Developer money follows circuitous route to San Diego county supervisor’s race

Developer money follows circuitous route to San Diego county supervisor’s race

Key Points

  • The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association’s PAC has spent nearly $70,000 supporting Supervisor Bill Horn.
  • Nearly simultaneously, the DSA has received $100,000 in contributions from a handful of development companies and real estate interests.
  • Several of the developers’ senior executives have made personal contributions to Horn’s campaign committee.
  • SEIU Local 221—representing county workers and backing Horn challenger Jim Wood—has spent more than a quarter million dollars in the race.

A child in a superhero costume adorns the front of a mailer showing up in North County mailboxes. Above this stoic deliverer of justice, three lines of text proclaim, “You don’t need to be a superhero to help keep your neighborhood safe…”

On the flipside: “…ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS VOTE FOR BILL HORN!”

The mailer extolls the public safety bonafides of the five-term county supervisor. Small lettering reads, “Paid for by the Deputy Sheriffs Association of San Diego County PAC.”

North County voters can be forgiven for thinking these mailers were paid for by member dues.

But that’s far from the whole story.

A handful of development companies and real estate interests have contributed at least $100,000 to the deputy sheriff’s PAC at the same time the PAC has run the pro-Horn advertising campaign. It’s all legal because California law permits it to accept contributions from any source.

INTERACTIVE: Click here for a searchable database of contributions in the San Diego County District 5 supervisor’s race.

One expert on local campaign finance says it’s a smart strategy.

“Developers aren’t necessarily the most trusted group within the community, and I could see why they wouldn’t necessarily want voters to know they were the ones funding this,” said Brian Adams, a political science professor at San Diego State University.

A longtime local political consultant was more blunt.

“You don’t want ‘major funding by developers in North County’ [appearing on the mailers],” said Chris Crotty, whose firm has worked for Democratic candidates from John Kerry to Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla.

Land use and development in the unincorporated areas of the county has become a major issue in this election.

The Deputy Sheriffs' Association PAC is supporting San Diego Supervisor Bill Horn's re-election. Credit: courtesy photo.

The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association PAC is supporting San Diego Supervisor Bill Horn’s re-election. Credit: courtesy photo.

Supervisorial District 5 is vast, stretching from the border of Orange County in the north to Rancho Santa Fe in the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and Imperial County’s border to the east. It encompasses the cities of Oceanside, Carlsbad and San Marcos.

To get a candidate’s message out across the region costs a lot of money, which means the District 5 supervisor’s race is shaping up as a big-dollar showdown.

On one side is incumbent Horn, flush with cash from real estate developers and benefiting from the support of the deep-pocketed deputy sheriffs’ union.

On the other is Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood, who has little in the bank but was recently buoyed by major support from the county’s civilian employees union.

As of March 17—the closing deadline for candidates’ last comprehensive campaign statements—Horn had raised $234,460. Wood had raised $37,135.

Those figures include non-monetary contributions to Horn’s campaign and exclude a loan made by Wood to his own campaign.

In terms of cash on hand, Horn’s campaign had $132,649 compared with Wood’s $6,421. Those figures include a loan made by Wood to his own campaign.

Both candidates have powerful unions backing them, and those associations are using their political committees to generate big bucks—and not just from their members.

Developers step up for the DSA

The sheriff’s association—the DSA, representing more than 2,000 deputies—has spent the past three weeks making sure Bill Horn’s message is heard.

The union’s political action committee spent more than $68,000 on Horn’s behalf between April 25 and May 13. Development and real estate interests gave the PAC at least $100,000 in the same time period.

Real Estate Contributions to DSA PAC (April 23-May 13)
Contributor Contributions to DSA Employee Contributions to Horn Campaign*
Accretive Investments, Inc. $10,000.00 $0.00
Newland Sierra, LLC $25,000.00 $5,040.00
Herzog Contracting Corp. $20,000.00 $2,800.00
Pacifica Enterprises, Inc. $15,000.00 $4,200.00
Newport Pacific, Inc. $5,000.00 $1,400.00
CA Real Estate PAC $25,000.00 $0.00

* Between Jan. 1, 2013 and March 17, 2014

Matt Clay, president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, declined to answer specific questions about the union’s recent support from development interests.

In a written statement, he restated the union’s support for Horn and acknowledged its expenditures on his behalf. He wrote that the union’s PAC “supports a variety of candidates, including the supervisor. Individuals and entities from a variety of fields of interest have contributed to our PAC.”

In addition to Horn, the DSA is also running a campaign to support district attorney candidate Bob Brewer. As of May 14, the PAC had spent nearly $107,000 on Brewer.

SDSU’s Adams said that while the benefit to developers is clear, the DSA runs the risk of tarnishing its reputation.

“They’re using their good name for the benefit of developers, basically,” Adams said.

Tom Shepard, president of Tom Shepard & Associates, the consulting firm running Horn’s campaign, allowed that while some donors to the DSA PAC may be Horn supporters, he said it would be “an unfair characterization to suggest the donors to that PAC are entirely reflective of support for Horn,” noting that some donors could be Brewer supporters.

The developer cash started flowing on April 21, four days before the deputies’ began their pro-Horn campaign.

Accretive Investments, Inc., a developer that has a controversial 1,746-unit planned community winding its way through the county’s approval process, made a $10,000 donation to the PAC.

Opponents of the proposed Lilac Hills Ranch, which is squarely in District 5, claim it threatens the bucolic nature of its proposed site, a rural stretch of country roads east of I-15, 13 miles north of Escondido.

Randy Goodson, majority owner and CEO of Accretive, said the $10,000 contribution had nothing to do with Horn’s race. Rather, he said, the company supports the sheriff’s deputies’ political goals without any concern for which politicians ultimately benefited from the union’s spending.

“I’m not familiar with any of [the DSA’s] independent campaigns,” Goodson said.

The next major developer contribution to the DSA—$25,000 on April 24—came from Newland Sierra, LLC, which is currently meeting with county planning department staff about a potential housing development, called Merriam Mountains. That project, proposed for an area northwest of Interstate 15 between Vista and Valley Center — in Horn’s district — has been a hot topic for years. The supervisors previously voted it down, 3-2.

Horn favored the development.

Employees of Newland and its subsidiaries have contributed at least $5,040 to Horn’s candidate committee in this election cycle.

A request for comment left with Newland Sierra was not returned.

On April 25, the day after Newland made its contribution, the DSA’s PAC launched its pro-Horn campaign, spending $15,000 on survey research.

That same day, Herzog Contracting Corp, a Missouri-based contracting firm that does significant business with San Diego County, donated $20,000 to the PAC. Herzog has long supported Horn.

Al Landis, Herzog’s president and CEO, said the contribution wasn’t tied to a particular purpose, and he couldn’t recall whether the DSA solicited Herzog for the contribution or whether the company made the donation of its own accord.

He was certain that the identities of candidates to be supported were not part of the conversation.

“We trust them and their judgment about what they do,” Landis said, referring to the DSA.

Herzog employees, Landis among them, also have supported Horn’s own campaign committee with at least $2,800 in contributions.

Unlike political action committees, candidate campaign committees are subject to a $700 per-person, per-election limit.

And while election law bars PACs and other ostensibly independent committees from coordinating with candidates about how they spend money, there is no such prohibition on coordinating contributions.

Crotty, the campaign consultant not involved in the race, said campaign staffers will sometimes direct donors to independent expenditure committees to get around donation limits.

“They’re told ‘You can only give this much, however, there are other organizations to which you can give unlimited amounts of money. Here, let me give you the phone number,” said Crotty, who’s worked in political consulting for 25 years.

Shepard was adamant that nobody at his firm has solicited Horn donors to contribute to the DSA.

“The direction we give to our people is you cannot say to a donor ‘If you want to give more, you can go to PAC A,’” Shepard said.

Contributions to the sheriff’s PAC have continued into May.

On May 1 and May 3, Pacifica Enterprises, Inc., a Rancho Santa Fe-based real estate investment company, made donations totaling $15,000.

Employees of Pacifica have contributed at least $2,800 to Horn’s candidate committee.

A voicemail left with a Pacifica representative was not returned.

On May 5, two days after the second check from Pacifica, the DSA PAC spent $36,218 for mailers and consulting.

On May 7, real estate company Newport Pacific, Inc. gave the PAC a $5,000 donation.

The company’s president and vice president have given a combined $1,400 to Horn’s campaign.

A request for comment left with the company was not returned.

Finally, on May 8, the CA Real Estate PAC—the political committee of the California Association of Realtors—gave the PAC $25,000.

A voicemail left with the CA Real Estate PAC’s director was not returned.

That same day, DSA’s PAC dropped another $17,252 on mailers.

County employees + Pala Indians = trouble for Horn?

The other big union involved in the race is the Service Employees International Union Local 221, representing municipal employees at county offices. It is backing Jim Wood and actively opposing Horn.

The union endorsed the Oceanside mayor on April 8.

A day earlier, the union’s general purpose committee—funded by member dues—dropped $16,025 on anti-Horn canvassing, door hangers and polling.

The union established a second political committee in early April specifically to oppose Horn’s re-election.

That committee—Citizens Against Career Insider Politician Bill Horn For Supervisor 2014—has gone on a spending spree, dropping more than $247,000 in just over a month, with nearly 80 percent of the funds going to anti-Horn expenditures.

Dave Lagstein, political director for SEIU Local 221, said that even though Horn is barred from running again if he wins re-election this year, it’s time for him to go.

“Police officers, firefighters, teachers and neighbors that live in the district feel that 20 years is enough,” Lagstein said. “It’s time to get rid of him now.”

Shepard, Horn’s consultant, calls that criticism a smokescreen and says the real reason the SEIU wants the supervisor gone is plain self-interest.

“They want that seat and they want to have one of their surrogates on the board of supervisors and that’s really all that’s about,” said Shepard, who asserted the union would find Wood more amenable to employee demands during contract negotiations.

Crotty, the political consultant, said the union has long sought to mold the board into a body that would be more sympathetic to its interests–with little to show for it.

“SEIU’s been involved in almost every county race and rarely on behalf of a sitting member until Dave Roberts came along,” Crotty said.

Roberts, elected in 2012, is the board’s lone Democrat.

SEIU Local 221 has spent a quarter million dollars attacking Horn and supporting Wood. Credit: courtesy photo.

SEIU Local 221 has spent a quarter million dollars attacking Horn and supporting Wood. Credit: courtesy photo.

Lagstein declined to explain why the SEIU felt it necessary to establish a second committee, saying only “This was the best vehicle for us to mount this campaign to get rid of career politician Bill Horn.”

The union’s general purpose committee gave that second committee $50,000 on April 28.

Other unions have kicked in least $159,500 through May 13.

But the SEIU is getting some help from outside the house of labor, too.

The committee received a $20,000 contribution on April 29 from the Pala Band of Mission Indians Political Contribution Account.

The Pala Band has long opposed construction of a landfill in Gregory Canyon. The canyon is next to Gregory Mountain, sacred to the Pala Band.

Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ceased work on a crucial permit for the facility, saying in a statement that the developer “has not provided the necessary additional resources and information essential for the Corps to complete its evaluation and make an informed permit decision.”

Horn is on record as supporting the landfill’s construction. Wood is a staunch opponent, pointing to the disastrous results a leak would have on Oceanside’s drinking water supply.

Doug Elmets, a spokesman for the Pala Band, said the Band viewed the SEIU’s anti-Horn committee as a well-positioned vehicle to have an impact in the race.

“Certainly, the tribe works with other political action committees as well as their own and they wanted to work cooperatively in this approach since the [SEIU’s] campaign was set up well-staffed, well-coordinated and well-funded,” Elmets said.

Lagstein declined to answer a question about whether the SEIU established its anti-Horn committee with the expectation of funding from outside sources.

Elmets said the tribe did not inform the SEIU that it would make the donation.

inewsource investigative researcher Emily Burns contributed to this report.

We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Joe Yerardi

Joe Yerardi is an investigative reporter and data specialist at inewsource. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email joeyerardi@inewsource.org or call (619) 594-5321.
  • Joe V.

    Nice work Joe. This information needs to to get out to the voters!

    • Joe Yerardi

      Thanks, Joe. Always nice to hear that folks are interested in what we produce.