My Turn: Are supervisors’ seats for sale?
April 30, 2008
I believe we need to expand our analysis of the influence of political donations as reported in the Sierra Sun on April 11, (“Buying Favor in a recession”).
That well-written column, by David Bunker, Sierra Sun assistant editor, addresses what most of us strongly suspect is happening in Washington, D.C.: “Business lobbyists spend billions of dollars in Washington sweet talking politicians into favoring them. And then, when business gets in trouble, politicians pull out billions in taxpayer dollars to bail out business.”
Unfortunately, this practice of Big Money unduly influencing politicians is alive and well here in Placer County. If you visit the Placer County Web site, you can eventually find the campaign contributions received by each supervisor and candidate running for a particular office.
We did this recently and it provided a lot of insight into what the current District 5 race is all about, especially between Bruce Kranz, the incumbent, and Serene Lakes small business owner Jennifer Montgomery, one of two challengers.
The overwhelming majority of contributions to Ms. Montgomery are between $100-$500, mostly from retired people, or small business owners. None appear to be from big-name developers.
However, when one reviews Bruce Kranz’s list from July 2006 to the present, the list reads like a who’s who in the development industry. Just a few include: Royal Gorge at $20,000, Martis Valley LLC at $4,000, East West Partners at $5,000, Squaw Valley Ski Corporation at $10,000, McNeil Capital at $5,000, Roger Wittenberg developer at $5,000, and so on. And it’s possible the contributions could be even larger but it’s hard to tell if and when some of the money comes from an architect, lawyer, or other individual on behalf of a developer.
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Perhaps when some of you review the list, you’ll recognize more developers and tie-ins. Bear in mind that the Placer County supervisor also sits, and votes, on the all-important TRPA Board; hence he’s often voting on projects involving tens of millions of dollars in either the Auburn area or at the lake.
Let’s get something straight: There’s nothing illegal about contributing large sums of money to a county supervisor and TRPA board member who, at the same time, may be voting on a board regarding approval or denial of a project belonging to one of his large contributors. And while there is likely no written promise (hopefully) that said supervisor will be influenced by a large contribution, many people believe that it defies credibility that a well-endowed supervisor will suffer amnesia when it comes time to vote.
At the very least, there’s the perception of impropriety.
We have two suggestions: First, you, the public, ought to go to the Placer County Government Web site (www.placer.ca.gov/Departments/Recorder/Elections/) and take a look for yourselves regarding these contributors and the size of their contributions. Many of those contributors listed don’t explain their background (i.e. if they’re related to a project going before the supervisor, such as Placer Vineyard at $5,000, Thomas Winn at $5,000, Auburn Manor at $3,000, Nella Oil Co. at $3,000, and many others.)
They may not be; my point is that it’s difficult to size up about half the contributors listed, especially if they don’t come out and list their specific affiliation. This is particularly true regarding Mr. Kranz’s contributors.
Second, if you’re as upset as we are regarding the likely influence of big contributions to board members who vote on big projects, then ask your representative in Auburn if there’s a better way. Instead of accepting large sums of money from developers who obviously expect some form of payback, why don’t our elected representatives sponsor legislation utilizing only public funding so that our elected representative can’t and won’t be indebted to his big contributors, and instead can vote based on the merits of the projects before him?