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Morgan Hill
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July 31, 2021

Election: Residents, relatives, developers chime in with campaign contributions

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Amid an election season that has catapulted Morgan Hill’s residential growth as the top issue among many voters and candidates, the latest financial disclosures show that the campaigns of the incumbents—and one challenger—are funded partially by developers. Meanwhile, most of those attempting to unseat the incumbents haven’t accepted any money from such sources.

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Developers’ contributions to local election campaigns are not new in Morgan Hill. City Councilman Larry Carr, who is running for his fifth four-year term on the council in the Nov. 8 election, doesn’t see the source of campaign funds as an issue. He doesn’t think it’s fair to exclude a group or industry—such as developers—from contributing to a political campaign in their effort to participate in the process.

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Builders are also neighbors in Morgan Hill,” Carr said. “Their kids go to our schools. I don’t know why I would want to deny them the opportunity to be involved in our democratic process.”

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Carr accepted a $2,000 campaign contribution from Dustin Bogue of BMCH Builders. He said Bogue is a longtime friend, and his company doesn’t have any projects in Morgan Hill, where residential growth is governed by a voter-approved control and competition system.

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That system, known as the Residential Development Control System, is also on the Nov. 8 ballot for renewal as Measure S.

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Among the council candidates, Carr, Mario Banuelos and incumbent Marilyn Librers support Measure S. Slow-growth advocates Rene Spring and Armando Benavides are against it. In the mayor’s race, incumbent Steve Tate and Joseph Carrillo support the RDCS measure, while Kirk Bertolet is against it.

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Within the development community, Carr has also accepted contributions from Morgan Hill real estate broker John Telfer, and developer Rocke Garcia, according to his latest campaign financial disclosure forms, which candidates filed at the city clerk’s office Sept. 24.

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These developers and others have contributed to local candidates’ campaigns for multiple election cycles in recent years.

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Rene Spring, a challenger for one of two council seats on the ballot, said he plans to remain true to his “pledge” to refuse campaign funds or assistance from developers. He has been running for more than a year on a platform of “responsible growth,” and slowing the city’s growth from recent levels.

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“I am not taking money from builders, developers and major land owners here in town. I just don’t want to be dependent on them,” said Spring, a city planning commissioner and a director of program management at a tech company. Spring has raised more than $33,000 so far for his campaign—most of it from his own pocket; that’s by far the biggest war chest among all candidates for council and mayor.

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The top two vote recipients in the five-candidate race will win the two available seats to serve four-year terms.  

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In the mayor’s race, incumbent Steve Tate’s contributors who are also developers include Dan McCranie ($1,000 contribution), owner of Ladera Grill restaurant and the downtown property at Monterey Road and Second Street; Weston Miles Architects ($150); and Telfer ($200).

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McCranie is currently working plans for a new commercial/restaurant development at the Second Street through the city’s planning commission.

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Bertolet, a staunch slow-growth advocate, has almost entirely self-funded his own campaign, contributing $5,100 out of the total $5,475 funds raised. He is not seeking contributions in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

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“I don’t want anybody coming to me saying, ‘I donated to your campaign, so I want a favor,’ if I make it to mayor,” said Bertolet, who wants to slow the residential growth of Morgan Hill. “I want to run a completely clean campaign.”

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Carrillo is not required to file FPPC forms because he has not formed a campaign committee and does not anticipate raising or spending more than $2,000, according to City Clerk Irma Torrez.

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Carrillo told an audience at the Sept. 29 candidate forum, hosted by the Morgan Hill chapter of the American Association of University Women, that he has made his own yard signs and printed his own fliers.

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“Since there’s no lobbyists or special interests (in my campaign), I think I’m the closest candidate to the public,” Carrillo said.
Breaking down the numbers

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In the latest campaign financial disclosures filed in accordance with California Fair Political Practices Commission guidelines, Tate lists a total of $10,255 raised so far in his current campaign. He has spent about $3,905.

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The FPPC forms require candidates—or their campaign committee staff—to list itemized contributions and campaign expenditures in excess of $99, according to authorities.

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Tate’s list of about 40 contributors consists of mostly Morgan Hill residents and family members, and most contributions are in the $100 to $300 range.

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Expenditures from the Tate for Mayor 2016 committee include $200 contributions to the campaigns of council candidates Banuelos and Carr, both of whom Tate has endorsed in that race.

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Tate is running for his sixth consecutive term. The winner of the three-way race will serve a two-year term as mayor.

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In the council race, in which five candidates are running for two seats, Spring has raised $33,936 since he started campaigning more than a year ago. Most of the funds are from the candidate and his immediate family. He has been campaigning longer than the other candidates, who didn’t announce their intent to run until the ballot qualifying period this summer.

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Most of Spring’s contributions come from the candidate himself and his husband Mark Hoffman. Spring, a city planning commissioner and director of program management at a technology firm, has funded his campaign to the tune of $18,900, of which $8,000 is in the form of a loan.

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In the City of Morgan Hill, there is no limit to how much a supporter may contribute to a local campaign, according to Torrez.

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Spring said the sizable personal investment by him and Hoffman shows how serious he is about becoming a city councilman.

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“I want to be independent of the big money donors that usually finance other campaigns,” Spring said. “We’re willing to do that because it’s important to us.”

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The top two vote recipients in the five-candidate council race will win the two available seats.

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The California League of Conservation Voters contributed $500, and Honor PAC gave $400 to the Spring campaign. Honor PAC is a national political action committee that supports candidates and ballot measures that “advance progressive policies and serve the unique needs and interests of Latina/o LGBT communities,” according to the group’s website.

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Spring’s campaign has spent a total of $38,285, largely on advertising through social media, digital mobile purchases and other web services.

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He has spent more than $6,400 on billboards and mobile ads from Outfront Media and $7,620 on theater advertising through Screenvision, according to his latest FPPC filing.
‘Personal’ or ‘impersonal’?

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Librers has raised a total of $7,374 in campaign contributions—including some from developers—as of the last FPPC filing of Sept. 24. She listed total expenditures of about $3,136.

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Her major contributors include Orville Power ($500), a managing partner for Mana Investments, which is in the process of developing a 170-unit apartment complex on San Pedro Avenue; Boyd Smith ($983.79), a real estate investor with WSJ Properties; and Bob Brenthal ($1,000), owner of South Valley Internet.

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Librers, the Executive Director of the nonprofit Pauchon Research Foundation, said her fundraising strategy consists of organized, paid events, and asking her friends and acquaintances for contributions.

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“I have a diverse base of people who have donated from throughout the community. I haven’t targeted any (single) area,” Librers said. “I’m just running a nice, small, hometown campaign.”

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She is running for her third term on the council.

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Carr, who is running for his fifth four-year term on the council, has raised about $5,844 in campaign funds as of the Sept. 24 FPPC filing. Some major donors include Mike Johnson ($500), owner of Johnson Lumber/ACE Hardware; Dustin Bogue; Rosy and Rich Bergin ($500), owners of Rosy’s at the Beach restaurant in downtown Morgan Hill; and Jennifer and James Cuneen ($500) of Principal California Strategies.

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Carr noted as far as his campaign strategy goes, he won’t be running advertisements on the movie screen or on social media pages “that are very impersonal.”

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“I think people want a personal touch. They want to look you in the eye when you give them an answer,” Carr said.

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Banuelos’ campaign so far has raised about $3,254, and spent about $2,610, according to his latest FPPC filing. Most of his listed contributors have given in the $100 to $250 range. They include developer Rocke Garcia, Adam Escoto, Jill Kirk, Dana Ditmore, Bernie Mulligan and Morgan Hill Unified School District Trustee Ron Woolf.

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Banuelos, a retired City of San Jose employee and a member of Morgan Hill General Plan Advisory Committee which convened for about the last three years, has also given $900 of his own money to this campaign.

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“My special interests are the residents of Morgan Hill,” Banuelos said at the Sept. 29 forum.

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Benavides, another slow-growth candidate, is not required to submit FPPC filings because he does not plan to raise or spend more than $2,000, according to Torrez. However, he said he has spent about $400 on yard signs as of Oct. 11. His campaign strategy includes extensive use of social media and email lists, he said.

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