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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.

FOLLOW THE MONEY
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:

POSITION DOLLARS SPENT
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