Who Gives?

by Carolyn Chase
January 31, 2002


T he holiday season provides a special time for reflection on the meaning of giving. It was with this in mind that I spent some volunteer hours over the holidays pouring over political campaign donor reports – wondering and learning – who gives?

    Volunteers for the local Sierra Club have started a Local Campaign Finance Education Project. Volunteers procure copies of political campaign reports from the Registrar of Voters and/or City Clerk for selected local races and then enter the donor info into a database categorizing it by employment source and sorting it by district.

    The State of California requires that campaign contributions of $99 or more be reported, including the donor’s name, employer and occupation. Contributions of less than $99 are sometimes reported but more often lumped into a summary amount.

    While it would be untoward to suggest that political campaign contributions always indicate expectations beyond just support of their chosen candidate – I myself give to campaigns I find worthy - it’s fair to take a look and see just what the entire picture of giving looks like.

    With a little effort, the required campaign reports allow anyone with dedication to categorize donations by industry pretty well, with some exceptions, the main ones being those who list themselves as "investor," "consultant," or retired.

    The first race chosen for analysis was the only competitive contest for the County Board of Supervisors: District 5, where incumbent Bill Horn is facing challengers Patsy Fritz and Kevin Barnard.

    With districts averaging around 250,000 registered voters and populations of up to 550,000, the relatively small number of political donors to County Board races is notable. For the recent available reports (period 10/16/2000 – 12/31/2001), there were only about 750 individual donors to "Friends of Bill Horn."

    Distributing the donors by category, one finds that at least 60% of his donations come from development/construction interests – who also top the average donation category, with the average check written by these interests being more than $350. Other donation categories included a group with a seeming interest in expansion of Palomar airport, a group with interests in a controversial quarry (Rosemary’s Mountain), and others with interests in the Gregory Canyon landfill proposal. Volunteers are currently in the process of entering the donation reports from all the districts; that will tell if these are "equal opportunity donors" or if they just happen to favor Horn.

    64% of Horn’s donations came from outside his district, with 20% of those coming from outside San Diego County, mainly from developers in Orange County. Horn’s redistricting scheme moving Rancho Santa Fe out of Supervisor Slater’s district and into his donor base is succeeding. Many prior RSF donors to Slater can now be found on Horn’s list.

    Employer names you find repeated on the list are: The Corky McMillin Companies, Manchester Resorts, Pardee Homes, Brookfield Homes, Greystone Homes, Continental Homes, Prudential New Homes, Standard Pacific Homes, Village Development, Stonegate Development, Crews Development, Reynolds Communities, Corrick Communities, Newland Communities.

    You might surprised to learn that one the largest groups of donors listed "homemaker" or "housewife" as their occupation. These wives of a certain class had an average contribution of $330 each.

    Forty "political power couples" gave the $1,000 maximum limit allowed by law. A partial list of employers of one member (yes, the husband) of each couple includes: Manchester Resorts, Superior Ready Mix, Helix Electric, Filanc Construction, Lusardi Construction, Granite Coast Construction, McCullough Ames Development, Crews Development, Village Development, Starwood Development, IHP Real Estate, Newland Communities, Otay Ranch, The Corky McMillin Companies, (two McMillin couples giving).

    Other notables include: Jamie & Kourosh Hangafarin, Murria & Frick Insurance Agency, Inc. giving $1,000 (Kourosh is now a Planning Commissioner appointed by Horn), and Terry Johnson, Mayor of Oceanside giving his maximum of $500.

    Sprawl is no accident. The vast majority of the County’s budget is state mandated health, social service and criminal justice related. A paltry 9% is related to land use and the environment. Yet the political contributions to Horn are dominated by those with land use interests.

    Will Rogers had it right: we have the best government money can buy. Problem is, very few "common people" are making the investment in political campaigns. As a result, those who stand to gain or lose by projects working through the system dominate the funding base for incumbents. The public interest and common good is biased by those to whom candidates must turn to finance their reelection.

    Horn voted to increase the contribution limit from $250 to $500 and is now benefiting from it. Horn’s average donation amount for individually reported donors was in excess of $300. He had 330 $500 donors. Another 162 donors gave $250 or more each.

    Another interesting thing you can find in the data are apparent violations of those limits. The Sierra Club uncovered a list of 20 probable violations of campaign contribution limits by Horn. This represented approximately 2.5% of Horn's transactions and could be as much as $5,000 in illegal contributions. By county ordinance amounts over $500 given by any individual– are supposed to be "set aside" and "identified" that they apply to the general election – and not the primary. Horn’s report showed no such identification or allocation. On the cover of each report it states the donations were for the March 5 primary. The Sierra Club reported the facts on the public record to the District Attorney and the Fair Political Practices Commission, and have requested an investigation.

    The Sierra Club has several public policy goals with this project:
- Educate the voting public on who’s financing campaigns
- Increase and diversify base of those who give to campaigns
- Provide data to support initiatives for responsible public financing of campaigns
- Check for compliance with campaign contribution limits and other restrictions
- Require local governments to put data online – and categorize by source – so that dedicated volunteers aren’t needed to do the public’s work.

    The Sierra Club had endorsed the "Clean Elections" campaign initiative currently being circulated in the City for qualification on the November 2002 ballot. This measure would allow for reasonable public financing of campaigns for City Council and Mayor. The next races Sierra Club volunteers will be entering and analyzing will be for City Council.