This story first appeared on Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts on August 9, 2019.
TOPIC A: Our spies say that Concerned Carpinterians, one of the key, um, grassroots groups fighting the county’s transformation into California’s capital of cannabis, is poised to fire a sizzling shot across the bow of Supervisor Das Williams’s reelection campaign.
Within days, the group reportedly plans to bash Das for accepting at least $30,500 in recent months from 10 individuals and businesses who hold provisional pot cultivation licenses — and are now seeking the supes’ approval for final permits to grow legal weed.
(As predicted, the group on Monday sent out a blistering release assailing Das over his contributions.)
The $30,500 in donations is nearly twice as much as was previously reported in total contributions to Williams from players in the local marijuana industry. Newsmakers confirmed the contributions, which range from $1,000 to $5,000, in examining Das’s most recent campaign finance filings with the county.
“This is just the latest outrage for Carpinterians from Das Williams, who seems to practice pay-for-play politics and has no compunctions about selling out his constituents in favor of Big Cannabis interests,” said concerned Carpinterian Lionel Neff.
In a telephone interview, Das said that, given the ongoing controversy over the county’s contentious pot ordinance, he has decided going forward not to accept further campaign donations from cannabis interests.
Williams, whose pro-legalization views have been clear since his way-back days on City Council, denied any quid pro quo between the contributions from growers and his policy judgments; he also acknowledged, however, that the “optics” of sitting in judgment on permits of those who gave him money might be misconstrued.
“I’m working as hard as I can” to fix problems that community members have raised with the ordinance, from odor control to the size of grows, he said. “We’re making progress.”
WHAT IT ALL MEANS: Amid ongoing conflict about sprawling, skunky grows, and the huge percentage of statewide cultivation permits granted within S.B. County, the Carp group’s attack is significant, for several reasons.
Most immediately, Williams and other supervisors confront a series of amendments, permit applications, and appeals involving the ordinance, and the new disclosure about his links to the industry is certain to fuel angry demands that he recuse himself from such decisions.
More broadly, some members of the Carpinteria group already are pointing to the contributions as evidence that the county’s loose campaign finance regulation system should be tightened and may attempt to qualify a political reform initiative for the ballot in 2020.
“This underlies the urgent need for reforms at the Board of Supervisors,” reads a draft statement from the membership group that we’ve seen.
“At present, the Board of Supervisors operates with the impunity of czars with no limits on campaign contributions, no limits on lobbyists, no ethical watchdog, and no mandatory public oversight,” the statement says. “Under current rules, the billion dollar cannabis lobby could literally dump one million dollars or more on Supervisor Williams prior to the March 2020 election and likely do so without the public learning about it, at that time.”
As a political matter, a robust public debate over political ethics that makes the pot industry’s campaign contributions its centerpiece could offer a cudgel to school boardmember Laura Capps, who is preparing to announce a challenge to Williams in the 1st District, in her bid to mount a case against an entrenched incumbent.
OFF TO THE RACES: As Capps works behind the scenes to assemble a campaign operation, however, Das, a historically vigorous campaigner, already is in high gear with high-profile public appearances, all dutifully chronicled on social media.
Facing a fight against a fellow liberal, Williams also has been reaching out to conservative precincts, winning recent praise, both from columnist Bob Hazard in the Montecito Journal for his efforts in the debate over a proposed community services district and from right-wing sachem Andy Caldwell, who took to the morning paper to boost Das’s reelection via an ad hominem attack on philanthropist Sara Miller McCune, who backs Capps.
“Clueless voters in Santa Barbara believe they choose their representatives. However, the reality is that Sara Miller McCune chooses who is going to run for office in the first place, giving voters little to no choice in the matter,” Caldwell wrote. “One exception to all this is that upstart Das Williams.” Talk about your strange bedfellows.