A Money River Runs Through It – Mayoral Race Contributions Soar

By Kevin Hall

More than a million dollars was spent leading up to the June primary by the three men hoping to become Fresno’s next mayor, and based on recent statements from the two remaining candidates at least another million will be spent in the coming months.

The race is down to the primary’s top vote-getter Fresno County Supervisor (and former Fresno City Councilmember) Henry R. Perea and Fresno City Councilmember Lee Brand. The primary’s top spender was Brand at $494,868 for 25,491 votes ($19 per vote), followed by Perea at $326,105 for 37,006 votes ($9 per vote) and minister H. Spees with $234,616 for 15,089 votes ($16 per vote).

Spees walks away more than $90,000 in the hole thanks to the $100,000 he loaned his failed campaign, while Perea finished with $41,000 in the bank. Brand, who like Spees loaned his campaign $100,000 (the maximum allowed), officially reports around $49,000 in the bank, but a closer look at his December 2014 campaign report reveals he under-reported cash transfers by, coincidentally, around $49,000; so he heads into the general election with roughly the $100,000 he loaned his campaign still in the bank.

So, where is all of this money coming from anyway? Like most things Fresno, it’s a tangled tale fraught with apparent illegalities and institutional indifference, an all too common dynamic perhaps best described by author and investigative reporter Mark Arax as our community leaders’ “arrested sense of propriety.” The result is that an unfair financial advantage has been given to the insider candidate, local campaign rules are being flouted and state law violated.

Some of the money spent this Spring dates all the way back to 2008 in the form of contributions made to Brand’s first run for his city council District 6 seat. Under the city’s rules as currently interpreted by the city attorney and his misreading of state law, council members are allowed to transfer unspent campaign contributions to their next campaign. As a result, Brand has two-stepped more than $200,000 in old money forward.

First came $52,000 from the 2008 campaign fund to his 2012 reelection account, and again in 2014 to his mayoral campaign. That 2014 step is considered by some to be a clear violation of the city’s ordinance prohibiting early contributions. Also in 2014 and a big part of the early contribution violation, Brand transferred another $150,000 in funds raised in 2012. This $200,954 in old and older money has further resulted in several of Brand’s backers violating the city’s $4,200 per individual campaign contribution limit, including Richard Spencer ($8,479) of FUSD/FBI infamy, Realty Concepts ($7,500), West Coast Waste ($9,400), and the Caglia family-owned businesses Electric Motor Shop ($4,700) and Cedar Ave. Recycling & Transfer Station ($5,200).

Perea also transferred $81,498 raised in 2014 and 2015 from his county supervisor account. However, that money is regarded differently by the city attorney. Those contributions must be reported as new and those contributors are subject to the limits on individuals and political action committees. In short, in Fresno, the “outsider” candidates are handicapped when running against either an incumbent in a city council race or, as in this case, against a sitting council member running for mayor.

Transfers aside, Perea and Brand raised roughly the same amount of “new” money in 2016. Perea brought in $278,625 and Brand $285,589.

Back to the source of the money: half of it is from developers and landlords alone, followed by a fifth from other business owners, 12% from unions and 6% from a handful of garbage collection companies. Please note that the category for “Developers” in this article includes pretty much anyone connected to building, managing or selling property or buildings of all types. So the slumlord interests are included in that category, too, as well as the largest home builders, commercial developers, and realtors because they oftentimes overlap, particularly when it comes to the largest businesses.

Likewise, related unions are combined in this article because locals usually reach out to other affiliates and their joint statewide PACs for support, which is how a conglomeration of more than a dozen plumber/pipefitter locals rises to the top of Perea’s list of supporters. For this article, anyone who donated less than $500 is classified as a small contributor, unless their total contributions exceed $500.

Interestingly, Brand and Perea raised roughly the same amount of “new” money in 2016: $278,625 for Perea and $285,589 for Brand.

It is fair to say that Perea has a very balanced base of financial support with a third coming from developers, a fourth from other businesses, a fourth from unions, and the remaining fifth from waste haulers, small contributors, farming and food processing interests, other politicians, and progressive groups.

Brand, on the other hand, raised nearly two-thirds of his funds from the Developer sector, beating out Perea by a 3-to-1 margin with $387,428 in contributions to Perea’s $115,149 and within that category money from Landlords is flowing to Brand over Perea by a 6-to-1 margin at $191,900 to $31,999, respectively. Brand slightly edges out Perea in every other category with the exceptions of Labor and Progressive Groups.

Working families overwhelmingly back Perea, from firefighters and police to the building trades and Central Labor Council. Unions have contributed a total of $98,950 to Perea. The lone holdout actively backing Brand is the bus drivers union, which has given him $18,400 thus far; it should be noted the head of the bus drivers self-identifies as a Tea Party-style Republican. Brand has also transferred forward past contributions from several city unions, but he does not have endorsements in the mayor’s race from any of those past contributors.

While these amounts, lists of top contributors, and various sectors’ support will change in the coming months, the financial trends are clear in this election. Brand is overwhelmingly the Developer candidate, which comes as little surprise given his career as a highly successful property manager and landlord.

Perea, on the other hand, has built an unusually well balanced (especially for Fresno) base of support from throughout the community and has demonstrated the ability to run a leaner, more effective campaign. And to end on the all-too-important money note, Perea can clearly match Brand in terms of fundraising when they’re on a level playing field, as evidenced by the nearly equal amounts of new money raised in 2016, and that’s where they find themselves as they head toward the November election with the transfers tapped dry and Brand maxed out on the campaign loan limit.

Author’s note: Contributor names and amounts are all taken from online reports filed with City of Fresno: http://static.netfile.com/agency/cof/. I have not included in-kind contributions. Also, I did some corporationwiki.com searches to find links between companies/individuals/family members/employees or relied on job titles listed on contribution reports; I cannot claim to be 100% accurate or complete with that information and apologize for any errors. –KH

TOP 10 OVERALL CONTRIBUTORS
Here is the race’s overall Top 10 for all contributions to Perea and Brand as of August 20. This list and other contributor information will be updated regularly and posted online at the Community Alliance website.

1 $100,000 Brand, Lee (Westco Equities, Inc.)
2 $33,849 Assemi Family
3 $31,450 Plumbers & Pipefitters (combined)
4 $23,400 Realty Concepts (John Shamshoian)
5 $21,300 Caglia, Richard (Caglia Diversified Management)
6 $20,200 Gunner-Andros
7 $20,100 West Coast Waste (Dennis Balakian)
8 $18,400 Amalgamated Transit Union
9 $18,100 Derrel’s Mini Storage
10 $15,900 Mid-Valley Disposal

TOTAL CONTRIBUTIONS BY SECTOR: $984,216

52% $498,377 DEVELOPERS, BUILDERS, PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
20% $193,314 OTHER BUSINESS/INDIVIDUALS
13% $122,350 LABOR UNIONS
5% $48,700 WASTE HAULERS, RECYCLERS, TRANSFER
4% $42,350 FARMING & FOOD PROCESSING
3% $29,525 SMALL CONTRIBUTORS (below $500)
2% $19,900 POLITICIANS
1% $8,400 PROGRESSIVE GROUPS
100% $962,916 Total Cash Contributions

BRAND CONTRIBUTIONS BY SECTOR: $597,368

DEVELOPERS, BUILDERS, PROPERTY MANAGEMENT 65% 387,428
OTHER BUSINESS/INDIVIDUALS 18% 107,790
LABOR UNIONS 4% 23,400
WASTE HAULERS, RECYCLERS, TRANSFER 4% 21,300
FARMING & FOOD PROCESSING 4% 22,950
SMALL CONTRIBUTORS (below $500) 3% 19,075
POLITICIANS 2% 11,200
PROGRESSIVE GROUPS 0% 0

PEREA CONTRIBUTIONS BY SECTOR: $363,523

DEVELOPERS, BUILDERS, PROPERTY MANAGEMENT 31% 115,149
OTHER BUSINESS/INDIVIDUALS 23% 85,524
LABOR UNIONS 26% 98,950
WASTE HAULERS, RECYCLERS, TRANSFER 7% 27,400
FARMING & FOOD PROCESSING 5% 19,400
SMALL CONTRIBUTORS (below $500) 3% 10,450
POLITICIANS 2% 8,700
PROGRESSIVE GROUPS 2% 8,400

*****

Kevin Hall is a long-time community activist. He has led fights for clean air, fair transportation spending, and smart growth. He has fought against Fresno’s daytime curfew ordinance, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attack on unions, and the original Measure Z.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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