Primary dollars: It’s David vs. Goliath vs. Ant-Man in the battle to be Sacramento’s next mayor

Follow the dollar trail with our breakdown of each candidate’s most spendy supporters

Darrell Steinberg

Darrell Steinberg

Illustrations by Jonathan Buck

You can learn a lot by digging through people’s financial records.

Case in point: In the race to be Sacramento’s next mayor, the varying support for former state Sen. Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Councilwoman Angelique Ashby—the top contenders to replace outgoing Mayor Kevin Johnson—comes down to scale.

According to the most recent batch of campaign disclosure statements filed to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, covering January 1 through April 23, Steinberg and Ashby receive monetary tributes from many of the same interests—builders and developers, public safety unions and attorneys, retirees—and sometimes the very same people. (24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov has some explaining to do at the next fundraiser.)

It’s just that Steinberg has received a whole lot more from a larger variety of zip codes.

It’s kind of an apples-and-oranges deal. The termed-out senate leader recently transferred approximately $1.4 million from an untapped lieutenant governor campaign account. In doing so, he capsized a midmarket political race that may end up being the city’s most expensive.

But what is all this money buying—and what favors could Sacramento’s next mayor owe when she or he takes up the gavel? SN&R combed hundreds of pages of financial records to find out.

While it’s too soon to say whether money can buy the love of Sacramento voters, it has injected drama into what was once a polite affair.

Some other things to note: Due to the transfer, more than two-thirds’ of Steinberg’s war chest originates from outside the city of Sacramento. Which makes sense, since he was a state politician storing up for a possible statewide run that didn’t materialize.

But the onetime councilman has also received considerable contributions from outside of California, like the $3,300 he accepted in 2010 from Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison contractor. Two of his most regular contributors, meanwhile, represent the pipe trades and various Planned Parenthood groups, which have donated $39,400 and $12,600, respectively, in recent years.

Steinberg has also accepted dollars from gaming and gambling interests ($61,000), information technology companies ($49,700) and other politicians ($40,000), with the local reelection funds for Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna and Councilmen Steve Hansen and Eric Guerra chipping in $1,000 apiece. And while he accepted $34,000 from lobbyists and consultants, he also returned $13,250 to those same groups.

Ashby, meanwhile, gave back only one donation—to a Costa Mesa holdings company that contributed more than legally permitted.

She has every reason to keep what she can. The Steinberg transfer added rocket fuel to what had been a foot race. Before it happened, Ashby was within $41,000 of her big-name competitor, helped by the $38,200 in contributions she accepted last year from public safety corners, with five-figure donations from the Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522 PAC and Sacramento Police Officers Association Political Activity Fund. Like Steinberg, she has also accepted big contributions from developer interests, just not nearly as many of them.

With less than a month to go before the June 7 primary, Steinberg has nearly $1.6 million left to spend. And Ashby, with just $236,000 left in the till, finds herself sharing a proverbial tax bracket with sideshow contestant Tony “the Tiger” Lopez, who has less than $1,200 to promote his spoiler candidacy-slash-reality-TV-bid.

The Ashby camp has howled its protests at the transfer, at first claiming it was illegal under local city campaign rules and then, when that didn’t work, filing a lawsuit last week over a small portion of the transferred funds. Meanwhile, Steinberg is bringing what he can to bear to avoid a November run-off.

From both campaigns, the message is clear: This race was always about money.

Darrell Steinberg

Total contributions this period: $1.8 million

Outside (Sacramento) money: 71% ($1.3 million)

Cash on hand: $1.6 million

Top 5 contributors

1. Lawyers $258,740.20 (14%) [including $5,300 from consumer attorneys and their PAC]

2. Developers and building industry $221,638.95 (12%) [including $11,000 from Region Builders PAC]

3. Insurance companies $140,100 (8%) [including $3,300 apiece from Blue Shield California and American Surety Co.]

4. Health care and medical profession $138,401.77 (8%) [including $16,750 from skilled nursing and adult day health-care facilities]

5. Sports and entertainment industry $70,000.50 (4%) [including $5,800 from employees of Steven Bochco Productions]

Angelique Ashby

Angelique Ashby

Total contributions: $165,081.40

Outside (Sacramento) money: 30% ($48,848)

Cash on hand: $236,203.29

Top 5 contributors

1. Developers and building industry $74,498 (45%) [including $11,000 from the Sacramento Builders’ Exchange PAC]

2. Business community $34,230 (21%) [including $11,000 from the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber PAC]

3. Public safety $15,800 (10%) [including $11,000 from the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs Association Small Contributor Committee]

4. Attorneys $2,550 (2%) [including $1,150 from Brewer Lofgren LLP partner Martha Lofgren]

5. Unions $900 (0.6%)

Tony Lopez

Tony Lopez

Total contributions: $13,870

Outside (Sacramento) money: 67% ($9,250)

Cash on hand: $1,198.07

Top 5 contributors

1. Attorneys $6,850 (49%) [including $6,600 from attorney Jeffrey Sevey and his wife Sarah]

2. Health care $2,300 (17%) [including $1,100 from orthopedic surgeons]

3. Family $1,600 (12%) [including $1,050 from mother Rachel Lopez]

4. Plumbers $700 (5%)

5. Retired athletes $200 (1%) [including $100 from retired figure skater Gula Palmer and $100 from retired professional boxer Carlos Palomino]

*All figures reflect donations or transfers made Jan. 1-April 23. “Developers and building industry” includes real estate and holding companies.