If money equals speech, as the Supreme Court has ruled, then ranchers, developers and Realtors have the most to say in the District 4 supervisor race, a hotly contested election that has broken fundraising records for the South County district.
“Clearly, we’re seeing the stakes are raised because control of the majority (of the Board of Supervisors) is at stake,” said Michael Latner, assistant professor of political science at Cal Poly, who has been following the finances in the race.
Tuesday is the primary election and voters in the district will choose between three candidates running for the seat — Mike Byrd, Lynn Compton and incumbent Caren Ray.
After the most recent reporting period ending May 17, campaign finance disclosures show that the candidates have raised a total of just over $400,000 since the campaign began.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
That figure, which includes monetary, nonmonetary and loan contributions, is not the most money ever raised in a local supervisor’s race — the two candidates in the 2008 District 3 race raised $507,000 — but it is a record-breaker in District 4.
Ray was appointed to the seat by Gov. Jerry Brown in November, replacing Paul Teixeira, who died while in office. Her short time in office has given her less of an advantage than a full-term incumbent might enjoy. Hence, money has flowed into what is seen as an up-for-grabs seat.
“When Paul passed away, both parties and the special interests targeted it and said, ‘This is our chance,”’ Byrd said.
While a variety of contributors can be found for all three candidates, each candidate has particular types of supporters.
Ray, a former teacher, has received much money from developers.
Compton, who co-owns Valley Farm Supply, has considerable support from the agriculture industry.
And Byrd, a broker at the real estate business SLO Home Store, has received much of his money from those in real estate.
All three said they deplore the fundraising required to run for the seat. Counting all monies, Compton led the fundraising with $195,000, compared to Ray’s $140,500 and Byrd’s $75,000.
Counting just monetary contributions, Ray raised $130,600 compared to Compton’s $113,000 and Byrd’s $43,800 by May 17.
But it’s the specific details — who’s donating what — that says more about who wants to control the outcome of the election, Latner said. The biggest donors, he said, want to control those who might regulate them.
“We call this bureaucratic capture,” he said.
Because a lot of land-use decisions are made on a local level, this race is seeing a lot of money from those impacted by land-use decisions, he said.
Compton’s donors, for example, include Kathleen Maas, co-owner of Pear Valley Vineyards in Paso Robles, who donated $5,000, and H.D. Perrett, a cattle rancher with property in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, who also donated $5,000.
Ray says ranchers like that seek to gain influence over issues like water regulation in the North County. The issue is particularly hot this election, after the supervisors endorsed a plan to create a groundwater management district in the Paso Robles basin.
“It’s very clear where her support is coming from,” Ray said, saying Compton has the support of “big ag.”
But Compton said those in the ag industry support her because they are either personal friends or because they want someone who can see their point of view.
Compton’s other big donors include Nicholas Cook, a retired engineer from Los Osos, who donated $7,275, and herself. She and her husband have donated more than $30,000 in loans and nonmonetary contributions to her campaign.
While she has been criticized for taking money from outside the district, Compton said most of her funds are from the South County. Ray’s money, she said, comes largely from developers.
“Those are people she had no relationship with before she took office,” Compton said.
Ray’s biggest contributors include developers Laurie Mangano and Gary Grossman, who have each contributed $10,000. Real estate attorney Monte Cool and Innovative Housing Solutions have each given $5,000.
Like Compton with her agricultural supporters, Ray said her developer donors aren’t seeking influence. Instead, she said, they know her from her work on the county Planning Commission and the Arroyo Grande City Council and appreciate her fairness.
“I’ve dealt with all of these people over the years,” she said.
Ray said none of her developer contributors have projects at stake.
But Byrd said a developer like Grossman may want zoning help as he moves ahead on a plan to build housing and commercial space on the 131-acre Dalidio property at the southern edge of San Luis Obispo.
The land is located in the unincorporated county but within the city’s sphere of influence and would eventually be annexed into the city.
Both Ray and Compton have received partisan support as well.
Ray has received $3,000 from the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party while Compton has received $5,165 from the Republican Central Committee of San Luis Obispo County and $5,000 from the conservative Lincoln Club of San Luis Obispo County, which supports Republican candidates.
Byrd, a Democrat, said he knows most of his donors personally, including the many real estate professionals he’s worked with over the years. His biggest donor, former Grover Beach Mayor Peter Keith, has given around $30,000 in monetary and nonmonetary contributions. Keith is a friend and former client, he said.
Other big donors to his campaign include friends Peter Broderson, who donated $5,000, and Trudy Jarratt, a real estate broker, who has donated $3,600.
While all three candidates voiced a dislike of fundraising, the top two vote-getters may have to do a lot more of it. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary, the top two face a run-off in the Nov. 4 general election.
Byrd expects that will happen.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to win in June,” he said.