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Amid a litany of accusations from former staffers, San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts is looking vulnerable in his 2016 re-election campaign.
Roberts, the sole Democrat on the five-member Board of Supervisors, has been accused of misusing taxpayer funds and favoritism among other things by three former staff members who have filed claims against the county. Roberts has steadfastly denied the accusations, calling them “completely false.”
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San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors oversees a budget of more than $5 billion. With Democrat Dave Roberts vulnerable, whomever emerges from the developing Republican field could well take the seat. That candidate will have plenty of donors, at least some of whom will be expecting a return on their investment.
The mounting claims have attracted a scrum of Republicans who are said to be interested in unseating Roberts, who was elected to a first term in 2012.
(No Democrats have yet emerged to challenge Roberts.)
The GOP is in no rush to push a candidate.
In an email, San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric wrote that the party “will wait for several months at least so we can see who all may have entered the field before we consider voting.” He declined to be interviewed.
Here’s an early look at the prospects’ cash in the bank and their fundraising prowess.
A pricey contest
In a supervisorial race Roberts spent nearly $600,000 to win, the ability to raise large sums of money will be key.
“It’s a half-million-dollar race for the winning candidate,” Republican campaign consultant Jason Roe said. “It is a big, vote-rich district and there’s a lot of voters to communicate with.”
Among the prospects, the big kahuna of fundraising is second-term state Assemblyman Brian Maienschein.
Maienschein, a former San Diego city councilman who was first elected to the Assembly in 2012, has filed paperwork indicating he’s running for re-election in 2016, but rumors are flying that he’s interested in Roberts’ seat.
Lance Witmondt, Maienschein’s chief of staff, told inewsource the assemblyman was “definitely still deciding” whether to mount a challenge.
“He’s receiving a ton of calls from people encouraging him to run,” Witmondt said.
Roe says that if Maienschein switches his sights to Roberts’ seat, he’ll start out with the most advantages, such as high name recognition and a major campaign war chest.
He also seems to be making an effort to stay on the good side of his party and that includes the county organization. Maienschein made a $5,000 contribution to the San Diego County GOP last October and a $10,000 contribution to the party in late February. That comes on top of contributions to other GOP-aligned groups, including some $34,000 to the California Republican Leadership Fund, a joint fundraising committee for GOP candidates, and $3,000 to the Lincoln Club of San Diego County in the 2013-14 election cycle.
- Current office: California state Assemblyman, District 77
- Last election: November, 2014 (won, 66% to 34%)
- Contributions (including non-monetary/in-kind) last election: $784,259
- Expenditures last election: $190,676
- Current cash-on-hand (as of Dec. 31, 2014): $703,482
- Declared?: No.
Maienschein can certainly afford to be generous. He raised nearly $800,000 in his 2014 reelection campaign and spent less than $200,000 of it to win by a two-to-one margin. He had more than $700,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of 2014, the date for which the most recent campaign finance figures are available.
Because San Diego County imposes stricter limits on campaign contributions than the state does, Maienschein wouldn’t be allowed to simply transfer all the funds in his Assembly account to a supervisor race but he would be able to transfer some of it.
Brian Adams, a professor of politics at San Diego State University, says that should Maienschein decide on the supervisor’s seat, he’d likely take a lot of the donors who fueled his Assembly runs with him.
“It’s certainly true that donors will often follow candidates from one race to another,” Adams said.
That’s even the case with donors whose primary interests may be at the state-level. Adams says that if Maienschein loses the supervisor race, donors will want to have stayed on his good side in case he runs for another state office.
“I would expect for a lot of those donors to donate to a Maienschein for Supervisor [campaign] even if county supervisors don’t actually regulate their industry,” Adams said.
And like all serious contenders for the board, he’ll likely pick up lots of new donors from industries that do have business before the county.
‘Lots of considerations’
Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, who on Monday became the first Republican to announce a run, is another candidate who’d likely be looking to transfer his fundraising success from one arena to another.
Abed is known as an aggressive fundraiser. He pulled in more than a quarter million dollars in his re-election campaign.
“I think he has a decent reputation as a fundraiser within the city of Escondido,” said Roe. “I think he’s been one of the top fundraisers in Escondido history.”
- Current office: Mayor of Escondido
- Last election: November, 2014 (won, 59% in a three-way race)
- Contributions (including non-monetary/in-kind) last election: $264,637
- Expenditures last election: $161,146
- Current cash-on-hand (as of Dec. 31, 2014): $97,735
- Declared?: Yes.
Roe ascribes some of that success to Abed’s long tenure in Escondido politics. He served on the city council for six years before his election as mayor in 2010.
Unlike Maienschein, Abed’s campaign committee didn’t make any contributions to GOP party or other committees in the 2013-14 election cycle.
However, John Franklin, a political consultant working for Abed’s campaign, pointed out that Abed is an aggressive fundraiser for the GOP and other Republicans.
“Sam Abed has raised more than $30,000 directly for the party. He raised $10,000 for the Lincoln-Reagan Dinner coming up on July 13, 2015 alone, and will be recognized as a Platinum Sponsor for his efforts,” Franklin wrote in an email.
“Sam has hosted dozens of fundraisers for candidates for Congress, Assembly, Council and more at his home and by his estimation has personally raised more than a half-million dollars for other candidates.”
In response to a written question about whether a candidate’s past generosity to fellow Republicans is important in securing the county party’s endorsement, Krvaric, the county party’s chairman, wrote, “There are lots of considerations.”
San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey, who told the The San Diego Union-Tribune in May that he was considering a run, is something of an untested fundraiser.
Kersey was unopposed when he first ran for city council in 2012. He raised about $150,000.
Roe, who did what little consulting work there was to be done for Kersey in the race, says the city councilman hasn’t had a chance to show his fundraising chops.
“He was putting the work in the last time, but it didn’t end up being much of a campaign,” Roe said. “I know how his work ethic is, but there’s nothing you can really point to since he’s been a candidate that you could show as a metric of his abilities.”
- Current office: San Diego City Councilman, District 5
- Last election: June, 2012 (won, unopposed)
- Contributions (including non-monetary/in-kind) last election: $149,332
- Expenditures last election: $124,087
- Current cash-on-hand (as of Dec. 31, 2014): $0 (committee terminated)
- Declared?: No.
Like Maienschein, Kersey has been generous in supporting local Republicans through his campaign committee. Since 2011, he’s contributed $10,500 to the Republican Party of San Diego County, $8,250 to the Lincoln Club and $10,000 to the state GOP. He also threw $1,000 to Carl DeMaio’s pension reform committee in 2011.
Most of the $10,500 Kersey directed to the county GOP came in the form of a $6,500 contribution made when he terminated his 2012 city council campaign committee last October.
Kersey chief of staff Patrick Bouteller told inewsource that given the relatively small amount of funds in Kersey’s account, the candidate decided to contribute what’s left to the county party.
When asked whether Kersey was running for Roberts’ seat, Bouteller said, “He does not have anything to announce now.”
From a small town, big money?
Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar told KPBS on Monday that she was “grateful for all the encouragement I have received to run in the County Supervisor race.”
Gaspar, a former city councilwoman first elected in 2010, became the small coastal city’s first elected mayor last November after winning about 47 percent of the vote in a five-way race.
En-route to that victory, Gaspar raised more than $30,000 in a contest where contributions were capped at $250 per person and for which she only began fundraising in August.
But a small town political base doesn’t preclude a good fundraiser from pulling in big bucks. Before raising $470,000 (plus loaning himself about $100,000) Dave Roberts’ only elected experience was eight years on the Solana Beach City Council.
Gaspar did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.
Adams, the SDSU politics professor, said outside spending groups will likely also get involved in the election.
- Current office: Mayor of Encinitas
- Last election: November, 2014 (won, 47% in a five-way race)
- Contributions (including non-monetary/in-kind) last election: $30,265
- Expenditures last election: $36,357
- Current cash-on-hand (as of Dec. 31, 2014): $3,685 (with $14,277 in outstanding debts)
- Declared?: No.
“I don’t think you can really predict exactly what their strategy is going to be although you know they’ll be very active one way or another,” Adams said.
Such groups are often referred to as political action committees or PACs and tend to draw most of their funding from corporations, unions and other interest groups.
They can raise and spend unlimited sums of money so long as they do not coordinate their activities with candidates’ campaigns.
The next peek the public will get at any candidates’ financial prowess will come in July, when campaign finance reports covering the first six months of 2015 are due.