A relatively tame Santa Barbara election season received a shot of drama this week when Janet McGinnis, a former City Hall chief litigator and a current supporter of Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, filed a complaint with the California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) against Sneddon’s challenger in District 4, private developer and Planning Commissioner Barrett Reed.
McGinnis alleges that Reed, among the top fundraisers of all the mayoral and council candidates with $224,143 in his war chest primarily from real estate interests, failed in campaign finance statements to properly identify one of his main donors, SIMA Corporation founder and chair Jim Knell. McGinnis claims Knell gave Reed more than the $4,900 maximum allowed by state law for individual contributors by surreptitiously making eight donations of $1,500 under various LLCs he controls.
The contributions, totaling $12,000, were all filed June 21, notes McGinnis, who also provided the FPPC with records of Knell’s connections to the LLCs. Moreover, Reed improperly accepted an additional $16,050 from seven other LLCs who didn’t attach the name of a person to their checks, McGinnis states in her complaint.
In response, Reed insists he did nothing wrong. “It is next to impossible for me to know who owns every business that has supported and contributed to me, just as Ms. Sneddon has received funds from business entities without disclosing the individual behind them,” he said. “I assure you that I have the most professional fundraising and compliance team in the city working with me. We would never intentionally skirt the rules of the campaign.”
That being said, Reed went on, “If there was any doubt in anyone’s mind,” he has returned all but $4,900 of Knell’s contributions. Knell did not answer a request for comment for this story.
Reed fired back at Sneddon’s camp, saying the accusation “exposes the fear and desperation of a failing councilmember that has no better strategy to win but to attempt a smear of my successful campaign.” More than 250 individuals and entities have given toward his election bid, he said, “which is a clear signal of the end of Ms. Sneddon’s support for her position in City Hall.”
For her part, Sneddon, an SBCC geology professor who has raised $78,146 from nearly 190 donors thus far, called the information contained in McGinnis’s complaint “an example of how Mr. Reed attempts to work around the rules.” While the FPPC investigates, she said, “I am focusing on my campaign, talking to voters about what we’ve accomplished in the past four years, and sharing my vision for Santa Barbara’s future.”
Other candidates in other Santa Barbara races also found themselves in financial hot water this week. Four of the six contestants running for mayor and one running for City Council were hit with fines totaling $11,520 by the City of Santa Barbara for failing to comply with local rules governing the timely reporting of campaign donations.
Hit hardest was Nina Johnson, who is running against incumbent Meagan Harmon for her District 6 council seat. Johnson was fined $6,570. Johnson’s treasurer had been fined by the FPPC for $7,500 for similar violations when he represented then-Goleta councilmember Roger Aceves in his unsuccessful run for county supervisor in 2014.
Among the mayoral candidates, Randy Rowse was fined $4,020; Mark Whitehurst, $800; James Joyce III, $90; and Deborah Schwartz, $40. The fines were imposed after an in-house investigation determined that the candidates had failed to submit finance statements within 24 hours of receiving funds election code requires.
As Election Day approaches, all candidates are making their final fundraising pushes in order to reach as many voters as possible with advertisements, mailers, and other platforms of self-promotion. Here is a breakdown of who has collected how much with the identities of some of their biggest donors.
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Randy Rowse — $262,725
Rowse, a former city councilmember and restaurateur, leads the mayoral pack by a decent margin and has received more individual contributions than any of the other candidates. Among his top supporters, who all gave the $4,900 maximum, are Gary Simpson, owner of the Santa Barbara Home Improvement Center; David Grotenhuis, founding partner of investment firm Santa Barbara Capital; downtown property owner Richard Berti; and Ben Howland, Mississippi State University basketball coach. Rowse also received $1,500 from publicist John Davies and $1,000 from Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, and $1,000 from defense attorney Doug Hayes.
Cathy Murillo — $192,601
As the incumbent mayor, Murillo has padded her wallet with big contributions from labor unions, including the Southern California District District Council of Laborers Issues PAC ($4,900); Western States Council of Sheet Metal Workers PAC ($4,900); SEIU Local 620 ($4,900); Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union #114 PAC ($2,500); and Southern California Pipe Trades District Council 16 ($2,500). She also received $4,900 from State Assemblymember James Ramos; $4,900 from Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart; $3,000 from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians; and $2,500 from MarBorg Industries.
Deborah Schwartz — $149,164
Schwartz, a longtime Planning Commissioner, received a number of maximum $4,900 contributions, including from Robert Lieff, a San Francisco attorney; local investors James Argyropoulos and Cole Cervantes; the California Real Estate PAC; real estate developer Herb Simon; Joe’s Café; Lucky’s Village Inc., the company that owns Lucky’s restaurant; and Quattro Inc., another restaurant company. Schwartz also received $3,000 from real estate broker Andrew Adler and construction firm owner Darrell Becker.
James Joyce III — $45,913
The chief of staff to former state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson boasts an eclectic mix of donors, from small business owners to doctors to artists to retirees. Some of his biggest givers are publisher and philanthropist Sara Miller McCune ($4,900); therapist Marsha Marcoe ($3,900); resident Elizabeth Batarse ($4,500); Sonos cofounder John MacFarlane ($2,000); writer Eileen Read ($2,000); and financial advisor Guy Walker ($1,000).
Mark Whitehurst — $9,425
Bringing up the rear of the pack is publisher Mike Whitehurst, whose largest donations came from relative John Whitehurst ($4,900); retired Realtor William C. Knapp ($2,000); rancher Susan Knapp ($1,000); and landscaper Robert Adams ($250).
Barrett Reed — $224,143
Reed’s coffers are filled with donations from big names in Santa Barbara’s real estate industry. He received $4,900 from The Towbes Group; investor Peter Lewis; builder Neil Dipaola; broker Michael McElhenny; contractor Darrell Becker; designer Kirsten Becker; lender Eric Mozilo, and others. He also received $3,500 from Coast Village Investments; $2,500 from the California Real Estate PAC; $1,000 from Investec Management Corp.; and $1,000 from Balboa Building owner Ronald Robertson.
Kristen Sneddon — $78,146
Many of Sneddon’s contributions are on the smaller side — $500 or less — and they come from a wide cross-section of the community. But she did get $4,900 from both the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians and retired SBCC professor Karl Halbach; $2,500 from both pharmacist Rick Closson and Claudette Roehrig, board president of Domestic Violence Solutions; $2,000 from attorney Laurie Ashton; $1,500 from filmmaker Gail Osherenko; $1,000 from the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County; and $500 from former mayor Helene Schneider.
Nina Johnson — $121,518
Downtown business interests clearly have the back of longtime City Hall assistant administrator Nina Johnson, with brokers, landlords, and architects all throwing in with her campaign. She received top-dollar $4,900 donations from attorneys John Thyne, Naomi Dewey, and Brandi Redman, as well as from Pumpflix, the company that displays video advertisements at gas station pumps. SBCAST creator Alan Macy also gave ($4,000), as did Good Lion owner Brandon Ristaino ($1,000), Ontraport CEO Landon Ray ($500), and Yona Redz restaurant ($250).
Meagan Harmon — $95,339
Harmon, like Murillo, enjoys the financial support of labor unions, having collected $2,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC; $1,500 from Local 47 IBEW; and $1,000 from United Food and Commercial Workers PAC. She also received backing from her colleagues on the council, including Mayor Murillo ($1,000); Councilmember Eric Friedman ($500); and Councilmember Michael Jordan. In the big-money department, she got $4,900 checks from retired Montecito resident Richard Mazess; engineer Jason Yardi; educator Robin Yardi; and Johan van den Berg, president of Eurofresh in Carpinteria.
Jason Carlton — $3,725
Running a true grassroots campaign, electrical contractor Jason Carlton took in cash from fellow small business owners, including Haik’s German Autohaus’s Haik Hakobian ($300) and Draughtsman’s Tami Snow ($100). He also received $500 from City Hall watchdog James Fenkner.