spending committees to back council candidates. The tactic is
legal, but critics say local politics has been hijacked.
by Jean O. Pasco, Staff
13 October 2004
second time in two years, developers are pouring money into the
city elections in Dana Point, where low-key campaigning and modest
political war chests had been the norm.
year, two South County developers have formed independent
expenditure committees to buy campaign signs and banners in
support of two incumbent council candidates and mail brochures
attacking a third.
2002 council race, the same developers — Sanford Edwards of Dana
Point and Makallon Resorts of Newport Beach — gave $70,000 out
of a total $125,000 in contributions to four independent campaign
committees. The money helped elect James V. Lacy and Russ Chilton.
such sums of money on behalf of candidates is legal, even in
cities with contribution limits. Dana Point's contribution limit
is $540. Thirteen other Orange County cities — and the county
itself — restrict campaign donations.
claim a 2002 federal ruling that allowed unlimited contributions
by independent committees further threatened to swamp small-town
elections. Prior to that ruling, four Orange County cities and the
county had limited donations to those committees.
federal court decision ruled that any attempt to limit
contributions to these committees restricted free speech. The
committees have become increasingly popular in recent years.
Point's spending has irked some residents, who say developers are
trying to buy council seats. Five candidates — only one an
incumbent — are running.
whole thing has gotten really nasty," said Pat Fairbanks,
president of the Dana Point Civic Assn., which does not endorse
candidates. "This is a nice little town, and we feel like
we're being hijacked."
has been a lightning rod in the coastal community because of his
plan to develop the Headlands, a majestic bluff above the ocean in
Dana Point. In January, he won approval from the California
Coastal Commission to build 125 homes, a 90-room beachside inn and
a 35,000 square-foot shopping mall on 53 acres of the promontory.
An additional 68 acres will remain open space, with 28 acres set
aside as a conservation area.
said he has been upfront about his spending. He noted that his
largess to independent committees — about $60,000 in 2002 —
accounted for about one quarter of what was spent by all sides in
that election. That amount also represents about one quarter of
his donations to local charities and civic causes in Dana Point,
idea that special interests can come in and control the community,
that's a Hollywood sound bite," said Edwards, who lives in
Newport Beach. "All I've ever asked is that we have five
reasonably intelligent people on the council. The people who don't
like it are the ones I'm not giving my support."
last two weeks, mailers backing incumbent Joe Snyder and candidate
April O'Connor, a city planning commissioner, were sent by two
committees that were supported last year by Edwards and Makallon,
which developed the St. Regis Resort in Dana Point. Makallon's
owners, who couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment, bought the
Dana Point Marina Mobile Home Park last year and announced that
they will close it in June.
reports were due Oct. 5 from Taxpayers for a Better Dana Point and
the Clean Beaches Coalition, which sent the mailers, but hadn't
been received by late Tuesday. Edwards said the reports will show
he contributed $10,000 to the groups.
committee, Edwards' Headlands Reserve, reported spending $7,377
for campaign signs and banners backing Snyder and O'Connor.
brochures attacking candidate Diane Harkey were sent by a fourth
committee, the League of Independent Voters. The league received
$10,100 from Edwards and $10,000 from Makallon Resorts. A portion
of the money — $7,328 — went toward one of two brochures
mailed by the group that labeled Harkey as untrustworthy and
listing business liens and lawsuits filed against her husband's
investment company. One of the mailers also attacked Harkey for
wanting to "buy a City Council seat."
said she has lent her campaign $40,000 in part for her own
brochures to deflect the mailers criticizing her. Her reports
showed $31,411 in contributions, $40,000 lent to her campaign and
$79,000 in expenses.
criticizing me for spending money, but they attacked me first and
I had to defend myself," she said.
said she decided to run after meeting with Edwards to seek his
support. He told her that he had already picked his candidates,
she said, and offered to help her land a seat on the planning
commission if she didn't run — a contention Edwards denied.
guess I didn't realize until then how controlled the city
was," said Harkey, a retired banking executive who worked
with Security Pacific, Bank of America and Guaranty Bank, based in
has spent the most by far in the council race, which also includes
businesswoman Lara Anderson and planning commissioner Greg Powers.
reported $9,314 in contributions since Jan. 1, with most of his
money spent on a campaign consultant and graphics; O'Connor raised
nearly $12,000 and lent herself $30,000, with most of her money
spent on consultants.
that neither candidate bought campaign signs or banners on their
own could be seen as an indication that the independent committees
are essentially serving as de-facto campaigns, said longtime
government watchdog Shirley Grindle of Orange, who wrote most of
the county's campaign reform laws.
allows moneyed interests to control these elections and takes the
campaigns out of the control of candidates," she said.
"They make a mockery of contribution limits."