Contributions to San Diego County District Three Supervisor Dave Roberts’ reelection campaign are down significantly since various accusations were leveled against him in the spring, according to an inewsource analysis of campaign finance data covering the first six months of the year.
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[box type = “shadow this-matters”]San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors oversees a budget of more than $5 billion. Whether Supervisor Dave Roberts manages to hang onto his seat could be determined by his ability to continue raising funds through the scandal that has hounded him for months.
Between the start of the year and April 16, the day U-T San Diego became the first news outlet to report former staffers’ allegations of abuse of power, Roberts raised more than $50,000. Between April 16 and June 30, Roberts raised a little over $12,000, including $750 of his own money.
(The figures don’t include nearly $1,000 in unitemized contributions — those donations for which individual contribution information, including date, need not be disclosed).
Roberts’ campaign finance report, filed Friday with the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, represents the first test of the supervisor’s fundraising capacity since the allegations became public.
Roberts, a former Solana Beach city councilman and the sole Democrat on the county Board of Supervisors, is considered vulnerable in the June 2016 election after three former staffers filed claims against the county alleging he misused the power of his office. They accuse him of telling county employees to do political work on county time, having an inappropriate relationship with an employee and asking a staffer to mislead a human resources inquiry. Roberts has consistently denied the allegations.
The supervisor told inewsource his campaign, in the accusations’ wake, made a deliberate choice to prioritize rebutting them over fundraising.
1. In the 3½ months before allegations against him became public, San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts raised more than $50,000. In the 2½ months after, he raised just over $12,000.
2. In the month since Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Roberts’ challenger, entered the race, he outraised Roberts’ more than 3-to-1.
3. Abed has raised barely 30 percent of his money from outside of Escondido.
“You know once this issue first surfaced, we said ‘We need to focus on this issue first.’ The first thing that people look at in their elected official is trust,” Roberts said. “(So) we chose to de-emphasize our fundraising since these allegations — and I will call them false allegations — came out.”
Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego Mesa College, said the claims against Roberts clearly hurt his fundraising.
“Nothing like the whiff of scandal to make people close their checkbooks,” Luna wrote in an email.
Abed outraised Roberts in June
Meanwhile, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Roberts’ sole challenger, seems poised to give Roberts a run for his money — fundraising-wise, at least.
Abed outraised Roberts more than 3-to-1 since he formed his campaign committee in early June, pulling in about $11,500 to Roberts’ $3,300 between June 1 and June 30, according to campaign finance data.
Abed campaign consultant John Franklin seized on his candidate’s outraising the incumbent in the last month of the period as evidence of Abed’s competitiveness.
“During the time that Sam was running, he outraised Roberts 3-to-1. That ought to tell you something but the reality is that we’re (still) getting our fundraising machine up and organized,” said Franklin, who predicted Abed would eventually outraise Roberts.
Roberts’ First Half Fundraising
- Contributions (including non-monetary/in-kind): $63,243.55
- Loans: $75,000
- Expenditures: $34,736.62
- Current cash-on-hand (as of June 30): $144,134.51
John Hoy, a local GOP political consultant not involved in the race, echoed Franklin’s point about the difficulty in getting up and running.
“It’s about what I’d expect it to be,” Hoy said of Abed’s haul. “It is very hard to go from standing still to having a full tilt, fast-paced fundraising operation.”
Luna, a longtime observer of the region’s politics, didn’t think Abed’s fundraising was particularly impressive.
“I’m actually surprised he didn’t make a bigger haul to date — he’s the best game the county GOP has right now, especially considering both the (San Diego) mayor’s race and the 52nd Congressional (District) are looking to be walks for the incumbents,” Luna wrote.
Abed will need to continue raising funds at a brisk pace if he hopes to overcome Roberts’ sizable advantage in cash-on-hand. For the entire January through June period, Roberts raised more than $63,000 (including $750 of his own money) and has nearly eight times the funds Abed does in his campaign bank account — $144,000 versus $19,000.
Franklin declined to disclose a specific goal for fundraising in the second half of the year but offered that “I would think a number that is above six figures would indicate, before the end of the year, a healthy campaign.”
Both candidates made five-figure loans to their campaigns: $10,000 from Abed and $75,000 from Roberts.
Abed’s First Half Fundraising
- Contributions (including non-monetary/in-kind): $11,515
- Loans: $10,000
- Expenditures: $2,494
- Current cash-on-hand (as of June 30): $19,021
Roberts said he made that loan to send a message to his supporters.
“Now, I did make a loan to the campaign because I think it’s important that people know I am committed to winning reelection,” Roberts said. “I’m going to continue to fight for the almost 650,000 people that live in my district. That’s what they expect of me and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Abed heavily reliant on Escondido donors
Abed, who was easily elected to a second term as Escondido’s mayor last November, is a fundraising powerhouse in the inland North County city. He pulled in nearly $265,000 for his last election and had almost $100,000 left over in his mayoral account at the end of last year.
However, Abed’s tenure as mayor has been controversial. Local political consultants have suggested that he could have problems with voters outside Escondido because of his support for a failed municipal ordinance to deter residents from renting homes to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and for his backing of police checkpoints that critics contend are aimed at catching those in the country illegally.
Abed’s report represents the mayor’s first test of fundraising strength outside of Escondido and, so far, Abed hasn’t raised much money outside of his hometown.
In his sole month of fundraising, Abed raised less than a third of his money outside of Escondido, $3,400 out of $11,300 in itemized contributions (those donations for which individual contributor information, including address, must be disclosed).
Franklin, Abed’s political consultant, said that number would increase markedly in the second half of the year.
“I have every expectation that Sam will raise more than half of his funds from outside of Escondido,” Franklin said, adding that he raised a significant amount of money for his 2014 mayoral campaign from outside of the city. “His contacts are regional and not just in Escondido.”
Roberts campaign manager Gary Gartner painted Abed’s reliance on Escondido-based contributors as proof that Abed isn’t an attractive districtwide candidate.
“I think he may be finding it’s harder to raise money outside of his city than he thought,” Gartner said.
Hoy, the local GOP consultant, said candidates typically lean heavily on familiar, hometown donors early in a campaign but the successful ones quickly broaden their fundraising base.
“I’m not sure it’s terribly predictive for the future but, yes, Sam Abed has to build upon what base he has in Escondido — fundraising and political,” Hoy said. “He hasn’t done it yet but he’s only been in (the race) for a brief time.”
Power of incumbency hard to overcome
Despite the bad press Roberts’ reelection campaign has endured, the power of incumbency will make him a formidable foe.
An incumbent San Diego county supervisor hasn’t been defeated since 1986.
Roberts alluded to his incumbency in expressing confidence in his campaign.
“I’m an incumbent county supervisor, extremely popular in my district that is out and about seven days a week. Fundraising is something that we had de-emphasized and I think we still had a great period showing in the last six months,” Roberts said. “We’ve got a lot of money in the bank. We’ve got things that are left over from our ’12 campaign that we can reuse. We think we’re on track to win this.”
Roberts raised $470,000 for his 2012 campaign and began the year with about $39,000 in cash-on-hand.
If the supervisor’s team is successful in proving the accusations false, Luna said Roberts should be able to recover.
“If Roberts can put the allegations to rest and rebuild his existing base of support, the money will even out and the usual incumbent advantage will reassert itself,” Luna wrote. “Otherwise, this could be an interesting race.”