Sustainable City News reviewed contributions made to candidates for Whittier City Council. Some contributions raised troubling questions:
Troubling campaign finance questions raised in Whittier City Council District 1
Official financial filings for each of the three candidates still in the race for Whittier City Council District 1 raise troubling questions. Magdalena Barragnon Moe reported that she did not receive any contributions in 2019, but since her first report of no 2019 contributions or expenditures, she has filed none of the campaign finance reports for 2020, as required by law.
[Editor’s Note, 3/1/2020: The Moe campaign contacted Sustainable City News with the information that she has raised and spent less than $2,000 and therefore is not required by law to submit additional finance reports in this election season.]
Each of the other candidates still in the District 1 race has received substantial contributions from Henry J. Matson, principal owner of Best RV & Self Storage LLC on Esperanza Ave. On January 16, he contributed $5,000 to Jessica Martinez’ campaign, listing his employer as “Business Equipment and Development, Inc.” Then, on January 23, he contributed $2,000 to Andrew Roble’s campaign, listing his occupation as “Developer Business Engineering Institute.”
The $5,000 Matson contributed represents the majority of the $7,700 total contributions Martinez has reported to date. Matson’s contribution represents just under 10% of the funds Roble has raised to date, the majority of which has come from labor unions, and a significant contribution from Ian Calderon’s campaign. Roble is also one of several city candidates supported by BizFed PAC.
Best RV & Self Storage is the current tenant on city-owned property the city has paid to study as a potential homeless shelter site. If the city goes ahead with the shelter, it will most likely need to negotiate a buyout of the remaining term of Best RV’s lease.
This city-owned property forms a finger of incorporated Whittier connecting the rest of Whittier to the Pio Pico historic site across the 605 Freeway. All the neighboring properties, including a residential neighborhood on Esperanza Ave, are in unincorporated areas. Because access to the Esperanza neighborhood and Amigo Park passes through this finger of the City of Whittier, the residents of the Esperanza neighborhood have reported difficulty getting emergency services from either the Whittier Police Department or the L.A. County Sheriff. They oppose placement of a shelter for single adults in their neighborhood, but might accept a shelter for youth and families.
However, since they are not within the city limits, they have no vote for Whittier City Council representation. Neither the city nor the neighbors have, to date, asked for the neighborhood to be annexed into the City of Whittier.
Local campaigns accepting outside PAC funding
Campaign funds can come from many sources. Political action committees (PACs), some of the largest donors, advocate for specific policies and parties. Some are organized by businesses or unions, others are organized by political parties, and other interests.
PACs must disclose their donors. But PACs can also be funded by “dark money”. In large national elections, dark money is usually channeled through nonprofits that do not need to disclose their donors.
In California, for local races that do not coincide with November general elections, reporting deadlines for PACs often only come after the election, making it hard to learn who is funding campaigns and independent expenditures for attack ads and slate mailers.
In Whittier, a PAC that has frequently taken advantage of this loophole is Taxpayers for Quality Leadership. In 2018, this PAC, funded by J.C. “Mac” McFarland, former consultant for Matrix Oil, paid for ads attacking District 2 candidate Irella Perez. Sustainable City News discovered ties between Taxpayers for Quality Leadership and BizFed PAC.
We wrote in 2018: “Voters in District 2 have received mailers from Taxpayers for Quality Leadership PAC (TQL) attacking challenger Irella Perez. This PAC has connections to both Matrix Oil and local trash hauler Athens Services. According to city filings, J.C. McFarland, former consultant for Matrix Oil, paid $4,611 for these mailings. Matrix Oil has been attempting for years to negotiate leases for fracking in the Whittier Hills.
“Statewide filings show that before this election cycle TQL was funded by large loans from Diamond Bar City Council member Nancy Lyons. TQL has sent out mailers attacking 2016 city council candidates in El Monte, Walnut and Whittier, and supporting Steve Tye (R, Diamond Bar) for State Assembly. Its main donors until this spring have been a group of property developers in South El Monte.
“TQL has no website, but its post office box is paid for by Lewis Associates LLC. Its owner Mike Lewis, is the immediate past chair of BizFed. Lewis Associates and BizFed’s PAC have both contributed to the campaigns of all three incumbent candidates, Fernando Dutra, Bob Henderson, and Joe Vinatieri. Lewis was quoted as a spokesperson for local trash hauler Athens Services in several San Gabriel Valley Tribune articles.”
In the 2020 Primary Election cycle, Taxpayers for Quality Leadership reported spending on four different slate mailers supporting Christine Singer-Luna. The campaigns of Joe Vinatieri, Cathy Warner, and Andrew Roble claimed contributions from BizFed PAC.
To differentiate between these two instances: Accepting a financial contribution from a PAC is voluntary and consensual. Direct promotion of a candidate, when funded by a PAC, is not.
Who is funding this year’s mayoral candidates?
Among mayoral candidates, Joe Vinatieri has out-fundraised ($94,133) and outspent all the other candidates, according to official campaign filings. His largest single donor is CREPAC ($10,000), the political action arm of the California Association of Realtors. This year, he is also supported by a couple of labor unions.
Louis Reyes raised $30,340, with about 20% of those funds coming from labor unions and another 20% coming from the campaign committees of candidates for state offices in other districts including members of the Rubio family, and city councils outside of Whittier. The Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters supported Reyes, as well as Yasmin Ferrada in District 3.
Christine Singer-Luna reported raising just under $10,000, all in small donations from individuals and businesses.
Neither Rolando Cano nor I. L. Leon Savage raised any funds at all.
Funding reported by District 3 campaigns
In District 3, incumbent Cathy Warner and challenger Alex Moisa each raised more than $43,000, while Yasmin Ferrada raised just over $23,000. Warner is supported by the same unions and PACs as Mayor Joe Vinatieri, and many of the same businesses and individuals. Moisa’s support comes largely from attorneys and judges. Ferrada’s largest supporters are Susan Rubio and Blanca Rubio for Assembly, as well as the League of Conservation Voters.
Attack ads limited in the 2020 Primary Election Cycle
To the best of our knowledge, as of this posting, the only attack ad mailed to voters for Whittier City Council was paid for by the Rio Hondo Democratic Club and targeted Joe Vinatieri and Cathy Warner.
The Rio Hondo Democratic Club is a local chartered organization affiliated with the Democratic Party in the county and state. The ad features three photos (Vinatieri, President Trump, and Warner) and labels them Republicans.
Although candidates may accept endorsements and contributions from organizations affiliated with political parties, Whittier City Council candidate races are non-partisan.