RAINING MONEY The State Capitol building in Sacramento, California. (Photo illustration)

Campaign donation and expenditure figures for five of the seven candidates for State Assembly District 2 were released recently, demonstrating that some candidates rely more on grassroots fundraising than others, with one candidate sitting on a pile of cash that is greater than the other candidates combined.

The figures reflect monies received prior to Jan. 20, 2024. Two of the candidates, Cynthia Click and Ted Williams—both of Mendocino County—had no figures to report. Last week, Click withdrew from the race and endorsed Frankie Myers, about whom more later.

The largest recipient of campaign donations by far was Rusty Hicks. The labor organizer and chairman of the California Democratic Party lives in Arcata, Humboldt County, where he teaches political science at College of the Redwoods. But his support indisputably draws from a wider net than simple geography.

Hicks’ total contributions during the three-week period in January total a modest $37,735, but his expenditures are almost $105,000—and records indicate his campaign still has a daunting $442,405 in cash on hand.

The Hicks campaign not only boasts the endorsement of outgoing Assemblyman Jim Wood and Gov. Gavin Newsom, but an array of 24 labor unions and organizations throughout the state. Indeed, these organizations contribute the lion’s share of money to the Hicks campaign, much of it in larger donations of up to $5,500, the legal limit for campaign donations.

Individual contributors to the Hicks campaign to a large measure originate from Southern California, where he lived until 2021. They also include a number of Sacramento-area individuals and organizations.

CANDIDATES Democratic candidates for State Assembly District 2, from top: Rusty Hicks, Ariel Kelley, Frankie Myers, Chris Rogers, Ted Williams.

Local Candidates

Both Chris Rogers and Ariel Kelley drew comparisons to Rusty Hicks’ campaign to underscore their local, small-dollar donations compared to Hicks’ greater overall donation figures and state-wide support, primarily from labor organizations. By and large, Rogers and Kelley assert that their individual supporters are Sonoma County based, in accordance with the local appeal of their candidacy.

Ariel Kelley, Healdsburg’s former mayor and ongoing city council member (through campaign manager Julia Dreher) boasted of raising a total of $306,646 as of that January date, including 745 individual contributions from all five counties in the district, 77% of those contributions under $250.

Kelley’s campaign shows contributions of $46,915 during that January period, and just over $68,000 in expenditures. Her campaign shows cash reserves of $170,464, a substantial figure indicating potential for last-month marketing and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Kelley also received more in-district contributions (516) than any other candidate has received, according to Dreher. “Ariel has received more contributions than any of the other candidates in this race, and has the most in-district contributions of any candidate. Her fundraising operation has relied on support from the people who have seen her in action and benefitted from her work as a nonprofit CEO, mayor and council member,” said the campaign manager.

The figures also show that Kelley is her own greatest supporter, donating or loaning $150,000 to her campaign. Candidate contributions to their own campaigns are not subject to any limits, though contributions from family members—including spouses—must fall within the same individual contribution limit. Her sister Shoshana Ungerleider and husband Tim Kelley are among those $5,500 donors.

Rogers’ contributions total was $60,937, with an ending cash total of $140,311. Rogers, the former Santa Rosa mayor and likewise still a city council member, pointed to 402 individual contributions, with the majority being under $100 from people who live in the district.

Donations of over $5,000 include Mike McGuire’s 2022 campaign for state Senate (McGuire has endorsed Rogers for the seat, as has Rep. Mike Thompson), and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Leo Buc, a campaign advisor to Rogers, said, “Overcoming the other campaigns’ unrestrained spending is a challenge, but Chris has done it before. North Coast voters are smart and have a history of seeing through this sort of thing.”

About the substantial “war chest” that several of the candidates hold, Buc said, “Most campaigns do the bulk of their mail, radio, TV, etc. in the last month of the campaign—so we’re expecting to see a massive surge of advertising this month.” He said he anticipated “an unprecedented level of advertising for the region.”

Native Candidate

The next most successful of the other candidates reporting was Frankie Myers, vice chairman of the Yurok Tribe, whose reservation straddles Humboldt and Del Norte counties along the Klamath River. He built his reputation during the lengthy battle to remove dams on the Klamath and its tributaries to restore native salmon habitat and populations.

Myers’ individual contributions during January total $39,952, surprisingly more than that received by Hicks. His ending cash reserves were $88,072, a lesser though not inconsequential figure than his opponents boast.

A number of tribal organizations statewide supported Myers with donations, led by the Yurok Tribe’s contributions of $8,500. His campaign has pointed out that there is only one Native member of the California Assembly, James Ramos of San Bernardino.

Some tribal organizations, however, offer their support to other candidates, usually in addition to their support of Myers. For instance the Morongo Band of Mission Indians (in Riverside County) has made donations to both Hicks and Myers. This is not unusual—several donors contribute to more than one candidate, much as some endorse more than one, as if to “cover their bets” in the political horse race.

Michael Greer, a Del Norte Unified School District trustee and the only Republican in the race, received just $837 in contributions but loaned himself $20,000 for a total of $20,837. His campaign has an ending cash level of $14,949.

But his modest financial status belies the fact that with five active Democratic candidates in the running to split the party vote, his advancement to the November run-off seems likely as the sole representative of his party.

Records of campaign donations for all candidates in the state can be found on the Secretary of State website, at cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Candidates.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2012, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.

1 COMMENT

  1. This is not about campaign finances but ………I am hoping you will do an in depth article on the sale of the Syar property. We have subscribed to the newspaper for over 30 years and are so happy that it is still in business. This is how the community of Healdsburg receives information about important events in our community.
    Bruce and Valerie White

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