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Zane, Coursey campaign donations keep pace, setting up proxy fight in Sonoma County supervisor race

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Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane and challenger Chris Coursey have raked in similar amounts of cash in the county’s most heated race for local office, setting up what looks to be a fiercely competitive contest in the final four weeks before the March 3 election.

Zane, who is seeking a fourth term on the Board of Supervisors representing central Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, has raised $142,841 to date versus the $129,896 taken in by Coursey, the former Santa Rosa mayor. The amounts reflect all contributions reported by the candidates from Jan. 1, 2019, to Jan. 18, 2020.

Coursey’s total has come via smaller donations and from more donors. His average donation is $220, with nearly 600 donations to date.

Zane, has raised an average of $830 per donation, with about 170  donations so far.

The largest contributors to Zane’s campaign include E. & J. Gallo Winery, Balletto Vineyards and former Grateful Dead drummer and Sebastopol resident Mickey Hart, all of whom gave more than $3,000.

Coursey’s biggest single backers include local climate activist Barbara Moulton, Burbank Housing Development Director Marc Krug and former Sonoma County supervisor candidate, Fred Euphrat, who each gave $2,500 or more.

But the new wild card in the race is a pair of independent committees bankrolling rival campaigns in the race.

The National Association of Realtors has dropped $156,000 in favor of Zane on polling and a plan to reach thousands of voters via mailers and a canvassing effort.

On the other side, a newly formed independent committee favoring Coursey has filed paperwork indicating its key donors are oil and gas companies. The committee has yet to disclose any donations or spending in the latest records on file with the county.

Coursey, who has been endorsed by the county’s most prominent environmental groups, was quick to distance himself from the fossil-fuel interests attempting to wade into the local race.

The Committee for Balanced Government is supported by Chevron, Phillips 66 and Marathon Petroleum.

“Maybe they should do their homework,” Coursey said, touting endorsements from the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action. “They’re wasting their money on this race. I would suggest they put the money to a better use and clean up their refineries in Richmond. That would benefit the whole Bay Area.”

Zane pounced on the news Thursday, sending out a letter to her supporters noting the entrance of “Big Oil” into the race on the side of her opponent.

She called it “an alarming revelation for local, Sonoma County politics.”

“We do know the two biggest polluters in the world are going to be setting up money in his favor so they can get me off the air board,” she said in an interview, referring to her appointed seat on the powerful Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Coursey, meanwhile, challenged Zane to reject support from the realtors’ committee, but that’s not likely to happen. Realtors, she said in the interview, are helping to “build the American dream.”

But the money race between the two candidates has not reached the fevered pace once expected of the county’s marquee contest — a showdown between two well-known politicians and former allies.

“We thought this race would be more expensive, and be uglier sooner,” said Sonoma State University political scientist David McCuan. “We haven’t seen that yet.”

But it could be coming, McCuan said, pointing to the late entry of the two independent committees, and the potential for even more cash infusions in the coming days and weeks.

The candidates still have money in the bank for the coming weeks. Zane showed $37,996 on hand in the latest reporting period and Coursey had $27,952, a far narrower margin that at the start of the race, when Zane enjoyed a nearly $80,000 advantage. Zane, however, has spent a lot more than Coursey — about $70,000 more, to be precise.

Mail ballots go out next week.

So far, Zane shows more than 26 donations of $1,000 or more since Dec. 16 while Coursey’s campaign reported just one. But he has 589 total donations, giving him greater claim to the sort of grassroots credentials that have boosted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential field.

Coursey, in an interview, stressed that he also welcomed larger donations. And Zane was quick to point out that among her 172 reported donors, there were amounts big and small.

“Each is envious in terms of what the other has,” McCuan said, chuckling at the irony. “They’d like to have it all.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @tylersilvy.

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