The sheriff has been a very vocal and public supporter of Piepho’s challenger, Guy Houston, a soon-to-be-termed out Assemblyman from San Ramon. Rupf and Piepho have repeatedly clashed over law enforcement issues in far eastern Contra Costa County and the two speak only by letter.
Hitting Piepho on her vote to raise her pay is a fair issue. While the dollar amount is small — a boost from $59,000 to $95,000 a year — it is symbolic at a time when the county faces financial woes.
But the sheriff’s statements on the mailer are inconsistent on several levels. And some question whether it was legal.
Rupf states in the mailer that he was forced to lay off deputies as a result of the county’s $2.5 billion budget deficit.
But in today’s Contra Costa Times, the sheriff is quoted saying that he had eliminated 16 civilian jobs but no sworn officers. Rupf did say, however, that he has left more than 70 deputy positions vacant as part of cutbacks in the past four budget cycles.
Rupf is also holding Piepho to a different standard than the one he used to endorse Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg. Glover voted for the same pay raise and all the budget cutbacks that have left the sheriff’s department short on deputies.
If the county isn’t “safe in Mary Piepho’s hands,” as the sheriff says, then it’s not safe in Glover’s or any of the supervisor’s hands.
The sheriff reported spending $12,500 of his personal funds on the mailers in an independent expenditure report filed with the Contra Costa Elections Division.
He apparently has a spare twelve grand sitting around to pay for mailers. He’s paid $185,000 annually as sheriff plus he collects his county pension. (Rupf retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 1999 after a long career prior to winning public office.)
But it brings up an interesting legal question.
State law says anyone who spends or collects $1,000 or more in order to advocate for or against a candidate or ballot measure must form a campaign finance committee. But the law also bars candidate-controlled committees from making independent expenditures on behalf of other candidates.
Can an elected official such as Sheriff Rupf, even if he’s not on the ballot, legally form an independent campaign expenditure committee? Rupf is clearly using his public office as his pulpit — the mailer says “Sheriff Warren Rupf” four times and has two pictures of his badge.
A spokesman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission can’t comment on specific circumstances but he did say that state law is silent on whether an officeholder is free to spend personal funds on an independent campaign expenditure.
On the other hand, should Rupf or any other individual who happens to be an elected officeholder be barred from using personal funds to exercise his or her free speech rights?
If Piepho or someone else files a complaint, the FPPC may provide a definitive answer although it won’t happen before Tuesday’s election.
If there’s no challenge, Rupf may find he started a trend as other officeholders privately fund mailers intended to shape the outcome in elections they care about.
Disclosure: Copies of the mailer were downloaded from www.HalfwaytoConcord.com.
Correction: Independent expenditure figure has been corrected to $12,500. 2:08 p.m.