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By Shawn Raymundo
Nearly $125,000 in contributions have been spent to support the campaigns of the five candidates who are running in San Clemente’s special election for city council—roughly 26 times the annual compensation of what a San Clemente councilor earns for their time as a public servant.
During last year’s general election, the 12 candidates who ran for the three open seats on the city council’s dais collectively raised $130,487. The top earners in the 2018 race were Dan Bane, one of the winners who is currently the acting mayor, Wayne Eggleston and Don Brown.
A review of the 2018 candidates’ final contribution and expenditure statements show that they spent a combined total of $131,171 during the race, which resulted in Bane, Councilmember Laura Ferguson and Councilmember Kathy Ward, an incumbent, winning seats.
In the current special election for one open seat to serve the remaining year of Steve Swartz’s term, $124,692, to date, had reportedly been spent toward the five candidates.
Swartz, who held the title of mayor, died unexpectedly in May while vacationing with his wife.
About 78% of this year’s total contributions—accounting for both monetary donations the candidates received from individuals and political action committees (PAC), as well as loans they took out—went to support the campaigns of Jackson Hinkle and Gene James.
As of Oct. 19, the end date of the latest filing period, Dee Coleman had collected $8,578 in contributions and Christina Selter had received $2,094, while Mickey McLane reported having $16,500 in his war chest.
According to Hinkle’s Oct. 19 filing, he had raised a total of $31,511. Since then, supplemental reports the candidate and groups that support him have filed show that Hinkle added another $8,000 to his coffers. Most of that money came from groups including the Democratic Women of South Orange County and the Orange County Employees Association.
To date, each of the PACs and unions supporting Hinkle has spent, at minimum, $5,000 toward the candidate’s campaign. The Orange County Professional Firefighters, Local 3631, has spent $7,000 in support of Hinkle’s campaign, while the Employees Association has spent $5,000 and the Democratic Women has spent $5,034.
In the early days of the race, Hinkle stated that he believes there should be a cap of $500 on contributions for candidates.
“We need to have campaign contribution limits,” Hinkle stated, while responding to a question on improving accessibility for citizens during an election forum that the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce held on Sept. 26. “I would recommend campaign contribution limits of $500 to start and increase upon inflation.”
In an email to San Clemente Times, Hinkle explained that his proposed contribution cap is part of his plan to implement a San Clemente Transparency Ordinance, if elected. The plan also includes setting a term limit of eight years for councilmembers and requiring councilors to recuse themselves during discussions and votes on land-use or development topics if they’ve taken money from developers.
“This ordinance, which has received positive feedback from current councilmembers, would create a cleaner government and will make everyone on our city council more accountable,” he wrote.
When asked about why he accepted donations that exceed $500, he claimed that his campaign is the only one “running the right way.”
That means “no contributions from the TCA, corporate entities, or reckless out-of-town developers,” he wrote. “Instead, we are funded by working families throughout San Clemente (and) represent the needs of San Clemente residents. We are proud to put all our faith and effort into everyday people, families, and small businesses.”
James’s War Chest
James’s campaign reported collecting a total of $38,011 as of the Oct. 19 filing period. And within the last week of the race, James saw his war chest grow by about $27,230, with most of it coming from the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, according to supplemental filings.
The latest filings show that in late October, the sheriff’s union had spent $15,728 for mailers and “robo” calls supporting James. The candidate’s camp also took a $10,000 donation directly from the PAC.
James had previously stated that he would not take the group’s money.
“I was endorsed by the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, but I would not take money from them,” James had stated during an election forum hosted by the San Clemente Historical Society on Sept. 15.
James recently explained to SC Times that he decided to accept the police union’s money in order to compete with Hinkle, who had recently received the influx of donations from the other local unions.
“I just could not keep up with that,” James said, referring to contributions to Hinkle. “I have used that money to do pro-law-enforcement mailers. . . . I used that money to send out my public safety, pro-law-enforcement mailers.”
He further stated that his supporters understand his decision to accept the money.
“I have explained this to my supporters. No, I don’t believe this is going to impact the voters’ ability to trust in me,” James said. “Those who were not going to vote for me criticized me. Those who are voting for me understand the decision.”
During the weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 deadline for voters in San Clemente to submit their mail-in ballots, candidates ramped up their spending, as their reported expenditures amounted to about $48,642 between Sept. 21—the end date for the previous filing period—and Oct. 19.
In total, the candidates have collectively spent nearly $88,740 of their contributions toward their respective campaigns.
Hinkle was the biggest spender during the latest reporting period, as he had expenditures amounting to $20,789. While James spent $19,535 of his coffers during the latest reporting period, he’s the top spender overall, as his total expenditures amounted to $35,262. Hinkle’s total expenses are right behind him with $29,327.
The only candidate who has come close to their expenditures is McLane, as he has reportedly spent $13,969 of his war chest toward the election. All of that money, according to the contribution statements, is out of his own pocket.
“I financed entirely my own campaign, because I did not want the ties that go with contributions,” McLane said in an email, adding an anecdote that he paid for his own lunch when he addressed the San Clemente Kiwanis club.
“Only a candidate with no ties, no hand-holding, no rigid affiliations, can be of the best service to the people of San Clemente,” he said in the email.
Asked about their thoughts on the level of contributions that have gone into the special election, McLane noted that this race is particularly important, because the elected individual is likely to be the swing vote on the dais.
McLane further claimed that his opponents are already aligned with certain members of the council and, therefore, “there will be no swinging” if they’re elected.
“Those candidates have wedded themselves to one side or the other, and the result is they’re beholden, and would march in lock-step on all votes,” he wrote in the email. “That’s the opposite of progress.”
As for James and Hinkle, both touted the support they’ve received from their respective donors and benefactors.
“My supporters are pro-business, pro-law enforcement and fiscally conservative,” James wrote in an email. “My donors are concerned about the state of the city. They are parents and grandparents who want safe streets, safe parks and safe beaches.”
Hinkle made a similar statement, crediting his supporters for the level of donations he’s personally received in the election.
“We also had more unique local donors than any other San Clemente City Council candidate. I believe our campaign’s broad base of local supporters can be attributed to residents having a clear choice,” Jackson wrote. “They agree with my vision of preserving (and) protecting San Clemente, not my opponents that favor overdevelopment to help their special interest cronies.”
According to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, it will post the results of the election on Tuesday, Nov. 5, around 8:05 p.m., based on all of the ballots it will have received in the mail by that day.
Ballots submitted to the OC Registrar must be postmarked by Nov. 5 and reach the office within three days.
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.