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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Pot Foes Hit Das on Industry Campaign Cash

Topic A. Our spies say that Concerned Carpinterians, one of the key, um, grassroots groups fighting the county’s transformation into California’s capital of cannabis, is poised to fire a sizzling shot across the bow of Supervisor Das Williams’s re-election campaign.

Within days, we're told, the group plans to bash Das for accepting at least $30,500 in recent months from 10 individuals and businesses who hold provisional pot cultivation licenses – and are now seeking the supes' approval for final permits to grow legal weed.

The $30,500 in donations is nearly twice as much as was previously reported in total contributions to Williams from players in the local marijuana industry. Newsmakers confirmed the contributions, which range from $1,000 to $5,000, in examining Das's most recent campaign finance filings with the county.

“This is just the latest outrage for Carpinterians from Das Williams, who seems to practice pay-for-play politics and has no compunctions about selling out his constituents in favor of Big Cannabis interests,” said concerned Carpinterian Lionel Neff.

In a telephone interview, Das told Newsmakers that, given the ongoing controversy over the county’s contentious pot ordinance, he has decided going forward not to accept further campaign donations from cannabis interests.

Williams, whose pro-legalization views have been clear since his way back days on city council, denied any quid pro quo between the contributions from growers and his policy judgments; he also acknowledged, however, that the “optics” of sitting in judgment on permits of those who gave him money might be misconstrued.

“I’m working as hard as I can” to fix problems that community members have raised with the ordinance, from odor control to the size of grows, he said. “We’re making progress."

What it all means. Amid ongoing conflict about sprawling, skunky grows, and the huge percentage of statewide cultivation permits granted within SB county, the Carp group’s attack is significant, for several reasons.

Most immediately, Williams and other supervisors confront a series of amendments, permit applications and appeals involving the ordinance, and the new disclosure about his links to the industry is certain to fuel angry demands that he recuse himself from such decisions.

More broadly, some members of the Carpinteria group already are pointing to the contributions as evidence that the county’s loose campaign finance regulation system should be tightened, and may attempt to qualify a political reform initiative for the ballot in 2020.

“This underlies the urgent need for reforms at the Board of Supervisors," reads a draft statement from the membership group that we've seen.

“At present, the Board of Supervisors operates with the impunity of czars with no limits on campaign contributions, no limits on lobbyists, no ethical watchdog, and no mandatory public oversight,” the statement says. “Under current rules, the billion dollar cannabis lobby could literally dump one million dollars or more on Supervisor Williams prior to the March 2020 election and likely do so without the public learning about it, at that time.”

As a political matter, a robust public debate over political ethics that makes the pot industry’s campaign contributions its centerpiece could offer a cudgel to school board member Laura Capps, who is preparing to announce a challenge to Williams in the First District, in her bid to mount a case against an entrenched incumbent.

Off to the races. As Capps works behind the scenes to assemble a campaign operation, however, Das, an historically vigorous campaigner, already is in high gear with high-profile public appearances, all dutifully chronicled on social media.

Facing a fight against a fellow liberal, Williams also has been reaching out to conservative precincts, winning recent praise, both from columnist Bob Hazard in the Montecito Journal, for his efforts in the debate over a proposed community services district, and from right-wing sachem Andy Caldwell, who took to the morning paper to boost Das’s re-election via an ad hominem attack on philanthropist Sara Miller McCune, who backs Capps (This just in: Nick reports that Andy is going to challenge Salud's re-election bid to Congress. But we digress).

"Clueless voters in Santa Barbara believe they choose their representatives. However, the reality is that Sarah Miller McCune chooses who is going to run for office in the first place, giving voters little to no choice in the matter,” Caldwell wrote. “One exception to all this is that upstart Das Williams.”

Talk about your strange bedfellows.

The Last Honest Man at City Hall. Mega-kudos to outgoing city council member Randy Rowse, who had the integrity, not to mention the cojones, to call out the latest vote in favor of the union sweetheart scheme known as a Project Labor Agreement for precisely what it is: “a quid pro quo.”

A new city staff report shows that under the longtime current competitive bid process, 75 percent of the workers on publicly-financed jobs are locals; under a PLA, that figure might rise all the way to, wait for it…85 percent, according to the report.

This potential marginal improvement would come at the expense of: a) sticking taxpayers with higher construction bills; b) forcing longtime non-union local workers to pony up for union pension and health care plans in place of the current plans they have with their employers; c) screwing over some of Santa Barbara’s most venerable construction companies.

As a practical matter, the PLA is first, last and always little more than payback (or in some cases pay-it-forward) by a majority of council members to unions and the Democratic Party, and Randy called them out for it before he ended up on the wrong side of 5-to-2 vote with only the estimable Kristen Sneddon in his corner.

(For the record, the PLA 5: Mayor Cathy Murillo and members Jason Dominguez, Eric Friedman, Oscar Gutierrez and Meagan Harmon).

“I have heard zero compelling reason for why we are here and why we are doing this,” Rowse said. “We have local contractors who built most of the significant buildings in this town by local workers, but yet we are denigrating them. This is really bad policy. It has been brought here for the wrong reasons.

Rowse said the agreement was a “complete slap in the face” of non-unionized local workers, all for politically motivated reasons.

Alas, Randy is in the final months of his final year on council and, as of now, Sneddon is the only one who appears remotely interested in standing up first for the people who pay the bills, instead of the special interests that put and keep them in office.

Imperium in imperio.


Images: Supervisor Williams (Paul Wellman, SB Independent); Pot, pot everywhere; Laura Capps; Randy Rowse.

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