Understanding Campaign Statements

It’s not totally unusual for someone to say, “Hey Mike! This Candidate got a huge donation from this person and we need you to call that out.” And when I don’t respond, the pressure only increases. The truth is, it’s pretty simple to look at these documents and misconstrue the data. Ted Mackel, real estate expert and social media guru, volunteered to step up and explain how these documents can be sorted.

I’ve chatted with Ted about this subject offline and we both agree that it’s fantastic that people are really taking a serious interest in these matters and examining the details. Take a look at Ted’s video walk through video below, and you’ll definitely get a clearer sense of what to look at when perusing these documents. THANK YOU Ted!


Simi Valley Campaigns Are Go!

The Simi Valley council and mayor campaigns are officially a go and the City Council has finalized concerns related to campaign finance reform.  Campaign donations from business persons are allowed, but donations from a single business person cannot exceed $1000, regardless of how many businesses they own.  To clarify, Joe Smith who owns five businesses can donate a total of $1000 to a single campaign, but he cannot donate $1000 from each of his five businesses (for a total of $5000 in this example).

The fact is this was always the rule.  However, the ordinance is being modified to more clearly spell this out.  This was what caused trouble for Barbra Williamson during the last election cycle when she accepted donations totaling $3000 from businessman Glen Gerson from his multiple businesses.  Barbra explained on the record that her misunderstanding of the ordinance is why she accepted the donations in the first place, not a willful intent to break the rules.

Nearly two years later, the matter of campaign financing rules is weeks away from being settled pending final approval, paving the way for campaigns to kick into full swing!

Steve Sojka officially announced his intent to run for Mayor yesterday at Lost Canyons Golf Club.  I’m sorry I missed the event.  I heard it was energized and exciting.  A video of the event is being posted on YouTube which I intend to link to when it’s available.  There’s a massive showing of support and enthusiasm behind Sojka’s campaign and the energy is intoxicating.  It takes a brave individual to run against such a tidal wave of support!  I’m very interested to see how the mayoral race plays out.

I’m hoping to hear more from Steve Sojka and Bob Huber over the course of the next several months.  I think it’s a critical time for our city and I’m very eager to hear what each of them have to say about the state of the city and their hopeful role.

Hummingbird Ranch – Almost Commercially Zoned

Saperstein’s Hummingbird Nest Ranch has begun the process of its commercial rezoning efforts and Simi Valley City Council has responded favorably, to no one’s surprise.  This from the Ventura County Star:

The Simi Valley City Council on Monday night heard a prescreening for an application to turn the 123-acre private property near Kuehner Road and Highway 118 into Hummingbird Nest Resort and Spa.

The main components — 42 new casita buildings, a new fitness facility and spa with swimming pools — were more than good enough to move the process along Monday night.

This project became of interest to me personally months ago when campaign funding questions were raised, a controversy that has since fizzled.

David Saperstein, owner of Hummingbird Nest Ranch, donated thousands of dollars to the Miller and Sojka campaigns as “bundled” donations, meaning they exceeded campaign donation limits but were donated under the names of multiple family members, each at the maximum donation rate. For details, see this article on financial filings.  Both Miller and Sojka returned the funds after they were re-elected stating that it would be inappropriate to keep the donations considering Saperstein has a project scheduled to come before the council.

Influence probably wasn’t necessary, as Simi Valley leaders fell in love with the property and its owners almost as soon as it came to life.  And the quotes in The Star by Glen Becerra and former mayor Bill Davis clearly indicate the level of enthusiasm.

“Come back and knock our socks off,” said Councilman Glen Becerra.

Former Simi Valley Mayor Bill Davis spoke out in favor of the project.

“This has the potential of being one of the nicest facilities in the country,” Davis said.

As a believer in making strategic decisions during rough economic times, I can see the positive fiscal impact of the proposed project on Simi Valley and can see this moving forward rapidly.  If you believe otherwise, please share your thoughts here.

Saperstein Donates – Wants Commercial Rezoning

David Saperstein donated some dollars to the Miller and Sojka campaigns this election cycle. Of course, these were considered “bundled” donations, meaning they exceeded campaign donation limits but were donated under the names of multiple family members, each at the maximum donation rate. Dean Kunicki, consultant for Saperstein, also donated $500 each. For details, see this article on financial filings.

Both Miller and Sojka returned the funds after they were re-elected indicating that it would be inappropriate considering Saperstein has a project scheduled to come before the council. Project? What project?

Saperstein’s Hummingbird Nest Ranch, purchased and designed for his now ex-wife, may become a 5 star resort and spa… at least, that’s what Saperstein is hoping for. Dean Kunicki is the consultant who was hired to lead this project. Originally, after Saperstein and his wife divorced, he was hoping to sell the property. However, no offers have been made so the next move is to transform it into a profitable venture.

Yeah… I guess I can see how he’d want some friends in the city for this. And I’m sorry to those who might be against such a project, but it’s going to happen. The Sapersteins and their property are beloved by the Simi Valley highers-up. I can recall its opening several years ago when it became the venue for several of Simi’s long standing and newer events. I remember being bussed to the property to stand in a booth for my Rotary club a few years ago. People are delighted to have Hummingbird Nest Ranch in town and having it transform into a 5-star resort will be like a feather in the city’s cap. It’ll happen. Mark my words!

Kunicki said the resort would include a health spa with tennis complex, a sports facility and a corporate conference area. There would be individual “casitas” — private homes with courtyards, Kunicki said.
– Ventura County Star

You can read more about it here.

I just watched Fletch, the hit 80’s film starring Chevy Chase which includes a classic scene where Fletch enjoys an expensive afternoon at a 5-star resort by charging the account of the Underhill’s, the grumpy guests sitting at the table beside him. I really hope the Underhill’s rent a home at Hummingbird Nest Ranch. I propose we all meet up there, enjoy a late brunch and some champagne and charge it all to the Underhill’s account.

Williamson’s Finance Proposal

Although I definitely had a hard time recovering what ultimately became VERY corrupted video files, I did manage to capture what I found to be a fascinating proposal by Barbra Williamson on campaign finance reform.

Barbra has an idea and I think it’s a good one. This is a democracy, after all. Is there any reason you can think of that would make this difficult, or any reason why this proposal should be denied?

Excuse the out of sync audio… It was the best I could do after recovering the files…

Campaign Finance Excitement

Just to be clear, here are my thoughts on the Simi Valley City Council Campaign Finance questions that have come to light recently.  When asked, I’ll usually quickly answer that the best way to bring any questions to a close regarding contributions is to return the money and be done with it.  That’s not happening in the case of Barbra Williamson, where both the Ventura County Star and now the Simi Valley Acorn have reported questions regarding her campaign disclosures.  Returning the money without a ruling on whether or not the contributions are acceptable might suggest a guilty conscience which I’m pretty sure Ms. Williamson does not have.  I know when this first came out, she was pretty adamant that she had done nothing wrong and disclosed quite clearly what she accepted.  In short, she shouldn’t really be expected to return the contributions unless it’s officially confirmed that she can’t.  She’s indicated that she believes they are on the up and up, so the ball is now in the city attorney’s court.

Having said all of that, take a look at the contributions yourself to get a better feel for what everyone is talking about.

Steve Sojka (ending 9/30/08)
Steve Sojka (ending 10/18/08)
Steve Sojka (after 10/19/08)
Steve Sojka (expenditures over $1000 after 10/19/08)

Barbra Williamson (ending 9/30/08)
Barbra Williamson (ending 10/18/08)
Barbra Williamson (after 10/19/08)
Barbra Williamson (expenditures over $1000 after 10/19/08)

Paul Miller (ending 9/30/08)
Paul Miller (ending 10/18/08)
Paul Miller (after 10/19/08)

Check back soon.  I’m compiling a couple of videos, one of which is directly related to this issue.  There are some interesting ideas out there on how best to handle the question of campaign finance reform.

Barbra Williamson’s Campaign Financing

I was surprised this morning to read in the Simi Valley Acorn about the Barbra Williamson Campaign Finance issue.  I assumed the Ventura County Star had a bone to pick which is why the Acorn was leaving the story alone.

“I don’t have any problems with them looking at it; I just don’t like my name being out there being muddied up,” said the council member, who was appointed mayor pro tem at Monday’s City Council meeting. “I don’t think it’s fair that they should do that.”

Read more here…

According to the city’s campaign finance code, contributions may not exceed $1000 from a given business entity or individual.  Having said that, I believe the exception and possible confusion is if multiple businesses owned by the same individual contribute to a candidate.  Evidently, that combined amount cannot exceed $1000.  So, if I want the record to show that both of my businesses contributed to Barbra Williamson’s campaign, I need to make sure that the combined amounts do not exceed $1000.

The contributor in this case is Glen Gerson, who I met at City Council last Monday.  Three of the businesses he owned each contributed $1000, an apparent violation.  My first impression of Glen is that he’s an honest guy.  I suspect he made these contributions without knowledge that it violated campaign finance regulations.  The argument appears to be that Barbra Williamson should have known all long, but accepted the contributions anyway.

“The way I interpret what the code says, I have done absolutely nothing wrong,” Williamson said. “All they need to do is take a look at my campaign statement; everything that I have done is in black and white.”

Despite the fact that the city can potentially find some wrong-doing, I suspect that there will be no punitive action.  This seems pretty minor, at least by comparison to campaign finance issues around the country.

What really gets me is the volume of cash being casually passed around during these campaigns.  Why an incumbent in a local election with either no or few compelling challengers should need to raise $35K or more is beyond me.  For years, I’ve fantasized about putting together a non-profit organization with the intent of raising money to put new computers in schools.  My fund raising efforts, I suspect, would pale in comparison. Regardless of that sad truth, considering how much money is raised and the “indescretion” is a donation amounting to $3000, how important is this really?  Just give the money back and be done with it.

Having looked at the numbers here, I’m not sure this is as big a deal as the newspapers make it seem.

Candlelight Nightclub and Campaign Reform

An email from Brad Jashinsky, former candidate for Simi Valley School Board, to Brian Dennert sparked my interest in this story. According to Brad, Candlelight Nightclub in Simi Valley is the source of drunk drivers that have a bad habit of destroying property in nearby neighborhoods. This is the partial story according to Brad:

At 2am on Saturday November 29th I heard a loud explosive noise, and ran outside to see what had happened. I came out to see my sister’s car in the condition above with the obvious drunk driver getting away up the street.

Brad emailed me and told me he planned to be at the City Council meeting tonight to speak about the issue. I strapped on my video camera and made my way to council chambers to record the issue. More to come on this issue… That video is being edited as we speak!

Campaign Reform was another topic touched on this evening. Here’s a brief video of Steve Sojka who brought up the subject. Apparently, the Council will cover the topic of campaign reform and address the recent issues about campaign financing over the course of multiple sessions. Meanwhile, please watch the video and share your thoughts.

Simi Valley Headlines – December 5, 2008

Simi Valley Police Get a Pay Raise

Simi residents Al and Nan Kay believe that Simi police work hard for their money and the couple has no problem with the community’s cops getting a raise.

“I think it’s great,” Al Kay, 42, said. “They deserve all the money. They do a good job.”

Denise Rusiecki, 62, had mixed feelings though.

“I realize we need them but these are tight times,” said Rusiecki, who has lived in Simi for 35 years. “It’s tough justifying them getting raises when there are people that can’t afford to buy food and are losing their homes. It’s a tough call.”

Read more here…

School District Employees Lose Their Jobs

Simi Valley Unified School District, which has already shed $187,577 from this year’s budget, notified 16 classified employees this week they will be fired.

The 16 employees—including 11 custodians, four clerical workers and one information technology staff member—were given 45-day notices that their jobs have been terminated.

And more cuts may be on the way soon.

This is awful. While this opinion may not be well received, I think it’s hard to justify pay increases for (already well-paid) police officers while school employees get terminated.

Read more here…

City Council says ‘Wait a minute’ to Simi Couple’s farm animals

Miller explained that the Bridle Path HOA has covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) that prohibit homeowners from keeping certain animals and that just because the planning commission approved a conditional-use permit does not make it OK.

“The CUP doesn’t trump the CC&Rs,” he said.

Williamson, who serves as treasurer for her own HOA, agreed.

If I can possibly get away with it, I will never again live in a community that is governed by an HOA. Then again, I wouldn’t have 8 cows and 2 pigs living in my backyard either.

Read more here…

Barbra Williamson Campaign Finances Challenged by The Star

Glen Gerson donated $3,000 under the names of three separate corporations, including The Vineyards, in this year’s council race. He said he gave money to Williamson after she asked him for support in her bid for a fifth term.

“When a local politician comes up and says ‘Donate to my campaign,’ I’m going to do it,” Gerson said. “We make donations to have people leave us alone.”

I’m fascinated that the Simi Valley Acorn doesn’t touch this story. It makes me wonder if they think it’s a wild goose chase.

Read more here…

If you have some SImi Valley government news that you’d like to share with my or publish for my readers, please contact me.