If we judge by campaign fundraising alone, it seems the race to become Humboldt County's next Fifth District supervisor has become a dead heat.
While incumbent Ryan Sundberg finished the last reporting period with a 10-fold fundraising advantage over his challenger, Steve Madrone, the tides turned with the latest filings in the race, which show Madrone outraised the incumbent by $5 between Jan. 1 and April 21. (Sundberg, however, still holds a sizeable war chest advantage) Down in the Fourth District, meanwhile, incumbent Virginia Bass continues to financially steamroll her challengers, having raised $39,287, roughly 32 times more than her closest competitor, Dani Burkhart.
Through the first 15 weeks of the year, the two races combined to see more than $75,000 in donations and $68,438 in campaign spending on everything from consultants and office supplies (more on office supplies later) to thousands of dollars worth of lawn signs that have sprouted throughout the county, according to campaign finance disclosure forms filed with the Humboldt County Elections Office.
The California Political Reform Act aims to promote transparency by requiring donors and candidates to disclose who they're giving money to and who they're getting it from, allowing voters to take that into account and make informed decisions. The law, passed in 1974, requires political candidates to regularly file Form 460s, which detail their fundraising fruits, including the name and address of each person or business that donated $100 or more to their campaigns. The forms give the public a glimpse into what industries and which people are funding specific campaigns, and how those campaigns are using their money to curry votes.
The latest filings had to be postmarked to the elections office by the close of business April 26. As of the Journal's deadline for this issue on May 1, Fourth District challenger Mary Ann Lyons' forms had not been received by the elections office. (According to the Humboldt County Elections Office, Lyons personally dropped off her Form 460s at the office May 2 — six days after filing deadline. We’ve updated the story below to include her reported fundraising activities.)
Sundberg v. Madrone
If there's one stark difference between this round's filings and the last, it's Madrone's surging money game. Madrone, a Humboldt State University forestry lecturer and executive director of the Mattole Salmon Group with decades of trail and watershed project experience, began fundraising last September and reported having raised $3,730 by the close of 2017.
But in the first filing period of 2018, Madrone reported bringing in $17,271 — not including $2,867 he loaned his campaign. While he reported receiving zero donations of $99 or less, Madrone reported collecting $16,361 from 53 larger donors, who contributed an average of $309 apiece.
Madrone saw his biggest financial boost come from labor groups, with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, the county employee and public workers' unions each contributing $1,500, the maximum allowable in the county. Madrone also received $1,500 apiece from Bill Piersen and Ken Miller, $1,490 from Suzanne Cook and $500 from the Humboldt County Central Democratic Committee.
According to the filings, roughly 45 percent of Madrone's contributions of $100 or more listed addresses within the Fifth District.
On the spending side, Madrone spent $2,225 on materials that went toward large, handmade signs crafted of plywood and paint, as well as $2,867 on more traditional lawn signs. He also spent $900 for advertising with Senior News, $74 setting up a Facebook page and email newsletters, and $1,778 on a couple of banners and some T-shirts.
He reported ending the filing period with $7,425 in cash on hand.
On the incumbent side of things, Sundberg, who is running for his third term on the board and was appointed last year by the governor to serve on the California Coastal Commission, raised $17,266 this filing period. Sundberg reported receiving $1,490 in donations of $99 or less to go with $14,550 in contributions of $100 or more from 30 donors, for an average of about $485 apiece.
Sundberg saw his largest contributions — for the $1,500 max — come from Green Diamond Resource Co., Proximal Investments (a "commercial agriculture" LLC in Bayside) and Humboldt Sanitation, whose manager also pitched in another $500. Sundberg also reported receiving $1,000 donations from GRS Sundberg Inc, D&R Miller Family LLC, Tom's Trash, Rumen Shitsov and Toby Goucher.
According to his filings, roughly 53 percent of Sundberg's donations of $100 or more listed addresses within the Fifth District.
The incumbent reported spending $1,254 on printed brochures, $2,410 on shirts and sweatshirts, $3,305 on lawn signs, $3,036 on radio advertising and $2,891 on campaign coordinator Lynette Mullen. Sundberg also reported paying local blogger John Chiv $700 to "develop and manage a Facebook page." He also reported spending $370 on office supplies at McKinleyville Office Supply and CVS Pharmacy, which is only noteworthy because the Sundberg campaign tears through office supplies at a pretty impressive rate, having reported spending $2,717 on them since August of 2017. (Meanwhile, Bass, the only other candidate to report spending funds on office supplies, spent $345 on them over the same time period.)
Sundberg also reported spreading the wealth with some charitable giving out of his campaign coffers to the following organizations: Mercy's Haven ($800), McKinleyville High Native American Club ($50), McKinleyville Land Trust ($160), Trinidad Educational Foundation ($249), Orick Chamber of Commerce ($525), Indigenous Womens Leadership Council ($500), the McKinleyville Senior Resource Center ($200) and Arcata Christian School ($860).
The incumbent reported finishing the filing period with an ending cash balance of $22,578.
Bass v. Burkhart v. Lyons
While the cash race grew more interesting in the Fifth District with this round of disclosures, that didn't hold in the Fourth, where Bass steamrolled her challenger.
Bass took in by far the largest sum for any candidate in any race for the filing period, drawing $39,287 in monetary donations, driven in part by a $99-a-person fundraiser. In all, Bass received $10,066 in donations of $99 or less to go with $29,221 in contributions of $100 or more from 108 donors, for an average of $108 apiece.
Bass received a total of three maximum contributions of $1,500 apiece, from Proximal Investments (the same "commercial agriculture" LLC that donated to Sundberg), the Humboldt Builders Exchange PAC and William Templeton, owner of Northern Emerald Distributors. She also reported $1,000 donations from Kramer Investments, Four Star Realty and C Robert Barnum. In total, about 80 percent of Bass' itemized contributions came from entities who listed addresses within the Fourth District.
On the spending side, Bass spent a little more than $22,000, including $7,980 to rent the Elk's Lodge for a fundraiser, $1,000 to rent office space from Ming Tree, $369 on signs, $2,323 on polling and survey research, with $1,275 of that going to Redwood Teen Challenge, a local faith-based nonprofit specializing in transitional housing. Bass also paid $450 to Chiv, the same local blogger providing services to Sundberg, as a campaign consultant.
Bass reported finishing the fundraising period with more than $62,500 in cash on hand.
The fundraising rowing seems to have been considerably harder for Burkhart, an environmental planning consultant who has worked primarily in the cannabis industry. Burkhart — who reported raising a total of $2,126 last period, including a $1,000 from herself — saw a total of $1,096 this period.
In total, Burkhart received $746 in contributions of $99 or less. Her two itemized donations were $100 from Carl Birks, a data manager based in San Francisco, and $250 from Christine Will. Neither lives in the Fourth District.
On the spending side, Burkhart reported shelling out a $1,288 filing fee to the county elections office, $100 in postage fees and $225 for "campaign paraphernalia." According to her filings, she finished the reporting period with $90 in cash on hand.
Lyons, whose filings had not been received at the elections office by the Journal's deadline, came into the filing period with $1,310 in her campaign coffers, having raised a total of $2,100 last year. This period, Lyons brought in $1,860 in donations this go around, according to her filings.
The K-8 independent study teacher and grassroots organizer reported bringing in $160 in donations of $99 or less, and two donations above the $100 reporting threshold: $1,500 from the Central Labor Council and $200 from Debra Dukes, both of which list addresses in the Fourth District.
On the spending side, Lyons reported buying $248 worth of campaign paraphernalia, spending $272 on brochures and paying $1,341 in filing fees. She finished the filing period with $40 in cash on hand.
All candidates will again be required to file Form 460s on May 24.
Editor's Note: This story was updated from the version that appeared in print to include Lyons' late filings.
Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.