Sacramento’s next $upervisor
Competing big-money interests line up to decide crucial county race
When Susan Peters announced last year she would not seek reelection to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, District 3’s longtime representative opened a seat that five candidates are vying to fill in the March 3 primary.
The five-member board sets land use, public health and law enforcement priorities for the vast unincorporated areas of Sacramento County, controlling a $4.4 billion annual budget that affects the lives of more than 1 million people.
Supporters of some District 3 candidates are spending big to have their say. According to an SN&R analysis of campaign contribution filings by the candidates and political action committees—which operate independently and can spend unlimited amounts, per the 2010 Citizens United ruling—special-interest dollars have poured in for two candidates: former California Highway Patrol officer Rich Desmond and SMUD board member Gregg Fishman, who have also grabbed the lion's share of endorsements.
The money has opened a gap between them and three other candidates: budget and policy analyst Catrayel Wood, congressional aide Matt Ceccato and Tiffany Mock-Goeman, who worked in the past with homeless advocacy group Sacramento Steps Forward. It's also raised questions about how fair the process is for those running and what they're likely to hear from possible endorsers.
“Everybody wants to talk about kind of the viability of the candidate,” Mock-Goeman told SN&R. “Unfortunately, what they're using to evaluate that on almost exclusively is how much money you're raising. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if you're a woman candidate, in most cases.”
Following the money
While Fishman had raised $82,775 in individual contributions as of Jan. 31, he's indirectly benefited far more from PAC fundraising. Since Dec. 26, a group sponsored by the Sacramento Central Labor Council, which supports Fishman's campaign, has received $120,000 in contributions from five labor-related groups, including a $75,000 donation on Jan. 15 from the Los Angeles-based Dignity CA SEIU Local 2015.
Fabrizio Sasso, executive director of the Central Labor Council, which endorsed Fishman, said his group requested support from unions that have endorsed Fishman.
“There's not a whole lot of information out there on the other candidates,” Sasso told SN&R. “This independent expenditure really is to just to kind of introduce folks who are unfamiliar with Gregg Fishman, let them know that he's got a really good track record, as proven on his time on the SMUD board.”
Sasso said SEIU 2015 has more than 20,000 home care workers in Sacramento County. “This is a group of workers who are not paid as much as they should be,” he said. “They're taking care of the most vulnerable folks in our community.”
Fishman, first elected to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District board in November 2014, said the Central Labor Council's endorsement stemmed from SMUD's dealings with its unions.
“They see one that we have great relationships with our employees and their unions,” Fishman said. “We've had no labor strife since I've been on the board in the past five years, and I can't recall any prior to that in recent history.”
Fishman has received individual contributions from, among others, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who gave $1,000 from his 2020 campaign on Dec. 5, and current District 1 Supervisor Phil Serna, who gave $1,200 from his 2018 campaign on Dec. 30. Seven labor groups have also contributed individually to Fishman's campaign.
A decidedly different group of donors has emerged for Desmond, who didn't respond to a request for comment and was endorsed by Peters when she announced her retirement. Peters has a pro-development record, including a November vote against stopping no-cause evictions.
Desmond had raised $69,875 as of Jan. 31. (UPDATE: His campaign said Friday it had brought in $286,824 from 765 individual contributions.) His contributors have included Chevron Corp., which gave $1,000 on Dec. 5. It's the kind of group that wouldn't be of interest to Ceccato, who told SN&R he wouldn't accept donations from Big Oil or Tobacco.
“My principles, I'm not going to compromise in this process,” said Ceccato, who raised $14,100 through Jan. 31.
Desmond's donors have also included developers Mark Friedman and Daniel Benvenuti Jr., who've each given $1,200 since December; Union Pacific, which gave $1,200 on Jan. 11; and numerous business interests, highlighted by the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber PAC, which gave $2,500 on Dec. 5.
Desmond was the only candidate who didn't attend a Sacramento Area Congregations Together panel on Jan. 23 dedicated to ending homelessness. Fishman drew a mixed response by telling the crowd of a few hundred people that Desmond was absent because he'd instead gone to a millionaire's fundraiser in Carmichael.
Certainly, Desmond's staunchest contributors don't look like some residents in District 3, which includes tony areas of Winding Way and less affluent neighborhoods such as Arden-Arcade.
The 34-year-old Wood, a budget and policy analyst by day, told SN&R that some parts of the district are getting left behind. “We need someone in that seat who has the entire district's interests in mind, not just those who are willing to donate huge sums of money,” he said.
Wood, who estimated he's raised between $5,000 and $7,500, said he's prepared to self-finance his campaign.
“You're essentially running a guerrilla campaign that is focused on reaching out to the constituents themselves and not necessarily focused on the establishment, $7,500 to $10,000 can actually go a long way,” Wood said.
Mock-Goeman is taking a similar strategy, having pegged her contributions at a little more than $20,000 and saying she has $12,000 of her own money set aside for her campaign.
“I'm doing what we're affectionately calling GoFundMe campaigning,” she said.
Mock-Goeman has received $5,875 in donations, primarily from the Sacramento chapter of the National Women's Political Caucus, whose representative Karen Humphrey called Mock-Goeman “a terrific candidate,” and Women Democrats of Sacramento County. Its president, Tracie Stafford, called Mock-Goeman a fighter, but acknowledged what she's up against.
“So often, politics is not about who's the best candidate,” Stafford told SN&R. “It's about who has the most supporters, who is the best campaigner, who has the most money. And women are, historically, woefully underfunded, period.”