Sound of One Purse Snapping

Opponents of the proposed county split — on the countywide ballot this June as Measure H — have raised nearly $25,000, while advocates of the split have filed no campaign finance report at all. That’s because Jim Diani — county split advocate and Santa Maria developer — says they don’t have to; he argues his group, Citizens for County Organization, is legally exempt from campaign finance disclosure requirements because it is a nonprofit educational — rather than political — organization. Diani also said they haven’t raised a dime so far.

County split foes — led by former Santa Barbara city councilmember David Landecker — insist the campaign reporting law applies. “It couldn’t be clearer,” said Landecker. Diani predicted split opponents would seek to make an issue of the identities of any prospective contributors, distracting voters from the real issue. According to county elections officer Bob Smith, it’s up to the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to settle the argument, not his office. The Coalition Against the County Split (CACS) collected $15,000 of its contributions from the Service Employees International Union — $10,000 from the union’s local political action committee and $5,000 from the statewide organization.

The split faces an uphill battle: If passed, about half the county’s current employees would lose their jobs. And a commission appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to study the split’s economic feasibility concluded the proposed new Mission County would start out $30 million in debt. Split supporters have dismissed the commission’s findings as exaggerated and argue that any financial shortfall would be absorbed by increased service efficiency and government responsiveness.

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