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The case for campaign contribution reform grows with each passing election.

Take the city of Monterey, for instance, where a reform-minded city councilwoman, Libby Downey, was knocked out of office in November by an opponent who raised nearly six times as much money, much of it from a segment of the business community that Downey had tangled with.

The successful candidate was Dan Albert Jr., son of the longtime Monterey mayor. In a three-candidate race for two seats on the council, he pulled in $53,365 compared to $9,411 for Downey and $8,549 for Alan Haffa, who retained his seat.

Downey and Haffa have led the city’s efforts to reform leasing practices at city-owned Fisherman’s Wharf, where some longtime tenants who negotiated sweetheart lease deals with the city decades ago are allowed to sublease the space to other businesses at greatly increased rates without the city receiving any share of the additional income.

The effort to change that and other practices has been met with furious resistance from wharf tenants, who have repeatedly  accused city officials of attempting to turn the wharf over to chain restaurants at the expense of local, family-owned operations. With Downey’s departure, the city has softened its approach to negotiating more taxpayer-friendly leases at the wharf. The city’s resolve weakened further when Councilman Timothy Barrett, previously in the Haffa-Downey camp on the issue, was somehow persuaded to switch sides. Haffa is now expected to be outvoted 4-1 on wharf matters, so the established wharf interests appear to have regained their grip on  city leasing policy.

Albert’s contributors listed in the most recent campaign spending reports include the Monterey Commercial Property Owners Association, $2,500; and two closely related entities, the Monterey Bay Action Committee and the Monterey Hospitality Association, $5,000 apiece. The $5,000 contributions came after the election and were presumably intended to help Albert build his treasury for a re-election effort. He also took in contributions from Monterey Fish Co., Randy’s Fishing Trips, the Cannery Row Co., Portola Hotel, Marriott Hotel and lawyer Tony Lombardo, who represents the Shake family interests on the wharf.

Incidentally, or not, in his previous role as associate superintendent of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Albert was an active participant in the pay-to-play system of awarding school bond contracts to companies that provide most of the financing for school bond measure campaigns.

The Monterey district was not alone, of course. School districts throughout California and beyond traditionally financed bond campaigns with contributions from bond underwriters and construction companies that would directly benefit from the resulting school construction contracts. In California, the state Treasurer’s Office only last year enacted regulations that prohibit contracts from being awarded to the firms that financed the corresponding bond measures. Bonding companies can still contribute to bond measure campaigns but they cannot then recover their investment directly by receiving contracts in the same communities.

No one has accused Albert of any illegal or unethical activities. The connection between school bond campaign financing and subsequent contracts has been so clear for so long that the built-in conflicts of interests were widely viewed as a necessary cost of getting schools built or repaired.

While Albert was the local school district’s chief business officer, his wife, Sharon, ran the successful Measure P campaign that raised more than $100 million in 2010, and she received considerable and justifiable praise for her efforts. With district officials barred from direct involvement in bond campaigns, companies that went on to receive sizable construction or finance contracts contributed the bulk of the money needed to persuade voters to approve the MPUSD bond program. A sizable share of the resulting construction work went to campaign contributor Harris Construction of Fresno, now under investigation for a bid-rigging scheme in Fresno. Others contributing to Measure P and then benefiting from the construction program included the Piper Jaffray and Stone & Youngberg bond firms, Keygent Advisers, a San Francisco bond counsel and a Fresno architecture firm.

Efforts to limit campaign contributions locally have surfaced from time to time but most have sputtered as local political action committees such as the Monterey Bay Action Committee and the Salinas Valley Leadership Group have stepped up to support the most commerce-friendly candidates. At the moment, however, momentum appears to be growing for new, tougher rules that would affect candidates for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

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Potter, right, enjoys the support of fellow Supervisor and former Judge John Phillips

Dave Potter’s transformation is nearly complete. About all that’s left for him to do is change his registration.

Throughout his political career, Potter, the 5th District Monterey County supervisor, has been a Democrat and has enjoyed considerable support from the party and its spinoffs. This year, however, the best he could do endorsement-wise was a co-endorsement from the local party, which also endorsed his opponent in the June election, Mary Adams.

Adams, meanwhile, also received the endorsements of party-related groups that used to endorse Potter, such as the Democratic Women of Monterey County. Adams also picked up endorsements from the Monterey County chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America and the Salinas Valley Democratic Club.

Demonstrating how far Potter has drifted away from the progressive crowd that once supported him, one of his latest mailers (SEE BELOW) includes lengthy endorsement messages from one of the GOP’s most outspoken local activists, Paul Bruno, and longtime Republican bigwig Jeff Davi.

Davi was California’s real estate commissioner under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger (though the mailer makes him out to be the current commissioner.) He is perhaps best known for his agency’s nearly complete failure to prosecute any real estate interests during the height of the mortgage crisis. Some will also remember that Davi was Potter’s opponent in his first campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

Bruno would have been a Ted Cruz delegate if his favored candidate had stayed in the presidential race. He says in the mailer that he is a fan of Potter’s as well because “for me, it is all about good government.” He goes on to say that Potter has “an impressive record on issues of importance to us – jobs, the economy and fiscal responsibility.” Look for specifics in the next mailer, perhaps.

Bruno, some will recall, is the fellow who dragged a chain out to a political demonstration on Highway 1. He was going to haul the protesters away until the CHP made him stop. He’s also the fellow whose company, Monterey Peninsula Engineering, seems to have a lock on Cal Am pipeline work.

Also pictured in the same flyer is Potter endorser Steve Bernal, the young sheriff of Monterey County, also a proud Republican.

In his campaigns of old, Potter touted endorsements from the Sierra Club, Democratic legislators Bill Monning and Mark Stone. Not this time. His flyers of old included kind words from LandWatch activists. Not this time.

Clearly the mailer featuring Bruno, Davi and Bernal was tailored to Republican households in the district – Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, Carmel Valley, Big Sur and the Highway 68 corridor – so it makes sense that he emphasizes the economy and public safety rather than the environment and social issues. The big headline on the mailer, featuring a photo of Bixby Bridge, is “Bridging the divide,” but the mailer never goes on to explain what divide he means.

There is another mailer, of course, for Democratic households. In it, Potter is still in favor of attracting jobs and economic growth, but in this version he wants to do that “without threatening the quality of life that makes us unique.” (By omitting that caution from the GOP version, is he telling his Republican constituents that he’s OK with threatening the quality of life?)

In the GOP version, he’s all about growth and jobs. In the Democratic version, “He’s said no to bad development projects that poorly impact our water supply and traffic.” In the GOP version, he doesn’t mention the environment. Not at all.

In both versions, he lists a number of organizations endorsing him this time around. They include:

That last one is particularly interesting. Not unexpected, but interesting. The Salinas Valley Leadership Group was formed primarily by contractor Don Chapin. Its board of directors includes Brian Finegan, the Salinas lawyer who specializes in representing real estate developers; architect Peter Kasavan, who helped design the proposed Salinas general plan element that calls for Salinas to expand onto prime farmland; and accountant Warren Wayland, who handles campaign reporting duties for most Republican candidates in the area.

Dues-paying members of the SVLG include Monterey Downs racetrack principals Brian Boudreau and Beth Palmer, Salinas promoter and bar owner David Drew, Monterey PR man David Armanasco, the head of the deeply troubled Alco Water System, and the builder and developer of the Ferrini Ranch development that Potter voted against after it became clear that it would win county approval regardless of his vote.

Potter’s mailer to both Democrat and GOP households mentions his endorsements from law enforcement unions. Oddly enough, the mailers to Democratic homes includes blurbs from his endorsements by the Monterey County Weekly and the Herald, but those aren’t mentioned in the mailers sent to Republicans.

In the mailers to the Dems, Potter touts his endorsement by a group called Evolve California, which also endorsed Adams. He doesn’t mention Evolve in the GOP version, however. Perhaps that’s because in order to get the Evolve nod, he said he favored increasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing property taxes for businesses. Potter’s making a big deal in this campaign about being the experienced candidate. What he’s demonstrating with his mailers is that he has plenty of experience tailoring his message to his audience, no matter what he really thinks.

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MoneyADDITIONAL INFO IN POTTER SECTION BELOW

While so much attention is focused already on next year’s presidential election, a local campaign is quietly underway locally, the race for campaign money in Monterey County’s 4th Supervisorial District even though the primary is still nine months away.

In first place so far is the incumbent, Jane Parker, who had taken in $112,000 as of June 30, the end of the latest reporting period, but former Salinas mayor Dennis Donohue’s campaign treasury stood at a healthy $65,000 thanks to hefty contributions from the Salinas Valley ag industry.

Donohue, who works in produce, received $5,000 contributions from Fresh Foods of King City, Newstar Fresh Foods, Mann Packing, D’Arrigo Brothers, Gowan Seed Co., American Farms and other ag-related entities, the Nunes Co., A.C. Smith and Massa Trucking.

Donohue received a $1,000 contribution from his treasurer, accountant Warren Wayland, who serves as treasurer for many Republicans.

The ex-mayor’s largest contribution, $10,000, came from Taylor Fresh Foods. A related entity, Taylor Fresh Farms, just opened its headquarters building in downtown Salinas and is reported to have purchased several other buildings downtown with plans to renovate. While he was mayor, Donohue pressed for a downtown makeover. Expect him to criticize Parker for supporting a county decision to buy an office building on the outskirts and move some county workers outside the city center.

Parker’s largest contribution in the first half of the year, $20,000, came from Nancy Burnett, who is the mother of Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett and daughter of computer baron David Packard.

Parker received $10,500 from Brigitte Wasserman of Carmel, $9,748 from Constance Murray of Carmel Valley, $6,500 from Edwina Bent of Monterey, $6,000 from the Babcock Family Trust, $5,250 from Shirley Devol of Carmel Valley and Gordon Kauhenen of Union, Wash., $2,500 from Lisa Hoivik of Monterey and numerous smaller contributions.

While Parker’s district covers Marina, Seaside and a portion of Salinas, she receives considerable support from elsewhere because of her reputation as the lone progressive on the five-member board. She is routinely on the losing side of major development issues.

She did receive some significant contributions from ag interests, picking up $5,000 from Dennis Caprara of R.C. Farms and $5,000 more from Sea Mist Farms of Castroville.

In District 5, incumbent Dave Potter took in $54,000 in the first half of the year, and spent $21,000.

Potter is expected to receive a strong challenge from former United Way executive Mary Adams, who plans to announce her candidacy this fall. Former supervisor Marc Del Piero, who challenged Potter four years ago, also is believed to be considering another run. The district generally covers the Peninsula south of Seaside, Carmel Valley and much of the Highway 68 corridor.

Potter’s contributions came from several directions, including Pebble Beach homeowners, investors, and resort operators.

Potter played a key role in bringing the controversial Monterey Downs horse racing and development proposal to the Peninsula, but there were few obvious signs of support from the horse racing industry. He did pick up $1,000 from Chris Bardis, a key figure in the harness racing industry. Bardis once owned a share of the Los Alamitos racetrack and sat on the state racing commission. He reported receiving $1,000 from Double S.L. Ranch of Lafayette but little information is available about that entity.

Potter received $5,000 from Shanna Fineberg, an interior decorator from Dallas, and the same amount from venture capitalist Jon Q. Reynolds of Piedmont. He received $1,000 contributions from the owners of Quail Lodge, Carmel Valley Ranch, Bernardus Lodge, Folktale Winery and Old Fisherman’s Grotto.

Steve Foster, owner of the Lucky Strike chain of bowling alley/nightclub operations gave $2,000 and the Monterey County Hospitality Association gave $500.

One $1,000 contribution of interest came from Sanford Edward, whose large Dana Point Headlands project went before the Coastal Commission while Potter was a member. The highly controversial Orange County project was approved by the commission on a 7-5 vote with Potter on the dissenting side.

Potter received a contribution of $1,000 from cotton tycoon Sam Reeves, who is fighting an application by a Pebble Beach neighbor to enlarge his home, a decision that will be made by county officials.

In the other district with an election next year, District 1 in Salinas, incumbent Fernando Armenta and his expected challenger, Salinas City Councilman Tony Barrera, haven’t reported any contributions so far.

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UPDATE: Marina council says no to Cal Am test well plan

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Child superhero modern city background.FRIDAY UPDATE: Marina City Council voted 3-2 late Thursday to deny Cal Am’s plan to proceed on test wells for desalination project. Cal Am expected to appeal to Coastal Commission. Detailed article in the Herald.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Marina City Council session on Cal Am test well proposal went until midnight Wednesday, with lots of Peninsula business interests speaking. Council to take up the issue again at 6 p.m. Thursday at Marina City Hall, 211 Hillcrest Ave.

UPDATE WITH LETTER TODAY FROM MARINA COAST WATER DISTRICT LAWYERS TO CITY OF MARINA: Letter Re. Appeal of California American Water Company (Cal Am) of the Denial by the City Planning Commission for a Coastal Deve (00265973xB0A85)

Forget what the agenda says about the Marina City Council meeting tonight. It makes it sound as though there will be a boring technical discussion about the hydrology and engineering ramifications of test wells Cal Am wants to drill along the Marina shoreline. What it really is, however, is a showdown between Marina, which is not in the Cal Am service area, and Cal Am’s interests on the Peninsula.

Some say the decision may be the most pivotal step this year in the long-running desalination saga. Some Marina officials don’t think there are many good reasons to be helpful to Cal Am, so Cal Am and its core supporters in the Peninsula business community are turning up the pressure.

For evidence of a power play in the making, there’s the instructions officials of Monterey Plaza Hotel issued last week to all the hotel employees living in Marina. They were told to go to the hotel’s personnel office one by one to talk to the personnel manager or his assistant about tonight’s meeting and to sign letters of support for Cal Am’s proposed desalination plant.

A note from personnel director Rick Salgado said his office would “educate” employees about the importance of speaking up at the public hearing, which precedes council discussion and possible action. Managers were told that none of the employees would be forced to sign the letters but were required to listen to the company message at the direction of hotel manager John Narigi. Narigi, of course, heads the Monterey County Hospitality Association’s water coalition and aggressively supports Cal Am.

It was not clear Wednesday whether the hotel’s Spanish-speaking employees would be provided with Spanish-language versions of the documents supporting the project.

Tonight’s session at Marina City Hall involves an appeal of the Marina Planning Commission’s earlier rejection of Cal Am’s test well program for the long-delayed desal plant that Cal Am now wants to build at the Cemex property on the shore in north Marina. The Planning Commission said no, based partly on technical concerns but also as an expression of Marina’s unsteady relationship with Cal Am. While Cal Am serves the entire Peninsula, Marina’s water purveyor is the Marina Coast Water District. At one time the Marina Coast district was a partner in the Cal Am desal venture but is now locked in pricey litigation over finances in that failed arrangement.

There are other issues in play as well. While Cal Am and its supporters in the business community have their eyes on a plant large enough to accommodate growth in Cal Am’s service area and beyond, the Marina council includes a strong environmentalist component that has been slow to support major development. Future development of Fort Ord, including the proposed Monterey Downs racetrack development, also could be affected by the desal plant’s timetable and location.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at council chambers, 211 Hillcrest Ave. After a number of routine items, the hearing on the test wells is the first matter on the agenda.

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