Independent groups drop $300,000 in supervisor races

Who knew so many people cared about campaign finance reports?

I already had plans to write today a campaign finance story in the wake of Friday’s reporting deadline for Contra Costa County supervisor candidates. But given the demand for immediate details, I’ve posted the story here before it shows up in tomorrow’s newspaper.

Special interest groups and individuals have spent nearly $300,000 on campaign mailers, signs and other costs in an effort to influence the outcome of Contra Costa County’s two hotly contested supervisor races in Districts 3 and 5. Here’s a breakout of what has been spent to oppose and support each candidate:

Oppose Guy Houston $163,746
Support Mary Nejedly Piepho $46,654
Support Federal Glover $33,991
Oppose Erik Nunn $29,281
Oppose Mary Nejedly Piepho $13,810
Support Guy Houston $12,500
TOTAL: $299,982

Oil refineries, business and labor groups, coupled with several impassioned individuals, have spent nearly $300,000 — largely on last-minute negative mailers — in an effort to influence Tuesday’s outcome of Contra Costa County’s two hotly contested supervisor races.

Outgoing Assemblyman Guy Houston, running to replace incumbent, one-term Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho of Discovery Bay, has been the biggest target with $163,746 spent opposing his candidacy.

Houston has come under fire from the California Association of Realtors, whose political committee spent $40,807 on negative mailers. Houston is a Realtor and a member but he angered the group when he failed to support their legislation.

The bulk of the anti-Houston money has come from a group called the East Bay Business Coalition, an umbrella organization formed expressly for the purposes of making independent campaign expenditures.

Under the law, any individual or non-candidate committee may independently spend or raise money to advocate or oppose someone running for office.

Contribution limits do not apply to independent committees but they are prohibited from coordinating their efforts with the candidates or their campaign teams.

These are often a double-edged sword for the candidates: They potentially benefit from the expenditures but have no control over the messages or the sources of the money.

East Bay Business Coalition contributors include unions such as the California Nurses Association, Contra Costa Deputy Sheriffs Association and a variety of development-related firms.

The coalition’s anti-Houston campaign has been led by land use consultant and lobbyist Tom Koch, formerly of Dougherty Valley developer Signature Homes. Koch now represents a Tassajara Valley property owner with plans to seek development approval from San Ramon.

It put out several hard-hitting mailers that revived details of a civil lawsuit against Houston filed by elderly investors. Houston reached an undisclosed settlement last year.

The coalition has also spent $29,281 in opposition to Erik Nunn, an Oakley planning commissioner challenging incumbent Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg.

Chevron, Tesoro and Conoco-Phillips put their financial weight into the supervisor contest, too, spending $78,959 on pro-Piepho and Glover campaign mailers.

Independent campaign expenditures are commonplace among business, labor and development groups who negotiate with the county over regulations, taxes, land-use permits or union contracts. The higher the stakes, the greater the interest in the political composition of the Board of Supervisors.

But the hotly contested supervisor campaign has also inspired several individuals to write large, personal checks.

Contra Costa Sheriff Warren Rupf, for example, spent $12,500 of his own money on a pro-Houston mailer. He has been an outspoken Piepho critic after the two clashed over law enforcement issues in far eastern Contra Costa County.

Former BART director Erlene DeMarcus, who lives outside the county, spent $6,557 on a mailer that paints Piepho as too conservative.

The candidates have been raising their own money, as well.

In campaign finance reports filed by the Friday’s deadline, candidates reported their total funds raised and spent since January plus their cash balance in the bank and debts. in order of money raised:

District 3:

n Houston: Total raised, $128,725; total spent, $271,016; cash in the bank, $15,847; outstanding debts, none.

n Piepho: Total raised, $92,050; total spent, $173,897, cash in the bank, $4,053; outstanding debts, none.

District 5:

n Nunn: Total raised, $105,315; total spent, $123,127; cash in the bank, $2,400; outstanding debts, none.

n Glover: Total raised, $59,696; total spent, $100,613; cash in the bank, $63,764; outstanding debts, none.

n Gary Agopian of Antioch: Total raised, $17,568; total spent, $20,589; cash in the bank, $2,056; outstanding debts, $3,964.

n Don Parscal of Brentwood: Total raised, $7,220; total spent, $6,746; cash in the bank, $474; outstanding debts, $2,615.

n Mary Rocha of Antioch: Year-to-date columns not filled out. She reported $23 in the bank and left the outstanding debts line blank.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen

  • Allen Payton

    FYI – Thought you’d like to know I just got an email from the Nunn campaign, with a link to his website http://www.ErikNunn.com showing the oil companies have contributed $225,000 to support Federal Glover. As of last Friday, they spent about $48,000 on mailers and signs. They’re probably saving the rest for the Fall.

  • AntiochRep

    Nice attempt to cover up for Nunn…disappointing that you didn’t supported Agopian. Choosing between the lesser of two evils…Seeno or Oil is going to be the next battle in this race. It’ll be interesting to see who ‘publicly’ finances Erik during the next quarter.

  • Ray

    Ohhh, poor Erik Nunn, the woe-is-me victim. He only raised the most money of any candidate! And if he needs more money, he knows what deep-pockets ATM he can go to.

  • Renegade GOP

    Gee Lisa,

    Glad to see you had a come to Jesus moment. Your focusing on the Sheriff and leaving the massive special interest money off the front page speaks loudly as to why newspapers in general and unbiased reporters in particular are in steep decline.

    All the Best,


  • Ken Hambrick

    The previous comments are right on target, but there is a bigger issue here. That issue is that we are in danger of having special interests buying our local government, giving us the best government money can buy.

    It’s incredible that $300K is being spent on the Supervisor races, most on trying to re-elect Piepho. You may ask why. These folks are not altruistic. They expect payback from the candidates (read Piepho, Glover) for these expenditures.

    Chevron is currently trying to get its assessment reduced. Tom Koch is trying to get a development approved outside the Urban Limit Line and the Sheriff’s union loves the soft touch the Supervisors are in giving them everything they want.

    As Lisa says: “East Bay Business Coalition contributors include unions such as the California Nurses Association, Contra Costa Deputy Sheriffs Association and a variety of development-related firms”. Surprise! Surprise!

    These contributions have mostly been for Piepho’s benefit, the candidate who claims she doesn’t take contributions from developers, unions, oil companies, etc.

    How disingenuous can she be? Contributions like these are tantamount to direct contributions. And she certainly has not stood up and disavowed them. So welcome to the special interests club, Mary.

    If she is re-elected today, then these special interests continue to control our county government. The same is true of Glover.

    If we are too dumb to clean out the Board of Supervisors, we deserve the bought and paid for government we get.

  • Stunned in East County

    Ken, you are simply rehashing BGR’s drivel. It didn’t sell the first time.

    Perhaps you better review Lisa’s list. The largest figure is OPPOSING Houston, not supporting Piepho. There is a difference. It would appear Guy doesn’t have many friends around here.

    It is you and Billy who are being disingenuous with these claims that IEs are the same as direct contributions. It doesn’t hold water because they were largely spent as opposition money.

    For someone as active on the political scene you should know better, but maybe you’re not as sharp as you make yourself out. Either that or you’re just a spin artist who will talk out of either side of your mouth. Neither is a particular attractive proposition.

    This entire premise that you guys have been peddling is ludicrous. Guy’s history is well documented. When I drive 580 through Dublin, look to the North and see his handiwork, I don’t see a “no growth” candidate. When I see a person asked a simple yes or no question multiple times on an important issue like the Peripheral canal and he repeatedly sidesteps it, I see less than honest. When I see an individual get involved in something as serious as defrauding seniors and not clear the air, but instead go the hush money route, I see a lack of ethics. But the person who accomplished next to nothing in 6 years in Sacramento on issues like police services, growth issues, and balancing the budget claims he’ll address those very issues on the local level?? Sorry, but that’s an insult to my intelligence. Perhaps some of you are just more gullible?

    The challenges ahead for this County will have to be met by someone who understands them. Guy Houston is NOT that person. Repeatedly I have watched him try to answer questions from residents and it’s clear he’s not in touch with the issues. All along I’ve believed this seat is only a move to keep him in politics and this out of touch mentality on the issues affecting our lives only underscores that fact. He campaigns with bumper sticker slogans playing to the vocal minority, and those are the people who will vote for him. I firmly believe that in this light turnout election the real thinkers will see through the shtick and come to the conclusion the homegrown candidate Piepho is the best choice.

    I think the problem with people like Ken and BGR is they are not big picture thinkers. They are so blinded by extreme, usually partisan beliefs that they cannot recognize the County’s problems on huge issues like OPEB did not happen overnight and will not be solved overnight. I think some good progress has been made recently, and we all recognize much more needs to be done. But we will never get there if we can’t have honest debate and clearly define the shortcomings as well as recognize the progress.

    For some it’s pretty clear that “taking out” Piepho is their main goal and her record on the issues is very much secondary. It’s a shame that sort of vitriolic thought process bleeds into votes that affect all of our lives. But it also explains why some of you are so bothered by the IEs trying to take out Houston. You’re getting a taste of your own medicine and not liking it.

  • Doug Smith

    Stunned – What’s the difference? In a two-person race if you’re opposing one candidate you’re helping the other. Is that not clear to you?

    You’re ignoring the fact that Piepho blew it a variety of times – raising her pay, taking away the vote from the residents of unincorporated areas and choosing to appoint the members of the Municipal Advisory Councils, instead (that’s top down government, not bottom up, which goes against her supposed Republican philosophy), opposing her own neighbors and the Sheriff on the Indian slough skiing issue, not to mention the staff turn-over. She’s been a real disappointment to many who helped and/or voted for her the first time.

    If you look at it with unbiased eyes, Piepho really didn’t have the experience to be elected the first time. She was merely the daughter of a former well-known politician, and a political staffer to two other politicians.

    She really doesn’t have any real world experience in the private sector and is obviously over her head. Perhaps if she loses today, she can go get some experience with a real job in the private sector, then come back later and run again.

  • Allen Payton

    AntiochRep – Nothing being covered up. I simply wrote about the info on the forms filled out by the oil companies in how much money they’ve contributed to support Glover and how much they’ve already spent. As for not supporting Agopian, I’d already committed to Nunn, and told Gary if he makes it into the run-off against Glover tonight I’ll be supporting him in the Fall. What’s disappointing is all the cheap shots (anonymous, like yours and otherwise) at Nunn and anyone who supports him by Agopian’s supporters. You didn’t see any of that from Nunn’s campaign towards Agopian in the campaign. Why? Because, Nunn is focused on one thing, replacing Glover. Best of luck to all the candidates.

  • Stunned in East County

    Doug, the pay raise issue is a joke if put in proper context. Always was a joke. It’s a play on human emotion to tout the figure of 60% without contrast and compare.

    MACs are advisory councils for the Supervisors. They in no way take away yours or my individual votes. MACs do not set policy, enact ordinances, etc. The simply serve as an additional conduit for collecting information on the needs and desires of local residents.

    The Sheriff is on record as supporting the Indian Slough issue before he found it politically expedient to oppose it and get a dig in with a political opponent. And I think your characterization that the majority of residents disagreed with the result is off the mark. I boat there as well. It’s a prudent move in a narrow and every increasingly busy waterway, in my opinion. I think putting convenience before public safety is a bad decision.

    I’ve never bought into this premise that Guy is somehow better prepared to hold the seat because he holds a MBA. I would again point to my last post, what has he accomplished in 6 years in Sacramento that says that degree has elevated him to some superpowers level? He has had ample opportunity to talk specifics on any number of issues including OPEB during this campaign and his very broad and confusing answers do nothing for me. It’s sound bite mentality, not real solutions being put forward.

    Piepho’s education and real world experience are stale and recycled talking points. To Houston’s credit, even he acknowledged the education issue is a cheap topic to bring up. If you have ever watched the lady in action, you’ll know she is quite capable to lead and I for one am impressed by her leadership abilities shown in proceedings in Martinez as well as local functions where I’ve seen her in action. Guy Houston, on the other hand, is clearly out of touch if not aloof to local issues. That fact is underscored each time I have seen him in person.

    You have to vote with your conscience and your priorities, but at least do so with the full and proper understanding of the facts.

  • Very questionable anecdotal evidence and personal observations, combined with character assassination and disrespect is not argument.

    The facts are these:

    Incumbent supervisors have had plenty of time to correct the structural problems causing the OPEB debt, paying for deficits out of reserves, and rolling over for union demands during contract negotiations. This is common knowledge.

    But of course, like Mark DeSaulnier, people including Bickert and supporters of the incumbent gang and their cronies in Martinez explain away these facts as the work of grumpy old men, when, in fact, each charge was right on.

    The incumbents have shown nothing to indicate they have grown any backbone toward ACTUALLY fixing these problems. Instead they take the easy way out and dump the hard work into some hypothetical future payments. And then only to fund 40%.

    If this is the big picture the county is in big trouble.

  • Patriot Johnny

    I tend to agree with Ken H #5 comment

    “”If we are too dumb to clean out the Board of Supervisors, we deserve the bought and paid for government we get””.

    Very True……………. they need to go….

  • Ken Hambrick

    Dear stunned in East County (aka David Piepho),

    As to your statement “I think the problem with people like Ken and BGR is they are not big picture thinkers. They are so blinded by extreme, usually partisan beliefs that they cannot recognize the County’s problems on huge issues like OPEB did not happen overnight and will not be solved overnight.”

    I never said overnight. But Kris Hunt and I saw the “big picture” on the OPEB debt before the BOS would even recognize it as a problem. The problem still exists with the board taking tiny baby steps to address it. They don’t even have a plan for the long run.

    Having served on two Grand Juries, I saw from the inside the failure of the BOS and it’s finacial mismanagement, giveaways to the unions, control by the unions, etc. Yes, that’s seeing the big picture.

    As to IEs, as Doug Smith posted, “What’s the difference? In a two-person race if you’re opposing one candidate you’re helping the other. Is that not clear to you?” Guess Stunned (aka you know who) has come down with a bad case of myopia.

  • Doug Smith

    Stunned – You don’t like percentages, fine. It was a $36,000 per year pay raise, plus another $18,000 in benefits. That’s more than many people earn who live in the county. They should have at least waited to implement the pay raise until after the next election so the voters could decide if they deserved it. The worst part is that they did it at a time the economy is hurting, people who pay the taxes which pay those salaries and benefits are losing their jobs and when they wouldn’t give pay raises to staff, and have left some positions vacant. Their collective increase could have paid for at least three deputy sheriffs.

  • Stunned in East County

    Ken, it was you who suggested the IEs are tantamount to direct contributions. Sorry, but I don’t sit in board rooms in Richmond to know what their motivations were and I’m simply taking the IEs at face value. You are being a bit pretentious, in my opinion, and a wee bit hypocritical by ignoring the lion’s share of Houston’s funding going in. To engage in guessing games over my identity is just stupid, but to each his own(and btw, you are wrong).

    Curious, which part of runaway health care costs are you going to rein in from the command bunker in Martinez? If you’re holding the solution in your pocket, stop wasting time locally as there is a place for you on the national stage.

    I honestly don’t know when you claim you first raised the flag on OPEB. I do know it’s been 10 years for GJ reports and the last 3 and particularly the most recent year is when progress has been made. But you gloss over this fact? 90% of the County union contracts are yet to be negotiated this year, but you and Bill seem pretty certain of their outcome. Mind if I borrow your crystal ball for some lottery numbers?

    Doug, let’s be honest. There is never a “good” time for a salary raise for an elected official. Someone will always complain. Have you forgotten they hadn’t received any raises(even cost of living) since back to 2001-2002 era or that they removed stipends at the time those raises were approved? If you think anybody is getting rich in Northern California on $98k/yr with limited benefits and no pension allotment, you are flat out kidding yourself. I used the word comparable for a reason. If you can show me another managerial or leadership slot where someone oversees 9,000 employees and has some direct say in the well being of about a million people, I’d like to hear about it. I’d advocate for a raise for them as well. FYI, the value of a Deputy per annum is in excess of $160k with all costs of support factored in. You might want to remember that figure as the discussion of the MIA police services in your community picks up steam.

    Out of curiosity and since raises during difficult economic times offends you so, how did you reconcile all of Houston’s raises while in the Assembly, particularly in light of our current $17 B deficit? Not asking as a gotcha, just genuinely interested in how people think about these things or justify them.

  • Troublemaker


    Your stubbornness bleeds through with every post you make. You have earned quite a reputation. I have heard they call you the Great Santini (or “countywatcher” isn’t that right Billy?). Look it up-it is not a compliment.

    I doubt very much if Stunned In East County is David Piepho. In fact I would bet on it, so keep slinging the mud. But as always you think you know better. Just remember there are a lot of us that communicate and network, not just your little group.

    So knocking off almost a billion dollars is not enough for you? Perhaps you want to see a complete collapse of the county and its workforce to save money. Yep that is great logic! And a real big picture solution. I guess balance in not in you repertoire.

    Doug, while I see where you are going with your point on the salary adjustment, it really would not be as simple as you stated. There is more to it. You see the Board of Supervisors put that “raise”, “increase” or adjustment off for almost a decade because the county economy is always hurting. So to put if off for another two years would have meant they would have been down 70 to 80 percent? If you are so concerned about salaries, why don’t you take a good hard look at the Sheriff’s reported 185k salary-there is plenty to worry about there.

    Wait till the next election? Haven’t they been doing that for years…waiting? Since the Board of Supervisors rotates elections and there is one every two years so there is never a good time for them to do this. I think it showed some real strength to do it when 3 of them were up for re-election.

    So while 95k may be more than what many earn (is is?) it is still BELLOW the average of what Supervisors in the Bay area make. Should that not be factored in. Or better yet, how about other elected department heads?

    Considering your points, what do you think about the Sheriff who tried to slam the Supervisors for making too much when he makes 185k plus a retirement. Is he so worried about electeds salaries versus the public’s safety, and the loss of deputies (which did not occur), that he is willing to give his back? Maybe a reduction of his is in order. I think the Supervisors may have the power to do that too. How about half? He could be paid that whopping 95K a year and be able to survive just fine right? Especially while he is already collecting a county retirement on top of his salary.

    Reefer I did not forget about you and your intelligent statement; “Incumbent supervisors have had plenty of time to correct the structural problems causing the OPEB debt, paying for deficits out of reserves, and rolling over for union demands during contract negotiations. This is common knowledge.

    What is common knowledge is that this current board did not create the liability and to correct it in one term would be impossible. It was created over what, 20 or 40 years? They have turned it around as reported through real journalism, not your 1/2 way to nonsense website. Perhaps your perspective is common knowledge among the kool aid addicts but in the real world we need balanced solutions, not knee jerk reactions.

    Keep fishing guys.

  • East County Resident

    Stunned continues to attempt to cover up the inability of the Supervisors to address the OPEB issue. Piepho landed there on dad’s wings 3 yrs ago and had plenty of time to deal with it. Glover probably just plain forgot about it. However Piepho as head of the “Finance Committee” her claim to fame completes the circle. It took Kris Hunt standing in front of the Board screaming “HELLO” what about the OPED debt and your so-called balanced budget. And of course rocket scientist Gioia did nothing but laugh. It does make a difference about Houston’s education. For Houston to attempt to cover up Piepho lack of education was just being a gentleman in public. How could he not think Piepno’s elevator does not go to the top. All of the diversions Stunned plays out are cover ups for the lack of knowledge, education and experience Piepho does not have. We will be glad to get some educated people on the Board. GO HOUSTON! GO GOPIAN!

  • Troublemaker


    Another Reefer customer stepping up to the stand for a refill?

    Same old recycled rhetoric.

    Houston a gentleman? Now that is funny!!

  • You give me too much credit when many more people than you care to admit can think for themselves and come to the conclusion that you and you heros in Martinez and the crowd you hang out with are bankrupt and dangerous to the financial health of our County.

  • Troublemaker

    Perhaps you should move.

    Need any help packing?