Outside money fuels incumbents’ runs;

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Three seats are up for grabs Nov. 7 on the San Juan Capistrano City Council.

The Orange County Register (California)

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, CA — Both City Council members up for re-election in November reported in disclosures filed this month that most of their big contributors came from outside the city.

There are no requirements that contributors have to be city residents and some donations from outsiders are not uncommon.

“We don’t feel hands down that contributions from outside the city are wrong. Somebody’s mother is going to want to contribute to their campaign,” said Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Los Angeles-based nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

It raises questions, though, when the vast majority of contributions are not from residents, Balber said.

“One wonders whose interests will be represented in local government,” said Balber, who has successfully campaigned in several cities in the state to tighten conflict-of-interest laws.

Only the names and addresses of those contributing $100 or more need to be disclosed. The maximum contribution allowed in the city is $250.

Incumbent Councilman Wyatt Hart said he was surprised to hear that most of his major financial backers were from outside the city. A review of his report filed on Oct. 5 showed that he collected $6,300 from 30 contributors who listed San Juan Capistrano addresses and $11,649 from 53 contributors who gave addresses outside of the city.

“I’ve sat on the board of the county fire authority and the water district, a lot of my work is outside the city,” Hart said. “All of my fundraisers have been inside the city. I had one fundraiser with the equestrians, a lot of them have their horses in the city but they live elsewhere. They are very concerned about maintaining the horse trails we have.”

Outsiders who contributed to Hart’s campaign gave occupations that included lawyers, homemakers, ranchers, executives and retired people.

Mayor David Swerdlin raised $1,800 from eight contributors who gave city addresses and $3,000 from 12 contributors who listed addresses outside the city. One outside address was from Hart’s campaign, which gave $250 and an address in Rancho Santa Margarita.

“I haven’t held any fundraisers,” the mayor said. “Those who contributed must like good government in San Juan Capistrano.”

Issues about how outside development projects — like Rancho Mission Viejo — will affect traffic and quality of life in the city have been a key part of the council campaign.

“It’s really unusual to get a majority of your contributions from outside the city,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that studies government and social problems. “There isn’t a reason for those outside the city to contribute unless they do business in the city,” Stern said.

First-time candidate Angela Duzich Rohde reported all of her contributions, including $149 from two city residents and $1,296 from people at addresses outside the city.

“It’s my family and old friends, I don’t really have many contacts in the city yet,” she explained.

Candidate Michael Philbrick said he plans to raise no money and is troubled by the prevalence of outside money going to his opponents.

“It makes me think twice about why they are contributing to our council race, what their motives are,” he said. “I can see if a few friends contribute, there’s nothing untoward about that. It seems odd that they get so much of their money from outside.”

Candidate Londres Uso said he questions the effect the out-of-town contributions will have on actions before the council.

“I’m a little uncomfortable with so much money from outside San Juan coming to help get the incumbents re-elected.”

Other candidates in the race are Tom Hribar, Mark Nielsen, Jeremiah W. Pearson III and Jack Stavana.

Consumer Watchdog
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