s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

Santa Rosa City Council candidate fundraising

The six candidates for Santa Rosa City Council had reported raising the following amounts as of the latest filing deadline of Sept. 29. The figures do not include late contributions or independent expenditures.

Jack Tibbetts — $43,136

Chris Rogers — $33,762

Julie Combs — $26,664, including $1,000 loan

Don Taylor — $21,478, including $7,878, loan

Ernesto Olivares — $13,791

Brandi Asker — $2,975, including $1,000 loan

Santa Rosa City Council candidate Don Taylor may be benefiting the most from money pumped into the race by outside groups supporting his candidacy.

An independent anti-rent-control group has raised an apparently record-setting $75,000 to date in an effort to elect the restaurateur to one of four open seats on the council.

But Taylor isn’t the only local candidate getting a big bump from big money interests this election.

Scott Flater, the son-in-law of politically active developer Bill Gallaher, recently reported spending nearly $40,000 to help support two other candidates – Jack Tibbetts and Ernesto Olivares.

While he didn’t give the money directly to either candidate, the contributions raise questions about whether Flater or people close to him are exploiting gaps between state and city campaign finance laws that limit individual campaign contributions to $500 each but allow “major donors,” such as Flater, to spend unlimited sums.

The steep spending drew a rebuke from one of the candidates it’s meant to support.

Tibbetts, who said he doesn’t know Flater but is aware he’s connected to Gallaher, called the outlay bittersweet. He said he appreciates the support but feels such spending is inappropriate.

“I think it undermines our ability to have grass roots democracy, which at the local level is so important,” said Tibbetts, who has raised the most money for his campaign of any of the six candidates.

He called it “ridiculous” that candidates have to work so hard to raise a maximum of $500 per contribution, but then wealthy interests can throw unlimited funds into a local race.

“If I could wave a magic wand and make IEs (independent expenditure committees) go away, I would,” he said.

In addition, it appears Flater or the people working for him violated state campaign finance rules by failing to file required campaign disclosure documents on time.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, Flater had filed just one document — an independent expenditure report form listing $2,560 paid for “canvassing” in favor of Don Taylor. Later in the day that was amended to say the funds were spent in favor of Tibbetts.

But last week a mailer in support of Tibbetts landed in residents’ mailboxes with the disclaimer “This information is paid for by: Scott Flater.” It also listed the 50 Old Courthouse Square address of Muelrath Public Affairs.

At this time of the year, with the election right around the corner, people spending money on campaigns are required to disclose such spending within 24 hours, but Flater did not, City Clerk Daisy Gomez said.

“They said they just missed the deadline,” Gomez said after talking with Flater’s Sacramento attorney, Rebecca Olson.

Rob Muelrath said in an interview Flater had hired his Santa Rosa firm for political consulting and hired Olson to handle legal work, including campaign filings.

He called the missed filings an oversight and said Flater wasn’t trying to skirt the rules.

“The fact of the matter is he’s not trying to hide anything,” Muelrath said.

Once made aware of the issue, Olson made a flurry of filings on Flater’s behalf. One was for $21,721 for a mailer in support of “Hector Oliveres,” which she later amended to “Ernesto Oliveres.” The second-term councilman’s name is spelled Olivares.

Santa Rosa City Council candidate fundraising

The six candidates for Santa Rosa City Council had reported raising the following amounts as of the latest filing deadline of Sept. 29. The figures do not include late contributions or independent expenditures.

Jack Tibbetts — $43,136

Chris Rogers — $33,762

Julie Combs — $26,664, including $1,000 loan

Don Taylor — $21,478, including $7,878, loan

Ernesto Olivares — $13,791

Brandi Asker — $2,975, including $1,000 loan

Olson also filed an expense report for $13,510 for the mailer supporting Tibbets, as well as two reports totaling $6,280 for canvassing for Tibbetts.

The reports cite expenses made as far back as Oct. 9, meaning the flurry of filings Oct. 19 were up to nine days late. Gomez said she has been in touch with officials at the state Fair Political Practices Commission and expects to fine Flater $10 per day per late filing, or $150.

There is nothing illegal about Flater spending his own money in favor of candidates he supports, as long as he isn’t giving money directly to the campaigns or accepting donations from others, Gomez said.

Flater is operating as a “major donor” under state law and need only report what he spent and on behalf of whom, Gomez said.

Flater, 40, is married to Gallaher’s daughter Molly, vice president of asset management for Gallaher’s company Oakmont Senior Living. Gallaher is one of the city’s most successful developers, having built hundreds of homes in Oakmont, as well as luxury senior living facilities Varenna at Fountaingrove and Fountaingrove Lodge. He also owns a large property in east Santa Rosa on Elnoka Lane that he’s been trying to develop for more than a decade.

In 2012, Flater, along with several other of Gallaher’s employees family members, donated $500 to Erin Carlstrom’s campaign for City Council. At that time, he listed himself as “owner of Christie’s (sic) on the Square,” a downtown bar that has since closed.

Muelrath said he didn’t know Flater’s current profession but that he and Molly have four children and have been politically active in the past. He said he believes Flater is spending his own funds in support of candidates but acknowledged he didn’t know if the funds originated from his developer father-in-law.

“I don’t believe that’s true,” Muelrath said, adding he thought it “highly unlikely.”

Flater did not return a call for comment. The real problem, Muelrath said, is that Santa Rosa’s $500 per person spending limit is too low, which makes it difficult for candidates to raise the money needed to run an effective campaign while preventing a single individual from having much influence in an election, he said. That causes people such as Flater to find other avenues to support candidates.

“What the city has done is it has motivated people to get involved on a larger scale because they can’t just make a $500 contribution and make a difference,” Muelrath said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

Show Comment