With only a few weeks left before Election Day, big money donations are flying into the race for 3rd District supervisor fast and furious. In the past week, two oil industry independent expenditure committees donated $55,000 — that’s combined — to get candidate Bruce Porter elected supervisor, while two Locals of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) donated $30,000 — also combined — directly to the campaign of Joan Hartmann. Of the five candidates in the race, Porter and Hartmann are regarded as the two front-runners. Hartmann is backed by the liberal-environmental establishment associated with the Democratic Party and labor unions, while Porter is backed by agriculture, business, and development interests more typically associated with the Republican Party. The Board of Supervisors is nominally nonpartisan, and Porter is a decline-to-state candidate.
Porter had pledged in an interview with Independent reporter Kelsey Brugger that he would take no money from the oil industry, the Chumash Casino, or unions, and technically he has not done so. A Sacramento-based independent expenditure committee called Keep Santa Barbara County Working — which represents energy interests — filed campaign documents announcing it would spend $25,000 to get Porter elected, and Vaquero Energy shelled in another $30,000 for the same. Neither of these donations were funneled directly to Porter’s campaign but will be spent at the direction of the committees themselves. By law there can be no coordination between such committees and Porter’s.
“I have no knowledge of any outside effort on my behalf, from oil or any other entity,” Porter said in an email exchange. “I have never heard the amount $55,000 in any context whatsoever. If it’s happening, it’s outside my ability to see or control.” Porter said he was “puzzled” The Independent would ask about this, while not highlighting the $30,000 Hartman had received from the public employee unions. Hartmann never pledged not to take money from public employee unions, and the union money has been donated directly to her campaign.
Given that the 3rd District — from western Goleta to Santa Ynez — constitutes the key swing vote on the Board of Supervisors, political contests for this seat tend to be intense and extremely expensive. Porter and Hartmann have each raised in excess of $200,000, with Porter raising the most. Both sides agree Hartmann has raised $210,000, including a $16,000 loan from herself, but they disagree on how much Porter has raised. According to Porter, his campaign has raised $234,000 — most of it from within the district. (That doesn’t include any of the oil money.) According to Hartmann, Porter has raised closer to $320,000, but that calculation includes part of the oil money dedicated to Porter’s victory.
While the other three candidates — Jay Freeman, Bob Field, and Karen Jones — will have significant impact on the outcome of race, they are largely self-financed or not financed at all. Their involvement makes it almost impossible that any one candidate will secure the 50 percent-plus-one majority needed to win outright in June. In that case, the top two vote getters will square off in November.