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