REGION — Semi-annual campaign finance disclosure data is in for San Diego County races. And it shows that over half a million dollars in campaign funds went to the three leading candidates for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 3 race during the first half of 2019.
Much of the money, according to a review of the data by The Coast News, came from outside of the district and even out of the state. Tens of thousands of dollars also flooded the race from real estate developers.
District 3 stretches on the coast from La Jolla and University Town Center in the south to Encinitas in the north. Inland, it stretches as far south as a Mission Valley, north into all of Miramar and Mira Mesa and the Highway 56 corridor and then northeast into Escondido and the inland portion of northern City of San Diego proper.
The District 3 race — pitting two Democrats, Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz and University of California-San Diego research scholar Terra Lawson-Remer, against Republican Kristin Gaspar — is seen by most as the swing vote in November 2020 to tip the balance on the County Board from its current 4-1 conservative formation to either a 3-2 conservative majority or 3-2 liberal one. That’s because District 1 in south San Diego County will have a majority of Latino and African-American voters for the first time.
But first, two of the three candidates will have to get through the March primary election.
Most believe that Gaspar will garner votes from conservatives and that Diaz and Lawson-Remer will split the votes of liberals. Money raised allows candidates to pay for mailers, campaign signs, social media advertising and other campaign literature.
On a macro level, Lawson-Remer has the most cash in-hand from individuals and a labor union independent political action committee at $265,869. Gaspar came in second, at $129,165, while Diaz trailed in third at $97,299.
Of the three, Gaspar began fundraising the latest, not securing her first donation until early-May. The other two candidates got a head start, with Lawson-Remer’s initial contribution coming in February and Diaz’s coming in March.
Diaz got the most total donations, with 540, and also had both the lowest average contribution at $185.13 and lowest median contribution at $100. Of her 540 donors, 50 of them gave maximum allowable individual contributions of $850, with another donor at $750 or over and 25 at $500 or more for 76 total at above the $500 mark. Diaz had the least donations above the $500 mark.
With her campaign so far bolstered and endorsed by District 4 Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, husband of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez — who has also endorsed Diaz —16 of 49 maximum contributors to Diaz’s campaign overlap with high-dollar donors from Fletcher’s successful 2018 campaign. That amounts to 17% of the quantity of donors for Diaz’s campaign overlapping with donors from Fletcher’s 2018 campaign and 21.9% of the total amount of money raised overlapping with donors to his 2018 campaign.
Further, 365 of Diaz’s donations came from inside of San Diego County, with 42 out of county and another three out of state. Of those contributions, 248 came from donors inside of District 3 (11 more were from zip codes straddling two supervisor districts).
Lawson-Remer secured 400 unique donations, with an average contribution of $323.71 and median contribution of $200. Of those, 61 gave maximum contributions of $850, with another 24 at $750 or over and 25 more at $500 or more for a total of 110 donations above the $500 count. Lawson-Remer did not provide a list of itemized donations below the $100, which do not have to be publicly disclosed, which would likely impact average and median amounts, as well as raising the unique donations number.
Of the three leading candidates, Lawson-Remer obtained the most out-of-state donations, with 51, and an additional 34 out of county contributions, totaling 315 in-county. She secured $17,303 from out-of-state donors. Some of the out-of-county donors included Hollywood stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Mary Steenburgen.
Lawson-Remer also had the lowest number of contributions from within San Diego County at 78.7%. Within the county, 119 came from inside of District 3 for Lawson-Remer (21 more were in zip codes straddling two supervisor districts).
Diaz said she believes the differences of funding streams between the two leading Democrats exhibits a contrast of their recent life backgrounds.
“It’s my understanding that Terra has spent much of her life working and going to school on the East Coast, so I imagine that is where a lot of her supporters are,” Diaz said of Lawson-Remer, who grew up in San Diego, but moved to the East Coast for undergraduate and advanced degree studies, before becoming an academic and policy practitioner under the Obama administration for the U.S. Treasury Department. “Those are probably the people who know her best.”
Diaz added: “Although I grew up in Northern California, my life’s work has been here in San Diego County. I raised my family here, operated my small business here, and it’s been my honor to serve as local City Council member for more than a decade.”
But as the lead organizer of the Flip the 49th campaign, which saw a longtime Republican congressional seat flipped Democrat during the 2018 midterm elections, Lawson-Remer had a different interpretation.
“I am extremely proud of my broad-based fundraising effort which reflects my decades of leadership locally and nationally on progressive issues and policy,” she said. “Anyone who knows of my work as an organizer will be confident that I will have a vigorous and unmatched door to door, person to person campaign.”
Gaspar received a total of 329 donations, with both the highest average and median contributions, at $441.47 and $300, respectively. Of those, 92 donors maxed out at $850, with another seven at $750 and an additional 54 at over $500. That amounted to 153 total donations over $500, the most of the three leading candidates.
Diaz slammed the high dollar amounts.
“Gaspar’s failed 2018 campaign for Congress distracted her from her basic responsibilities,” said Diaz. “Her support of President Trump’s most divisive policies have probably made raising campaign money from everyday people difficult for her.”
Gaspar also racked up 281 in-county contributions and at least 128 in-district donations (16 of them came from zip codes which straddle multiple supervisor districts), with an additional 15 out of county and six out of state. At 93.3%, Gaspar was neck and neck with Diaz for the highest percentage of in-county donors.
She also had the highest number and dollar amount of donations from the real estate and development sector, with 86 donations for a total of $57,945, or 39.9% of her entire donor base. By contrast, Diaz secured 17 industry donations for $12,700 and Lawson-Remer got 13 for $3,500.
JP Theberge, who runs the advocacy organization Grow the San Diego Way — which opposes “sprawl” style housing development — said county supervisors have among the most say over the future of land use decisions because most of the open land in the region sits on unincorporated county-owned land. He said “there are literally billions of dollars on the line.”
“Gaspar, who’s received hundreds of thousands from the building industry in the past and will continue to do so, has reliably voted in their favor every single time since she took office,” he said. “To say it creates the perception that she is bought and paid for might be harsh, but that is the perception.”
Gaspar spokesman and campaign chief Jason Roe had a different take on the matter.
“One of the most pressing challenges facing San Diego is affordable housing and the need to increase housing stock,” said Roe. “We are on schedule to build half as many units in 2019 than 2018, which doesn’t match up with the rhetoric of policy-makers paying lip-service to the problem while actually making it worse. Kristin is someone who is actually trying to fix the problem rather than politicize it and her efforts have earned her the support of small business owners that care about this issue.”
The San Diego County Democratic Party’s North Area Caucus will meet in San Marcos on Aug. 17 to do an endorsement recommendation vote for the candidate it will support during the primaries. That recommendation then would proceed for a party Central Committee vote on Sept. 17. A party endorsement can translate to unlimited amounts of financial and logistical support from the local party apparatus.
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.