When it comes to financing a supervisorial campaign, it sure is nice to be an incumbent.
That's the primary takeaway from the first round of campaign finance disclosure reports filed with the Humboldt County Elections Office in advance of the March 3 primary, which will see five challengers battle a pair of incumbents for seats representing the county's first and second districts on the county Board of Supervisors. The disclosures show both incumbents — Rex Bohn in the First District and Estelle Fennell in the Second District — entered the year with hefty cash reserves — money donated in prior years or left over from prior campaigns. Their challengers, meanwhile, generally seem to be struggling to bring in the donations needed to start purchasing advertising, signs and other materials, and in some cases have gone into debt or self-funded the initial effort.
The scheduled disclosures come under the California Political Reform Act, which 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 the fruits of their fundraising, 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 first batch of disclosures for 2020 were required to be sent to the Elections Office on or before Jan. 23. As the Journal went to press Jan. 28, the office had received disclosures for six of the seven candidates.
Bohn came into the year with a whopping $63,134 in cash in his campaign coffers. (For the record, that's more than four times what all the other supervisorial candidates reported having raised to date in 2020.) For the reporting period, Bohn reported having raised $3,688, with $2,550 of it coming via eight donations of more than $100. The largest among those — $500 apiece — came from AM Baird Engineering, Richard Graham, Kimberly Cobine and Cynthia Olsen.
On the spending side, Bohn reported shelling out $9,655 for the period, including more than $4,700 on advertising with KINS radio, Senior News, KIEM TV and Bi-Coastal Media. He also reported spending $1,275 on graphics from MB Design and another $1,700 on campaign signs.
His cash on hand was listed at $57,166.
Bohn's challenger, local radio personality Cliff Berkowitz, didn't begin fundraising until the new year and reported having raised $5,020 in monetary contributions, with $4,600 of it coming via nine donations of $100 or more. Largest among those was $1,500 — the maximum allowable — from Pierson Building Center owner William Pierson, followed by $750 from Ken Miller and $500 apiece from Daniel Berger, the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee, former Supervisor Bonnie Neely and Douglas McCraken.
Berkowitz did not report any campaign spending and ended the reporting cycle with $5,020 in cash on hand.
Like Bohn, Fennell is off to a hefty head start in fundraising. She reported entering the year with $39,380 in her campaign coffers and added another $3,478 during the filing period, with $2,800 of that coming from 10 contributions of $100 or more. Largest among those was $600 from Johnny Casali, owner of Huckleberry Hills Farms, $500 from Dennis and Judy Scott and another $500 from Aaron Lieberman, who owns Paradise Valley LLC.
On the spending side, Fennell reported paying $575 for print advertising in Senior News. She ended the reporting period with a cash balance of more than $42,000.
Challenger Michelle Bushnell, a business owner and rancher in Garberville, didn't start fundraising until January and reported taking in $1,000 via a single donation from Diana Totten, who listed herself as being "self-employed by Clearwater Ag Solutions."
Bushnell reported having spent $4,100 for the period — $3,200 for campaign signs and stickers and $900 for three "meet and greet" events. It's unclear to whom these funds went to as Bushnell's campaign listed itself under "payee" on the disclosure forms rather than the entities receiving the funds. It's also unclear where the other $3,100 Bushnell's campaign spent came from. Aside from the $1,000 donation from Totten, the campaign does not list any other donations or loans, but lists its ending cash balance at negative $3,100.
Challenger Sean DeVries, who identifies himself as a "parent" in campaign filings but indicates he has a background in small business on his website, also did not begin fundraising until January and reported raising $2,600, entirely through six donations of more than $100. Largest among those were $700 from Barbara Kennedy, $600 from himself, $600 from Bruce Will and $500 from Brett Todoroff, CEO of Humboldt Brothers.
DeVries reported spending $1,582 for the period, Most of that — $821 — went to the Humboldt County Elections Office for his filing fee, while another $700 went to printed campaign materials. He reported having $1,017 in cash on hand.
Challenger Michael McKaskle, who identifies himself as a business owner and craftsman in Redway, did not complete the section of his form 460 indicating whether he began fundraising before Jan. 1 but reported raising a total of $3,100. The entirety of that sum came from three donations: $1,500 each from Paul and Ellen McKaskle, both retirees living in Berkeley, and $100 from Mark Sternfield of Redway.
McKaskle reported spending $2,210 for the period, with most of it — $1,761 — going toward his campaign filing fee and another $235 spent on campaign materials.
His campaign did not fill out the section of the form indicating cash on hand, but Journal calculations put the amount at $889.
The elections office had not received disclosure forms for challenger Rick French, identified as a retired water manager from Hydesville, when the Journal went to press.