Bruising economy dents campaign war chests

Donation season starts slowly for some candidates in Board of Supervisors races
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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And they’re off, moving toward the June 5 primary election, with three Placer County Board of Supervisors seats at stake. But will the current economic downturn have an impact on the money candidates raise for everything from mailers to lawn signs? Supervisor Jim Holmes is seeking a third Board of Supervisors term and already putting out signs. But the signs are retreads from past elections, with the letters “re” added to “elect” to bring them up to date. Holmes said he’s noticed the slump in funding availability and chalks it up to a less-than-booming economy. Even a year has made a difference, he noted. Earlier this month, Holmes hosted a $25-a-plate fundraiser in Loomis and estimates he raised $5,000. A year ago, a similar fund raiser at the same location raised twice that, he said. Without the strong development base — and opposition fighting development — some of the biggest donors have stayed on the sidelines. “Development is not as robust,” Holmes said. “When I first ran in 2004, my opponent was getting $5,000 checks. People give me $10, $15, $25. I feel I’ve built up a reservoir of goodwill over 30 years.” Newcastle’s Robert Gregas, who is challenging Holmes for the District 3 seat, said the impact of a soft economy on campaign fund-raising has been not entirely unexpected. “Clearly the economy has made fundraising incredibly difficult,” Gregas said. “I’m sure Jim has had better luck but that‘s because he’s the incumbent.” An investor and project manager in real estate, Gregas said the people he deals with in business are struggling. “Others have gone out of business,” Gregas said. “People say they’d like to help but they can barely feed their family. And I know it’s true.” With the lack of funding, Gregas said he’s been using his own money to this point by lending his campaign funds he will hope to recoup when more is raised from supporters. For others, self-lending isn’t an option. Auburn’s Richard Johnson, who is challenging for the District 5 seat, said that he’ll be depending on campaign contributions and avoiding dipping into his own savings to pay for a campaign to unseat first-term incumbent Jennifer Montgomery in District 5’s eastern Placer County. Johnson said that with five candidates – himself, Montgomery, Jerry Johnson, Gary Johnson and Mark Wright – supporters may be sitting on the sidelines waiting to see who emerges as favorites. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes in June, the top two finishers will move on to the November general election. Four years ago, Montgomery beat Bruce Kranz in the general election but a third candidate put in $100,000 of his own money before the primary in an attempt to make it to the next round. Johnson’s first campaign contribution statement, which takes in funding through March 17, shows few contributions but the retired U.S. Forest Service ranger said that he had just entered the race days before that. “We have some money coming in but I don’t know if we have a really good measuring stick because this is my first time (running for office),” Johnson said. “Of course it’s a challenge. For me, it’s still early in the campaign to judge where it’s going but I haven’t put myself in hock.” Campaign finance statement filed with the Placer County elections division show Gregas had loaned himself $1,080 by March 17. The next reporting period ends May 24. Holmes listed a cash balance of $5,851, with no cash receipts during the reporting period of Jan. 1 and March 17. In District 5, Richard Johnson – one of three unrelated Johnsons running against Montgomery and a fifth candidate, reported $1,000 in early donations. Mark Wright, also in the District 5 race, reported cash receipts of $1,388 and a balance March 17 of $426. He gave himself a $200 loan. Jerry Johnson reported loaning his campaign $20,000. Gary Johnson had not filed a detailed form. Montgomery was far in front in funding, with $38,521 available March 17, after raising $11,979. She started the year with $30,810. Donations included $2,000 from San Francisco’s VOICE, $1,000 from Martin Harmon of Auburn Manor Holding Co., in Rocklin and the Laborers Local 185 PAC of Sacramento ($1,000). Realtor Pam Tobin is taking on incumbent Kirk Uhler in the District 4 race. Uhler reported a balance of $28,555 by March 17. Tobin’s was about half that, at $14,302. Among the large donations Tobin took in were $5,000 checks from VOICE San Francisco, the California Nevada Conference of Operating Engineers and the Sacramento Central Labor Council. Uhler’s campaign coffers were bolstered by donations of $6,400 from Mary Conkey, $5,000 from Placer Vineyards Development Group, $5,000 from William and Claudia Cummings, $5,000 from Placer 400 Investors, $5,000 from Brewer C&L and $5,000 from Placer 2780 Ltd.