Development interests have accounted for two-thirds of the contributions and independent expenditures in Sacramento County supervisor races this year, a Sacramento Bee analysis shows.
Developers have wielded considerable influence in county politics for years, but tracking their campaign spending has been difficult because the county did not collect or distribute reports in an electronic format until last year. While electronic filing became mandatory only this month, the seven candidates who ran for two county supervisor seats this year started following the requirement early.
Two of those candidates are still running – businessman Mike Kozlowski and Citrus Heights City Council member Sue Frost, who will face off in the November election to replace Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, who is retiring. Both of the runoff candidates received considerable backing from developers. In the other supervisor race in June, incumbent Susan Peters beat a first-time candidate who raised a fraction of the money she did.
Observers say the county’s contribution limits are among the lowest in the state – $1,000 per election period for an organization and $500 for an individual. The limits help explain why contributions in county races are lower than in some other area races, such as the June race for Sacramento mayor. The seven supervisor candidates raised a total of just under $300,000 through June, according to their most recent reports.
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Of those contributions, $135,000, or 45 percent, came from development interests, including developers, land-use lawyers and consultants, and real estate agents, the Bee analysis found.
Development interests helped supervisor candidates more through independent expenditures, which are not subject to limits. Independent expenditures are made by interest groups in support of a candidate or issue, but not given directly to a candidate.
Three development groups, the National Association of Realtors, Region Business and the Building Industry Association, spent $199,000 through Thursday in support of three supervisor candidates, Kozlowski, Frost and Folsom City Council member Kerri Howell, who lost to the other two in June. No other independent expenditures have occurred in the supervisor races.
Rob Burness, a local environmentalist who worked in the county planning office for about three decades, said the contributions pay off for developers.
“When push comes to shove, the votes follow the money,” said Burness, a member of the Environmental Council of Sacramento. “If you were to look at the significant votes, and the campaign contributions made to supervisors, you would find that they very rarely vote against a contributor.”
But Josh Wood, executive director of Region Business, said developers are not looking for support on individual projects; instead, they want to back supervisor candidates who generally support development and the jobs it creates.
“Sacramento County has thousands of acres of development that’s being proposed in the next few years,” he said.
In particular, county supervisors will make decisions on development proposed for the biggest swath of green space left in the county, along Jackson Highway, east of Sacramento. At the same time, the board will face pressure from environmentalists and others to concentrate development in existing urban areas.
Wood also says the county has a long-standing reputation as having a cumbersome building department that can hold up construction. Developers want supervisors who can expedite the approval process, he said.
Region Business endorsed Kozlowski, and its independent expenditures on his behalf, $129,000, dwarfed the $14,000 Kozlowski raised on his own. Wood said Region Business supports him because he has a strong grasp of what the county needs for economic development.
Kozlowski said he once sat on the Region Business political action committee and considers himself “pro-development.” He once worked in architecture and thinks most development proposals should be approved unless they involve something “particularly crazy.” He said his support base goes beyond developers, as he has received endorsements from several area chambers of commerce and the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.
Frost has also received help from development interests, including $20,000 in independent expenditures from the National Association of Realtors. Her campaign manager, Tab Berg, said she worked in real estate in the past. She has also received contributions and an endorsement from the North State Building Industry Association.
Of the seven supervisor candidates who have run this year, only one did not run as a pro-business, pro-development candidate, Berg said. That candidate, schoolteacher Gary Blenner, lost in June to Kozlowski and Frost.
The race attracted more candidates than the one for Peters’ seat because MacGlashan is stepping down. Peters faced just one challenger, first-time candidate Shaun Dillon.
Peters raised $124,000 in campaign contributions, with about half coming from development interests. Peters was a developer before becoming a supervisor, and she has been a vocal advocate for economic development. She also has drawn criticism for votes on development in Arden Arcade, while the state Fair Political Practices Commission has examined her votes for projects at Mather Airport, where she owns property.
Dillon, a merchandising supervisor at Home Depot, raised about $7,500.
Peters took 75 percent of the vote, winning her fourth term in office. Her campaign manager, Tom Ross, said her contributions came from a broad range of community members and business interests. Peters “is focused on smart planning that makes Sacramento County affordable, unlike many areas of California,” he said.
Kerri Asbury, chairwoman of the Sacramento County Democratic Party, said the county’s low contribution limits, coupled with heavy developer support for incumbents, makes it difficult to find candidates to challenge a sitting supervisor. While the party supported Dillon against Peters, a Republican, Asbury conceded that he was not a strong candidate.