Sometimes it pays to be the incumbent.
That definitely appears to be the case in the races for two seats on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, in which incumbents Ryan Sundberg and Virginia Bass have jumped out to almost ten-fold fundraising leads over their opponents.
The two races — which so far have five candidates vying to represent the Fourth and Fifth districts — saw the candidates combine to fill their war chests with more than $70,000 in cash contributions over the second half of 2017, according to campaign finance disclosure forms filed with the Humboldt County Elections office. However, that sum was not equally distributed, as the aforementioned incumbents combined to raise 87 percent of the total, a sum of more than $62,000.
Passed in 1974, California's Political Reform Act aimed 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 requires local political candidates to regularly file Form 460s, which detail their fundraising efforts, including each person or business that donated more than $100 to their campaigns. The forms give the public a glimpse into what industries and which people are funding specific candidates' campaigns.
The latest filings, which had to be postmarked to the elections office by the close of January, have a wealth of information about how the supervisors races will shape up and who's lining up to support whom.
The Fighting Fifth
In the Fifth District, Sundberg, a two-term incumbent who was appointed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown to become the first Native American to serve on the California Coastal Commission, is being challenged by Steven Madrone, the executive director of the Mattole Salmon Group with decades of trail and watershed project experience who also teaches in the Forestry and Wildland Resources Department at Humboldt State University.
Sundberg ended the reporting period having raked in $31,130 in cash donations and with almost $37,000 in cash on hand. Sundberg received a total of 12 contributions of $1,500, the max allowable under the county code, and, on average, received more than $800 from each of his 38 listed contributors. He also reported receiving $3,215 in un-itemized donations of less than $100.
The cannabis industry seems to have lined up behind Sundberg, who helped pass the county's land use ordinance ushering in the era of permitted grows. In total, Sundberg reported raising more than $7,000 from cannabis businesses and people who work for them, plus another $3,000 from a pair of limited liability corporations — Mad River Estates LLC and Humboldt Healthcare — with no web presence beyond a registry with the California Secretary of State's Office and a corresponding post office box. (He also got another $1,500 from Mad River Estates' operations manager.) Sundberg also reported receiving $3,500 worth of nonmonetary contributions from Cody Stross, owner of Northern Emeralds, which has cultivation operations in Sundberg's district, in the form of food, drinks and music for a fundraiser.
Sundberg also received $1,000 from Coastal Commissioner Dayna Bochco of Santa Monica, and $1,500 each from San Bernardino County Supervisor James Ramos and his wife, Theresa. In total, a little more than 20 percent of Sundberg's itemized monetary contributions came from businesses or people who listed addresses within the Fifth District.
Madrone, who only began fundraising in September, reported receiving $3,730 in cash contributions before the end of the year, including $799 in unitemized donations of less than $100. Madrone received 10 donations above the reporting threshold, for an average contribution of $293. His largest contributors were the Humboldt-Del Norte Central Labor Council and Suzzane Cook, with both donating $990. In total, about 52 percent of Madrone's itemized monetary contributions came from Fifth District addresses.
On the spending side, Sundberg reported donating a total of $630 to the Mad River Rotary and the Boys and Girls Club of the Redwoods, paying out $1,000 in campaign employee salary, $285 to www.directpromotionals.com and spending a total of $1,453 at Costco for office supplies. Madrone, meanwhile, reported having shelled out a total of $114.30 — $40.30 in online donation fees from Stripe and Square, $50 for starting a savings account at Coast Central Credit Union and another $24 for for failing to meet its minimum balance.
The Fierce Fourth
The battle for the Fourth pits Bass, a two-term incumbent who also serves as vice president of the California State Association of Counties, against a pair of challengers: cannabis consultant Danielle Burkhart and Mary Ann Lyons, a K-8 teacher and grassroots political organizer.
Bass has dominated the early fundraising thus far, reporting a whopping 73 donations of $100 or more in the filing period (at an average clip of $358 apiece) and total monetary contributions of almost $31,000. She received a total of five maximum contributions of $1,500 each and finished the filing period with more than $45,000 in cash on hand. She also reported receiving about $4,800 in unitemized contributions of $100 or less.
About 29 percent of Bass' reported contributions came from within her district and she appears to have benefitted from her time with the state counties association, receiving nine donations from sitting county supervisors (or their campaigns) in other parts of the state totaling $2,950. That's more than either of her opponents' total reported contributions.
Bass' max contributions came from GR Sundberg, a cannabis consultant, and the aforementioned Stross, Ramos and Humboldt Healthcare LLC.
Meanwhile, Burkhart, who appears to have only begun fundraising in October, reported receiving a total of $2,126 in monetary contributions, $376 of which came in the form of donations of less than $100. She reported receiving five donations of more than $100, including a $1,000 donation from herself.
Her other largest donors were George Walker of Humboldt County Processing Co. and Studio City attorney Eugene Patterson Harris, who donated $300 and $250, respectively. If you include Burkhart's donation, 63 percent of her itemized total came from within the Fourth District. If you exclude it, that number drops to 13 percent.
Burkhart also reported receiving about $767 in nonmonetary contributions, including a "political data list" from Christopher Niehaus and alcohol for a fundraiser from Steve Luu. She finished the reported period with $812 in cash on hand.
Lyons, meanwhile, trails her opponents, having raised a total of $2,100 from four donors. The largest of those came in the form of $1,500 from the local United Food and Commercial Workers union. She also reported receiving $250 from Madeline Restaino, of Placerville, $200 from Thomas Gage, of Fortuna, and $150 from Josie Brown, of Petrolia. Counting the union donation, 71 percent of Lyons' contributions came from within the Fourth District. She finished the period with $1,310 in cash on hand.
On the expense side of the equation, Lyons reported spending about $520 combined on stickers, banners and buttons at Scrappers Edge and Advanced Signs in Eureka. Burkhart, for her part, reported spending about $934 on campaign materials, fundraising efforts promotional materials and a website, mostly through local vendors. Bass meanwhile, made some donations from her campaign account, including $1,125 to the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation, $175 to Planned Parenthood, $100 to the Eureka Rescue Mission, $250 to the Humboldt Democratic Central Committee and $311 to the library foundation. She also spent some cash: a total of $3,808 for a website, fundraising efforts, campaign literature and a public affairs consultant.
The next round of campaign finance disclosures are due to be filed with the elections office in April.
Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.