In a complaint to the state's political watchdog agency, a prominent Santa Barbara attorney accuses District 4 city council candidate Barrett Reed of accepting thousands of dollars in campaign contributions exceeding the legal limit from downtown real estate mogul Jim Knell.
With a state-established limit of $4,900 on individual contributions, Knell contributed $12,000 to Reed on a single day, June 21, obscuring the source of the money by funneling it from eight separate limited liability companies, limited partnerships or other business entities which he controls, according to the complaint to California's Fair Political Practices Commission and campaign finance documents.
Knell "has donated more than allowed, and has hidden his contributions by identifying them as contributions of his alteregos or entities that he controls. He is nowhere identified in the (campaign finance reports) and no one is identified as responsible for making eight contributions, each for $1,500, totaling $12,000, on the same day from his related entities," according to the complaint, filed by attorney Janet McGinnis.
McGinnis, a veteran government affairs lawyer in Santa Barbara and beyond, has contributed $750 to the campaign of Reed's rival, incumbent council member Kristen Sneddon.
According to a copy of the complaint, Reed and his campaign treasurers engaged in "a pattern and practice to eschew due diligence and basic requirements" in their campaign filings. It cites major contributions from eight additional business contributions, not tied to Knell, which identify a company only by name, without disclosing "the name of the managing member or person responsible for authorizing these contributions," as required by law.
Last night, Barrett emailed us a response, noting the McGinnis contribution to Sneddon and calling the complaint "a smear of my successful campaign" that reflects "the fear and desperation of a failing councilmember that has no better strategy to win," while adding, "it is next to impossible for me to know who owns every business that has supported and contributed to me."
However, Reed added, "I have returned the funds in question," referencing the eight Knell-linked contributions."
Knell did not respond to Newsmakers' request for comment.
It is worth noting that Knell's network of business entities also made sizable, single-day contributions to the mayoral campaigns of Randy Rowse and Deborah Schwartz and the District 6 council campaign of Nina Johnson, campaign finance statements show.
As a practical matter, the FPPC now will examine the complaint to determine if a full investigation is warranted; if so it will decide, in due time, if state campaign finance law has been violated and if fines should be levied against Reed, Knell and/or the campaign treasurers.
As a political matter, 21 days before Election Day, the complaint may hand Sneddon a cudgel with which to bash Reed's integrity and attack him as a tool of real estate interests - as well as a weapon to perform political ju-jitsu to offset his substantial fundraising advantage over her.
Caesar non supra grammaticos.
Another fine mess. Speaking of fines, some longtime political observers were agog at the swiftness and severity with which acting City Administrator Rebecca Bjork brought the hammer down last week, imposing $10,800 in total fines on five lollygagging candidates who failed to report campaign contributions in a timely fashion, an offense that normally falls far short of a political felony.
Some local commenters on Edhat even went so far as to spin a weave of intrigue, speculating that Bjork acted to aid the campaigns of incumbent Mayor Cathy Murillo and District 6 council member Meagan Harmon, as their chief challengers, Randy Rowse and Nina Johnson, incurred the largest fines by far.
To which we say: Bushwah.
Bjork enjoys a well-earned reputation as a straight arrow by-the-book type. If there was any political calculation in her action, it more likely would stem from the fact that Johnson is running for council while still holding a high-level City Hall job; had Bjork not gone letter-of-the-law on Nina, she would have been open to charges she was protecting a fellow city employee; once she went after Johnson, the biggest scofflaw, she had to do likewise with all the others, down to Deborah Schwartz, who got dinged a grand total of 40 bucks.
All that said, inquiring minds want to know how the city determined that $10 per day per late reporting violation was the correct amount. As noted by the eagle-eyed Christian Alonzo, he of the local Young Democrats club, Santa Barbara's Municipal Code, Title 2, Chapter 2.03.110, Section E, clearly calls for a daily fine of $25:
Late Filing Penalties. In addition to any late filing penalties that may be imposed for the late filing of a paper copy pursuant to the California Political Reform Act or to other provisions of this chapter, the person who fails to comply with the online filing requirement of this section shall be subject to an additional late filing penalty of $25 per day per applicable contribution or expenditure after the deadline for the filing of the online copy. (Ord. 5612, 2013; Ord. 5423, 2007).
We asked City Attorney Ariel Callone for clarification, and he emailed us back, saying that the $10 amount is the amount prescribed in the state Political Reform Act, which governs most campaign finance matters in California:
"We applied the Political Reform Act of 1974, rather than the City's ordinance," he said. "Administrative discretion."
Now you know.
Daraka Bigfoots Darcel. Doing what he does best, erstwhile local Democratic Party poohbah Daraka Larimore Hall ran his mouth this week, demonstrating in a single interview why so many people are fed up with the stranglehold Dem apparatchiks have on City Hall.
A former local party chair and former state party vice-chair, Daraka suffered an embarrassing loss a few years ago in a failed bid to become state party chair, winning six - 6, count 'em, 6 - percent of the vote at the party convention -- and an even more humiliating defeat this year, when he was voted out of state office entirely.
Now he's apparently got plenty of time once again to flap his gums about local matters, and his special brand of toxic politics was on full display during a 50-minute appearance on Josh Molina's podcast, SB Talks, as he flung ad hominem insults at politicians, reporters and other who dare to disagree with him (Randy Rowse is a "chucklehead," Newsmakers a "gadfly...with no political base" and Laura Capps "wasted everyone's time and money running against Das Williams"); expressed contempt for the business sector; and evinced utter blindness to the 73 percent of city voters who cast ballots for someone other than Cathy Murillo four years ago. and thus opposed Democratic Party platform policies being insinuated into City Hall on behalf of their cronies in the labor movement.
His most odious words, however, came on the subject of the Independent's endorsement of Murillo rival, James Joyce, a Black man whom Daraka portrayed as running on "hopey changey innovation" and a tool of "liberal white racism," as he slimed the Indy for an alleged business-interest decision to "divide people of color."
"This other guy," he said at one point, referencing James and the Independent's alleged take on him, "he's so articulate and clean and he's got charisma and blah, blah, blah and, um, that sucks. I mean it sucks for James, it sucks for everybody."
Calling the newspaper's endorsement, which gave new life to Joyce's flagging campaign, "a master work of vapid prose and just like saying nothing," he said the Indy's editorial served to
"pit candidates or people of color against one another to get white votes. And then that game becomes - how do we convince those white voters who's the least threatening?"
(He also charged that the Independent "has been against every healthcare reform that would require them to pay health care insurance for their own employees," which is simply a lie, editor in chief Marianne Partridge told Newsmakers: "Of course we do," pay a portion of employee insurance, she emailed, "and we have from the second or third year of our existence." But we digress).
"It's just becomes an absurd oppression Olympics nonsense, like because there's been too many Mexican Americans on the Santa Barbara City Council, so now we've got to replace that one with a black person," Larimore-Hall railed during the interview.
"What is (sic) James Joyce's policies regarding police accountability?" he said at another point. "Like what's his record on, or is it really just a skin color? It's like he's experienced as a black person that we want in that position that will, what? And how is that gonna translate into the policy?"
He added that Joyce's election "is not going to keep one black person from being murdered by a cop."
The obvious winner of the Independent's big mayoral debate last week was executive editor and star columnist Nick Welsh, who isn't on the ballot but oughta be. As for the six candidates who actually are running, here's how we ranked the performances.
1-James Joyce. Throughout the evening, James was the candidate of optimism, saying the city was "on the precipice of a boom" and extemporizing on policy details like putting "rooftop solar on parking garages." He stood up against bike freak Welsh over bicycles on State St., and his closing statement on his potential as a change agent, was the best two minutes of his campaign.
2-Deborah Schwartz. Deborah's just-the-facts style may have growing appeal for ABC (Anybody But Cathy) voters who don't like the idea of dumping a woman mayor, and In the face of Nick's obvious crush on the proposed, controversial St. Mary's seminary homeless center, she was fearless in opposition, noting fire safety issues and angry resistance from neighbors.
3-Randy Rowse. Randy mailed this one in, mostly repeating familiar talking points - homelessness, it seems, "is not a simple problem with a simple solution" - but his emphasis on the importance of non-partisanship in city government and nuts-and-bolts issues like preparing for natural disaster may attract independent-minded homeowners just tuning into the race.
4-Cathy Murillo. Mayor Cathy at one point complained that "the pandemic took away the fun of being on City Council (like) going to luncheons" -- awww -- and confirmed criticism of her as a bought-and-paid for shill for city labor unions (whose contracts she votes on) in saying "we are still talking to the public employee unions" when asked why the city, unlike almost every other local public agency, does not yet have a vaccine mandate.
5-Mark Whitehurst. Publisher Mark's best moment came when he said the lack of a city vaccine mandate was "irresponsible" and "unconscionable," while all the major contenders except Joyce dithered on the issue, and he rolled out his fourth Zoom backdrop of the campaign, but we're still trying to figure out why he's running.
6-Matt Kilrain. Sorry but this guy is a public health menace, and his unhinged ranting against masks and vaccines ought to earn him a dis-invitation to every future campaign forum.