Why developer Bill Gallaher and his family put big money behind long shot candidate in Newsom recall
His gubernatorial candidacy is “one of the biggest mysteries of the recall,” according to one political expert.
He’s made few campaign appearances, participated in no major debates and is polling at just 1%.
Yet Ted Gaines has raked in more than a quarter-million dollars of campaign cash — nearly 90% of his total war chest — from one of Sonoma County’s most well-known and deep-pocketed developers and his family members, as well as one of his employees and a business associate.
His total haul makes him the eighth highest fundraiser this year out of the 46 California recall candidates, according to campaign filings.
It’s not uncommon for wealthy donors to back long-shot or losing candidates. But the contributions from Bill Gallaher, his wife Cindy, five of their relatives and two business associates raise questions about why they would pour money into a candidate who, while having significant governing experience, appears not to have mounted a serious campaign.
“He's seems to be M.I.A. on the campaign trail,” said Steven Maviglio, a longtime Democratic political consultant in California who served as former Gov. Gray Davis’ press secretary. “It seems there's literally no attempt to be successful.”
“When somebody is giving contributions to a campaign that doesn’t exist, it certainly raises questions,” Maviglio said.
Gaines, a former state lawmaker who lives in El Dorado County, is an elected member of the state’s Board of Equalization who claims to be the “highest-ranking Republican in California.”
The board has the power to make tax decisions that could affect properties across the state, including those owned by Gallaher. Gaines has spent about $209,000 so far on his gubernatorial bid, according to campaign filings. He can use whatever is left over for another campaign or other political purpose.
In interviews with The Press Democrat, Cindy Gallaher said any influence Gaines may have over state property tax oversight did not play a role in the her family’s decision to back the candidate.
“That had nothing to do with it,” she said in an interview.
Gallaher said she and her husband, both registered Democrats according to county records, are supporting the Republican Gaines because they agree with many of his pro-business policies. They are seeking to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom, she said, because he has failed to tackle many of the state’s most pressing issues, including homelessness and rising housing costs.
“We feel like things are not getting better, so we’re ready for a change,” Gallaher said.
Calls to Gaines’ office seeking comment were referred to his campaign spokesman, Thomas Ingram. Ingram did not respond to multiple emails, texts and voice mails seeking comment this week and last. On Thursday, his voicemail box was full and not accepting messages.
Heading into Tuesday’s election, Gaines hasn’t received more than a few percentage points of support in most polling since announcing his recall candidacy in July.
Bill and Cindy Gallaher, in a written statement, acknowledged Gaines is unlikely to succeed in replacing Newsom.
“We recognize that the chances of the recall and his win are both slim, but as is known from our history, we are willing to put our resources behind our beliefs, as unpopular locally as they may prove to be,” the statement said.
Gallaher, his relatives and business associates have together donated $251,800 to Gaines, according to campaign filings. There is no indication they have donated to any other candidate in the recall, and it is not the first time the Gallaher family has donated to Gaines.
Gallaher and his family members, including his daughter Molly Flater and son-in-law Scott Flater have poured unprecedented sums of money into Sonoma County political campaigns in recent years.
A Sonoma County native, Bill Gallaher has developed around 50 senior and assisted living facilities across California and Nevada through his retirement home company Oakmont Senior Living, according to the company’s website. He is also founder and chairman of Santa Rosa-based Poppy Bank.
Gallaher is single-handedly bankrolling an effort to recall Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, slated for the same Sept. 14 ballot as Newsom. He has contributed more than $1.7 million to the effort, according to the latest campaign finance filings.
Ravitch's office prosecuted Oakmont Senior Living and two of its affiliates over its abandonment of residents in two Santa Rosa care homes during the 2017 Tubbs fire. Ravitch and her supporters contend the recall is a case of a wealthy developer seeking vengeance after being held accountable for his companies’ failures. His management company paid $500,000 to settle the case.