PAC has his back

Chico vice mayor remains top fundraiser, and he’s got help

As election day gets closer, mud-slinging mailers get uglier.

As election day gets closer, mud-slinging mailers get uglier.

Photo illustration by Tina Flynn

Vice Mayor Sean Morgan continues to dominate the Chico City Council race in fundraising efforts—he’s raised almost twice as much as any of the other 10 candidates—and, with the support of a political action committee (PAC), his campaign is easily the best-funded in Chico history.

The latest campaign disclosure statements submitted to the City Clerk’s Office show Morgan has raised $57,618 as of Oct. 22. Additionally, a PAC called Chico Citizens for Accountable Government “supporting the election of Sean Morgan for Chico City Council 2016” has raised $26,750.

The second-highest fundraiser, former Chico Mayor Karl Ory, reported having raised $30,318. Rounding out the race are Jovanni Tricerri ($28,314), Ann Schwab ($25,325), Tami Ritter ($22,007), Randall Stone ($19,110), Loretta Torres ($13,300) and Jeffrey Glatz ($3,725). Candidates Lisa Duarte, Mercedes Macias and Jon Scott haven’t raised or spent enough money to meet the threshold requiring disclosure.

The deadline for the final round of pre-election fundraising statements is today (Thursday, Nov. 3).

The Chico Citizens PAC has manifested its support for Morgan by bashing his rivals, as evidenced by a mailer distributed this week attacking candidate Randall Stone. That mailer includes a statement from former Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney accusing Stone of attacking police and city employees, Internet bullying and lying about his voting record. It concludes with a warning: “Chico cannot afford another four years of Reckless Randall Stone’s terrible judgment.”

Though the PAC is dedicated to re-electing Morgan, the Fair Political Practices Commission forbids him from dictating what the group says and does. Cooperation, consultation and working in concert with a candidate or authorized candidate committee is unlawful, according to the FPPC.

“It’s the candidate’s responsibility to ensure there are firewalls to assure there’s no cooperation,” FPPC Communications Director Jay Wierenga said by phone.

PACs also differ from authorized committees in how they’re allowed to raise funds; cities and counties can set limits on individual and corporate contributions to official campaigns (in Chico, that amount is $500), but there are no such limits for PACs.

In the case of the Chico Citizens PAC, the entire $26,750 came from just 12 donors, most of whom are developers and other PACs. The largest single donor, of $3,500, was the Chico Police Officers’ Association PAC.

A handful of local developers each donated $3,000: Bill Webb Construction Inc.; Conroy Construction Inc.; Epick Inc.; SCA Development Corp.; Franklin Construction Inc.; Anderson Brothers Corp.; and Carolyn Dauterman (owner of Thomas Welding). Additionally, the Chico Firefighters Legislative Action Group gave $2,500; MJ Shelton General Engineering Inc. gave $2,000; and dentist Scott Hood and 4-C Land & Farming Inc. donated $500 and $250, respectively.

Hood and Dauterman also gave the maximum $500 each to Morgan’s official campaign, as did their spouses, Danya Hood and Tom Dauterman. So did Bill Webb Construction and Epick.

The PAC was originally formed in 2014 to back then-candidates Reanette Fillmer, Mark Sorensen and Andrew Coolidge, all of whom won their seats. Fillmer’s official campaign topped fundraising efforts that year, raising $46,900 by election day.

Local PACs are required to submit finance reports to the city or county, depending on which race they spend of the majority of their funds on, according to the FPPC’s Wierenga.

Chico Citizens is the only PAC that filed exclusively in Chico, and two others—Butte County Awareness and Accountability and Chico Democrats—filed with both the county and city clerks. Chico Democrats reported receiving one donation this year for $1,000 and spending $1,500 on mailing.

Butte County Awareness and Accountability, whose main contributor (at $3,500) is Chico property magnate Wayne Cook, has raised $10,250 this year.

Butte County Awareness and Accountability also has been distributing mailers targeting liberal council candidates, though Cook told the CN&R that he himself was upset over a mailer distributed by the PAC last week that says Stone, Ritter and Schwab “voted to destroy The Esplanade.” Cook said he vetoed a draft shown him by PAC leader Thomas Kozik, but the mailer was sent anyway.

“I’m very upset and feel like I owe those candidates an apology,” Cook said. “I think there are legitimate reasons why they shouldn’t be on the council, but think only a fool would agree they tried to ‘destroy’ The Esplanade. That’s not the kind of politics I care to support.”

The meteoric costs of municipal elections have become cause for concern in other California communities. A campaign finance reform measure is currently on the ballot in Berkeley, where the last seven of eight City Council contests have been won by the candidates who raised the most funds.

Further analysis of Berkeley political races by California Common Cause—a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog organization backing Berkeley’s Measure X1, dubbed the Fair Elections Act—also found that one-third of those donations came from outside of the city, and that 1 percent of households made up more than 50 percent of total campaign contributions.

“We don’t want the best fundraisers running our democracy,” said Helen Grieco, the group’s Northern California organizer, via phone. “We want the people with the best ideas, and we want the breadth and depth and diversity of the people who inhabit our communities represented.”

If the law passes, City Council and mayoral candidates can choose to participate in the public funding program, which would match each dollar raised six-to-one. In order to qualify, candidates would need to collect at least 30 donations of $50 or less, and there would be caps on the amount of money candidates can collect.

“We need to get money out of politics any way we can,” Grieco said.