Although the race to fill Susan Rose’s seat as 2nd District Supervisor has not officially begun, candidate Das Williams was fastest off the fundraising blocks, raising $27,695 last December. Of that, $25,000 came from just one donor, Peter Sperling, founder of Call Wave Inc. and son of billionaire John Sperling, who started the University of Phoenix, an online adult-ed academic institute. Former Goleta School Boardmember Janet Wolf reported raising $17,000; of that, she contributed $10,000 and gathered $4,000 from relatives. Dan Secord, former Santa Barbara City Councilmember, reported raising $8,600, $2,500 of which came from condo developers John and Hazel Blankenship. Joe Guzzardi, emergency planner for the county fire department, reported raising no monies in December, but was quick to lambaste the big check Sperling wrote Williams. “To me, that’s obscene.” Guzzardi added that with support from the Committees to Protect Santa Barbara and the Goleta Valley—created by neighborhood advocates Gary Earl and Ann Crosby—he expected to reach all 9,000 households in the district for a mere $360. Williams made no apologies for Sperling’s donation, explaining that he and Sperling—who recently contributed $5 million to the successful effort to save much of Ellwood Mesa—were friends and fellow environmentalists.
Guzzardi was not the lone voice questioning county campaign funds. Mayor Marty Blum was sufficiently alarmed by the numbers tossed around last year that she’s rumbling about implementing campaign finance reform; Councilmember Iya Falcone spent $89,000 on her re-election effort while rookie Councilmember Grant House lavished $73,000 on his first run. Councilmembers Helene Schneider and Das Williams—who raised $70,000 two years ago—expressed support for campaign reform in theory, but cautioned against passing anything that gave “special interests” and incumbents a greater advantage. They worried the council could tip the scale on behalf of independent expenditure committees by reducing the amount candidates could collect from individual donors. Councilmember Brian Barnwell, meanwhile, charged that the $17,000 donated by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a major supporter of the proposed Living Wage ordinance, had so tainted the public’s perception of the council’s financial integrity that the Living Wage proposal should be put to the public, instead of the council, for a deciding vote.
In response, Mayor Blum wondered rhetorically why Barnwell and others weren’t equally troubled by the considerable funds donated by the police and firefighters’ unions—$12,800 and $8,500, respectively—to their preferred candidates. “And we negotiate salaries with these guys,” Blum said. Blum and Schneider plan to introduce the matter at the March 7 City Council meeting.