Santa Barbara City Hall Hits Five Candidates with Campaign Fines

One City Council and Four Mayoral Candidates Dinged a Total of $11,520 for Filing Late Contribution Reports

From left: Nina Johnson, James Joyce III, Mark Whitehurst, Deborah Schwartz, and Randy Rowse. | Credit: Courtesy

Four of the six candidates now running for Santa Barbara mayor and one running for City Council were hit with fines totaling $11,520 Wednesday by the City of Santa Barbara for failing to comply with city rules governing the timely reporting of campaign donations. 

Hit hardest was Nina Johnson, a longtime assistant city administrator now making a bid against incumbent Meagan Harmon for her downtown council seat in District 6. Johnson was fined $6,570. 

Among the mayoral candidates, Randy Rowse, a former city councilmember, was fined $4,020; Mark Whitehurst, a former 14-year member of the Downtown Organization board, was fined $800; James Joyce III, former chief of staff to former State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson; was fined $90; and mayoral candidate Deborah Schwartz, a 12-year member of the Planning Commission and its current chair, was fined $40. 

The fines were imposed after an in-house investigation determined that the five candidates had failed to submit what are known as 497 campaign finance statements within 24 hours of receipt as state and local election code require. The 24-hour requirement applies only to contributions of $1,000 or more. According to City Clerk Sarah Gorman, a fine of $10 is levied per fine per day late. 

Typically, City Hall has not played much, if any, of an enforcement role. Gorman said she could not recall another instance during the five years she’s worked in her current capacity. This reporter cannot remember another instance in more than 30; one political consultant in town with a similarly long wingspan expressed surprise at the enforcement action. 

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The decision to impose the penalties was made by Interim City Administrator Rebecca Bjork — who took the helm September 10 — in consultation with City Attorney Ariel Calonne. 

Johnson’s early lack of any campaign finance reporting had elicited concern and comment by numerous political activists associated with the Democratic Party and supporting the incumbent candidate, Harmon. Given that Johnson has been an employee of City Hall for 25 years, it could have appeared more than awkward had Johnson been given a pass. 

It didn’t help Johnson any that her campaign treasurer had been fined by the Fair Political Practices Commission for $7,500 for similar violations when he represented Roger Aceves, then a Goleta councilmember running for county supervisor against then incumbent Janet Wolf in 2014. 

The only two mayoral candidates not fined are incumbent mayor Cathy Murillo and longshot challenger David Matthew “Boat Rat Matt” Kilrain, who is reportedly not raising any funds. 

Also unscathed are incumbent District 4 councilmember Kristen Sneddon and her challenger, Barrett Reed, as well as District 6 candidates Harmon and Jason Carlton and incumbent District 3 councilmember Eric Friedman, who is running unopposed.

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