Wednesday, September 30, 2009

As The Money Pours In, News-Press Looks The Other Way

It was arguably the best known piece of advice a source ever gave to a newspaper reporter: Follow the money.

Bob Woodward listened to Deep Throat, followed the money trail to get to the bottom of Watergate, and his newspaper, the Washington Post, won a Pulitzer Prize.

So, with so much money being poured into the upcoming Santa Barbara City election you'd think the Santa Barbara News-Press would have its reporters out there following the money.

Au contraire!

Although The Independent, The Daily Sound, Noozhawk and your's truly, have all run stories since last Friday on one aspect or another of the obscene amounts of money being poured into a select few campaigns by a select few, those who depend exclusively on the News-Press as their source of local news would have no idea that Texan Randall Van Wolfswinkel has spent more than $250,000 to support Measure B and a slate of candidates that includes Dale Francisco, Michael Self, Frank Hotchkiss and Cathie McCammon.

Nor would News-Press readers know that a Russian businessman Sergey Grishin, who lives in Montecito, has contributed $50,000 to the mayoral campaign of Steve Cushman.

The News-Press has not run a single story about the money that is being thrown around by Van Wolfswinkel and Grishin. Would the News-Press have us believe that this is not newsworthy?

Van Wolfswinkel is the biggest mystery to come out of Dallas since "who shot J.R.?"

And when Cushman suddenly had $50,000 land in his lap courtesy of the Russian, he must have thought his ship had come in. It did. It just happened to be named "Red October."

Of course the real submarine in this little tail of intrigue is mayoral candidate Francisco who looks like he wants to submerge under water anytime the topic of Van Wolfsinkel and his Preserve Our Santa Barbara political action committee is brought up.

Evidently uncomfortable with being the beneficiary of all of this out of town largesse, Francisco typically responds that he has no control over what Van Wolfswinkel's independent PAC spends its money on and that he knows very little about them.

Kind of a surprising response from a guy who usually has all of the answers.

Following the money doesn't always mean paying attention to who the fat cats are giving to. I find who the small donors are giving their money to to be just as revealing.

Campaign contribution disclosure laws require that anyone who gives more than $100 to a candidate, be identified by name and employer. People who give less than $100 don't have to be identified by name. They are just lumped together anonymously on the disclosure reports under the heading "unitemized contributions."

To find out who the small donors are supporting, I looked at the most recent campaign disclosure statements that covered the reporting period from July 1, 2008 through September 19, 2009.

For that period, the candidate with the highest percentage of their total contributions coming from "unitemized contributions" (less than $100) was David Pritchett who had small donors account for a whopping 69% of all the money he raised during that period.

No one else was even close to that percentage. Bendy White was a distant second at 20%.

The rest of the percentages are as follows: Cathie McCammon, 15%, Grant House, 13%, Frank Hotchkiss, 12%; Dianne Channing, 11%; Micheal Self, 7%; Helene Schneider, 7%, John Thyne, 5%; Dale Francisco, 2% and Steve Cushman 2%.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and