and the net amount made me wonder (ironically, in retrospect) if he was a real estate developer or similar. However, I will say that nothing presented here about funds and donations makes me suspect him or any of the other candidates as being out of touch with Santa Barbarans or inhabiting a different universe, or potentially “in the pocket of large donors.” For a net amount of $30,000 — or even $50,000 by November? Really? For all we might aspire to, SB ain’t that kinda “pay for play” political jungle.

    Sorry for the over-share.

  8. Sharon Byrne

    I didn’t imply or state anything like the conclusions you’ve drawn. I did caveat up front that it’s early, so there are many scenarios that could be in play here, and you won’t necessarily know what they are or mean until the election is over, and the last-minute contributions are tallied. For example, in Landecker’s case, since you spent a lot of time on that one, it could be that he’s pulled in all his big donations early, for endorsements and support. The next report he files could show a ton of small contributions if he’s picked up support since the September filing. Money in politics is a big deal, because of the influence it brings. That influence from those who can afford to pay lobbyists and write large campaign checks erodes the democracy the country was founded on. Therefore you should always watch it closely. Even in City Council races. Spend some time on, and watch the money come in before a key Congressional vote, and then how the reps vote. Then write me back and let me know there’s no problem here.

  9. Never hire a crook

    I’d be more interested in Landecker if he gets a $1000 donation from Home Improvement Center.

    • RUKidding?

      Please. For God’s sake. He wants to work for the City to help improve it. Can you give the man a break?

  10. Anonymous

    It takes $80,000 to win a seat for a job that pays half that in what’s supposed to be a non-partisan contest. Let that sink in.

    And do take a look at how much money Mayor Helene Schneider has already raised when she is a shoo-in, around $90,000 and counting. That gives her great power to dole it out to her hand-picked candidates and to squirrel away for her next step up the ladder. Sickening. I may just vote for Wayne Scoles as a protest.

  11. Where is the city employee union money going?

    Missing entirely in this report of course is the money from the various city employee union political action committees – SEIU, Police and Fire.

    They are laying low and probably will spring some last minute donations that escape the reporting requirement before the last ballots are cast. They at least now know their monetary influence is a kiss of death before an election.

    However, last time they sprinkled their largesse after the elections were safely over in order to gain their malignant influence on the newly elected city council members, who would be soon re-negotiating their employment contracts. Can you spell conflicts of interests, boys and girls?

    City employee union money and their official endorsements are the most corrosive force against good governance out there. They should be banned and/or any candidate receiving such funds should recuse him or herself from any future contract negotiations with that city employee union group.

    Any candidate who has solicited city employee union endorsements or responded to city employee union questionaires needs to come clean, because they are doing the public’s business and we want to know what they promised the unions they just might be serving in the future.