Editor’s Note: A previous version of the story incorrectly identified the name of the California Taxpayers Coalition. The story has also been updated to reflect contributions toward Zhen Wu’s campaign.
By Shawn Raymundo
Chris Duncan and Charlie Smith continue to outearn the rest of their fellow opponents in the races for city council, as the war chests for both campaigns collectively account for more than 42% of all monetary contributions made to the 18 candidates since the start of the elections, the latest financial reports show.
As of Oct. 17—the end of the last filing period for campaign statements—the Duncan campaign had received a total of $46,958 in cash contributions, while Smith had received just less than $40,000 in contributions.
In total, Smith’s campaign had received $39,547 in monetary donations—an increase of $18,047 from the previous reporting period that covered contributions and spending through Sept. 19.
“Chris has over 250 individuals who are supporting him,” said Kevin Sabellico, Duncan’s campaign manager. He added that the level of contributions the campaign has received “says that Chris has a very wide base of support. We’re proud that so many people are supporting Chris: donors, volunteers (and) surrogates.”
Sabellico noted that Duncan did have an edge over his opponents as he started his campaign much sooner than the others, and he was able to build a base of support from his unsuccessful campaign for California’s 73rd Assembly District this past spring.
“So, he wasn’t just starting from scratch,” Sabellico said. He noted that Duncan, as a former attorney and prosecutor for the Department of Homeland Security, has worked with both Democrats and Republicans. “He met a lot of people along the way, and he’s proved himself to those people, so they were ready to contribute when he asked.”
Smith, who sits on the city’s Beaches, Parks and Recreation Commission, acknowledged that he entered the race late. But the level to which he’s raised funds says “that people saw value in our candidacy.”
“We came into the race pretty late; didn’t start campaigning till about a week before we filed, so it wasn’t a matter of catching up,” he explained when asked what made the difference between the previous filing period and the latest one. “It’s a matter of talking to people who we knew would provide us support, and that’s’ exactly what happened.”
The 13 General and Special Election candidates who filed the latest pre-election report with the California Fair Political Practices Commission cumulatively raised more than $205,308 in monetary contributions alone, as of early last week. The sum grows to about $287,095 when including non-monetary contributions and loans the candidates have secured.
Councilmember Gene James, the incumbent looking to retain his seat after winning last year’s Special Election race, is currently in third in terms of donations received, as he’s collected $21,824 in cash. Behind him are fellow General Election candidates Bill Hart with $16,277 and Aaron Washington, who reported a total of $13,510 in donations.
In the previous filing period, Steven Knoblock, who’s running for the two-year seat to fill the open spot vacated by former Mayor Dan Bane, was more than $7,000 behind opponent Tyler Boden, who had received $12,874 by late September.
Based on the latest financial reports, Knoblock has more than made up the difference, surpassing Boden in total monetary contributions. Last week, Knoblock reported a total monetary collection of $21,652, while Boden reported receiving $17,454 toward his war chest.
“I got in (the race) kind of late when I decided to run, so when I got in, I started campaigning,” Knoblock explained. “I don’t know that there was a difference (in campaigning). The first report was because I had not started early, and when I finally started to run, I started campaigning.”
Jeff Wellman, a General Election candidate for the four-year term, has so far collected $10,853, a considerable jump from the $2,200 he had reported receiving late last month. And Zhen Wu, a two-year candidate, similarly saw a substantial increase, having raised a total of $11,708 as of Oct. 17, up from the $513 he reported earning in late September.
None of the remaining candidates for both elections reported receiving more than $4,000 as of last week.
Collectively, the candidates have spent about $235,617 toward their campaigns, with both Duncan and Smith again leading the way. Duncan reported total expenditures at roughly $38,195, while Smith has spent $32,665.
With the Nov. 3 finish line approaching, many of the candidates stepped up their spending in the latest filing period—from Sept. 20 to Oct. 17. Duncan outspent his opponents by reporting $25,180, but James, who had only spent about $8,660 in the previous period, was right behind, spending $17,745.
Hart spent $16,731 in the last period, slightly more than the $11,270 he had spent in the previous filing. Smith, who was the biggest spender by late September when he had reported $17,491 in expenditures, cut back in the past month, spending only $15,174.
After receiving that surge in contributions over the past month, Knoblock upped the ante, spending $12,350 by mid-October, after spending only $2,808 by late September.
The reports show that Boden has dialed back on his spending, which amounted to $6,340 during the latest period—down from the $11,478 he had spent in the prior filing period.
As for political action committees (PACs) and unions, such groups have collectively spent more than $66,100 in the city council races, largely to support some candidates, while a few have opposed some candidates..
According to FPPC filings as of Sunday, Oct. 25, the Atlas PAC has spent nearly $27,988 in mailers to support Knoblock and Washington, as well as mailers to oppose Boden and James. The Association of Deputy Sheriffs has spent about $25,960 on automated calls and mailers to support Knoblock, James and Washington.
The Business for a Better San Clemente PAC has spent $9,000 in cash contributions toward the campaigns of Knoblock, Boden, James, Hart, Smith and Jim Dahl, a former councilmember running for the two-year seat.
The California Homeowners Association reported a $1,155 expenditure on a newspaper advertisement to oppose James, while the California Taxpayers Coalition similarly spent $2,000 on a newspaper ad to oppose Duncan.
Asked whether the amount of money in a candidate’s war chest will have an impact on the outcome of an election, Sabellico said, “You have to raise enough money to get your message out; that’s part of the system of campaigning.”
He added that Duncan’s “been dialing, talking to voters every day for the last 150 days almost. So, it’s come down to really hard work and at the end of the day, I think hard work is going to defeat some of these monied interests that play into elections.”
Responding to the same question, Knoblock said that historically speaking, the amount of money a candidate has raised does have a bearing on an election’s results.
“Not 100% of the time, but quite frequently,” he said, also stating that his level of contributions says “I am supported by a lot of people who believe in limited government, less taxes and more freedom in San Clemente would be a good thing.”
Smith echoed that sentiment, stating that there’s a correlation between those who win and the money they raised.
“It is incredibly hard to tell,” Smith said after being asked what he felt his chances were of winning next Tuesday, Nov. 3. “We would be honored. I think we’ve got a good chance.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.