by Dave Waddell
When it comes to political action committees (PACs) operating in this year’s Chico City Council race, some things have changed while one has remained the same: Big bucks contributed by big developers to a PAC backing conservative candidates.
In fact, three conservative City Council candidates and the developers’ PAC supporting them have hauled in an unprecedented $200,000 in contributions for the Nov. 6 election, compared to a total of about $85,000 for three liberal candidates.
Meantime, the Esplanade League, a liberal PAC established in 1997, filed termination papers earlier this year in the wake of paying a fine to the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
Also recently calling it quits was Butte County Awareness and Accountability — a conservative PAC led by an appointed city commissioner that’s been under investigation by the FPPC for more than two years. The FPPC cited ChicoSol reporting as the reason it started the probe of Butte County Awareness and Accountability in August 2016. The case remains open, a FPPC spokesman said this week.
Another PAC calling itself Chico Citizens for Accountable Government (CCAG) has continued this year with its basic playbook from the 2014 and 2016 Council elections by parlaying relatively few large contributions, mostly from developers, into a formidable bankroll from which it backs conservatives and attacks liberals.
According to campaign filings, CCAG had raised a total of $26,000 as of this week. Contributing $5,000 each to CCAG were Bill Webb Construction, Epick Inc., SCA Development Corp., and real estate developer Thomas van Overbeek.
The $26,000 in total contributions to CCAG to date is less than the PAC raised in 2014 and 2016, when its totals were about $40,000 and $31,000, respectively. The PAC’s principal in those years was Mike Maloney, a former Chico police chief and Butte College administrator. CCAG’s mailers included attack ads against Scott Gruendl fours ago and Randall Stone two years ago.
In 2017, CCAG’s principal was changed from Maloney to Jacqueline Lincoln, whose LinkedIn page says she’s a longtime teacher in the Durham Unified School District. Jacqueline Lincoln is also identified as secretary of the Butte County Republican Party on its website here.
To date, CCAG has spent about $3,700 each in support of Matt Gallaway and Kasey Reynolds – two conservative political newcomers seeking City Council seats.
In terms of individual contributions to candidates, both Gallaway and Reynolds are threatening to surpass Mayor Sean Morgan’s record individual fundraising mark of $62,500 in the 2016 election. As of Sept. 22, Gallaway had raised $62,285 and Reynolds $59,107. Conservative incumbent Andrew Coolidge had raised $52,605.
Unlike with PACs, the city limits contributions to individual candidates to no more than $500. Gallaway has received about 80 $500 contributions, Reynolds about 50 at that level, and Coolidge about 40.
Among liberal candidates, Scott Huber was the leading fundraiser, totaling about $37,300, including 14 maximum $500 contributions. Two other liberals, Richard Ober and Alex Brown, reported contributions totaling $29,300 and $18,100, respectively.
The Esplanade League and its principal, Paul Friedlander, paid a fine of $1,087 earlier this year for failing to report some expenditures properly. The spending was in support of Stone, Ann Schwab, Tami Ritter and Kimberly Rudisill in the 2012 City Council race, and of Gruendl, Lupe Arim-Law and Forough Molina in 2014.
“The fine was for minor infractions like not filing supplemental forms at the proper time,” Friedlander said. “It was deemed … unintentional, and we were given reduced penalties.”
Friedlander said he is certain there have been efforts by conservative interests to uncover mistakes in liberal PACs’ campaign forms, no matter how minor.
“There is no doubt in my mind that someone with a lot of time and money spent considerable efforts to go through all the FPPC filings of progressive organizations to find mistakes that would tie up our time and money for years,” Friedlander said. “We are now at a point during this election cycle where the developers, landlords, local corporations, construction companies and other similar interests have invested huge sums of money … to keep the far-right supporters in office.”
The Esplanade League was formed 21 years ago “by a group of progressive council members and activists, I believe including (former Chico City Council members) Coleen Jarvis and Dave Guzzetti,” Friedlander said. The most active members’ involvements in other progressive activities led to the decision to deactivate the Esplanade League “at the present time.”
“Many new committees and organizations have risen up in recent years to take up the issue of maintaining a more humane, intelligent and livable Chico for all,” Friedlander said.
Meanwhile, Butte County Awareness and Accountability (BCAA), a PAC that has been under FPPC investigation for 26 months, officially terminated it activities prior to this year’s election. Tom Kozik, who has been a member of the Chico Airport Commission since 2015, ran BCAA and spent most of its funds attacking liberal candidates with mailers and signs – Gruendl in 2014 and Stone, Schwab, Ritter and Karl Ory in 2016.
The PAC’s first and biggest donor was downtown developer Wayne Cook, whose contributions to BCAA totaled at least $8,500 in 2014 and 2016.
Kozik did not return a message from ChicoSol seeking comment on the ongoing FPPC investigation.
Dave Waddell is news director at ChicoSol.