High stakes

Campaign finance reports show Chico Vice Mayor Sean Morgan way ahead in fundraising efforts

Sean Morgan, Chico’s current vice mayor, has spent more money on his re-election campaign than any other candidate has raised.

Sean Morgan, Chico’s current vice mayor, has spent more money on his re-election campaign than any other candidate has raised.

Photo by Ken Smith

With about a month to go before the Nov. 8 general election, Chico Vice Mayor Sean Morgan has raised more than twice as much money as any other council candidate, according to campaign disclosure statements filed last week with the City Clerk’s Office.

Morgan has raised $51,044 toward his re-election bid. The next highest fundraiser former Chico Mayor Karl Ory with $21,827. Morgan’s war chest is not only the largest amassed in recent elections, as current Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer topped 2014 fundraising with a then-shocking total of $46,900, but he has also spent more this election cycle—$25,824—than any other single candidate has even raised.

During a phone interview this week, Morgan sounded surprised to learn he’d out-fundraised the other candidates, and he expressed his misgivings about the need for such efforts. “Would I like it more if [campaigning] was totally grassroots and you could just go door-to-door and talk to people to get your message out?” he said. “Sure, that’s the ideal, but it just doesn’t work anymore. The unfortunate reality is it takes money to win.”

Of the 11 candidates running for office, seven submitted forms detailing funds they’d raised and spent as of Sept. 24. Lisa Duarte, Mercedes Macias, Jeffrey Glatz and Jon Scott haven’t raised or spent enough money to meet the threshold requiring disclosure. Additional disclosures are due on Oct. 27 and Nov. 3.

The other candidates who reported campaign contributions, in order of highest to lowest, are Jovanni Tricerri (20,970); Ann Schwab ($19,044); Tami Ritter ($16,611); Randall Stone ($16,491) and Loretta Torres ($13,950).

Part of Morgan’s fundraising success can be attributed to an early start. He is one of only three candidates who started raising money in 2015, filling his campaign coffers with $21,500 by New Year’s Day. Stone raised $5,230 last year and Torres started by lending her campaign $1,000.

The most recent disclosures show the campaigns for Doug LaMalfa, James Gallagher and Jim Nielsen each contributed $500 to Morgan’s re-election effort, the highest total amount a single person or entity is allowed to contribute to one campaign in the four-year period leading up to Election Day, according to campaign finance guidelines established in the Chico Municipal Code.

Donations and their sources are listed in the disclosure documents, and others who’ve contributed the $500 maximum to Morgan’s campaign in the last three months include several Chico residents and businesses including Fifth Sun, Immediate Care Medical Center, Sol Mexican Grill and The Hignell Companies.

“I’m just doing the same thing I did last time almost verbatim,” Morgan said of his strategy. “I’m sending letters to people I know and people who I think are interested in Chico politics. Our response rate is obviously pretty good, but I think that’s mostly because people [give because they] are happy with the direction of the city.”

Morgan listed television commercials, mailers, billboards, “palm cards” to hand out while canvassing, and lawn and commercial signs as campaign expenses. Scott, one of the candidates who hasn’t raised any money and doesn’t intend to, is taking a more minimalist approach. He’s running weekly ads in local newspapers until election day and making it a point to show up at every candidates forum. He’s self-funding his effort, and expects to spend about $10,000 by Election Day.

Though he didn’t point fingers, Scott expressed his belief that some people and groups exercise too much influence over the current council.

“I want the decisions I make to be the ones I come to after I assess the situation. I don’t want to owe anybody anything for my being there,” he said. “If I win a seat on the council, I want it to be because enough people thought I was worthy, and I don’t want to have to start thinking about who gave me money should they have issues that come before the council.”

Morgan said perceived favor-trading is a common misconception about politics: “I don’t trade dollars for support, and I wouldn’t take money from anyone who would suggest I do that,” he said. “And to be honest, nobody’s ever asked me. That’s exactly how politics isn’t supposed to work, and I think most of the time it doesn’t work that way.”

Candidate Jeffrey Glatz, who also didn’t have funds to disclose, said he is accepting contributions for his campaign, but not actively pursuing them.

“I find it disheartening that in a local City Council race the candidates are having to raise something like $50,000 to stand a chance of winning,” Glatz said via email. “I will rely on my website, forums, interviews, word-of-mouth and social media to spread the word. Hopefully it will be enough.”