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Indybay Feature

How a "Grassroots" Campaign Bought a Recall Election in the City of Santa Cruz

by Stop the Santa Cruz Recalls
Campaign finance reporting forms recently filed with the City of Santa Cruz demonstrate how “Santa Cruz Together” coordinated with “Santa Cruz United” to place measures on the March 2020 ballot seeking the recall of two Santa Cruz City Council members, Drew Glover and Chris Krohn. Together, the two groups spent over $100,000 in 2019. Basically, they bought their way onto the ballot.
Santa Cruz Together was initially formed to defeat Measure M, a rent control initiative, in the 2018 election, but in the same election, with the addition of Justin Cummings and Drew Glover, the City Council gained a progressive majority. Subsequently, in 2019, Santa Cruz Together – dominated by contributions from real estate, large property owner, and developer interests – largely underwrote payments per signature on petitions circulated for a recall campaign spearheaded by Santa Cruz United.

The finances amount to a real shell game and there is more to be uncovered, but it is now clear how the basic scheme worked. An initial analysis of campaign finance forms (see table below) yields the following facts:

* Santa Cruz Together raised at least $100,580 in 2019, after they had completed their anti-Measure M campaign. At least $62,400, or 62.0% of this money, came from real estate, large property owner, and developer interests.
* Santa Cruz United received $21,484 in monetary contributions in 2019. However, the same year, Santa Cruz Together spent more than $116,537 on behalf of Santa Cruz United. This included $66,219 listed as “non-monetary” contributions to Santa Cruz United – cash that Santa Cruz Together spent to support the Santa Cruz United campaign, just not cash given to Santa Cruz United.
* In essence, Santa Cruz Together directly paid petition gatherers, and Santa Cruz United reported these expenditures as “non-monetary” contributions.
* In total, recall signature gatherers were directly paid at least $70,431 for their work, more than $3.00 for every petition signature turned in, whether by a professional or a volunteer signature gatherer.
* However, Santa Cruz Together spent additional money for signature gathering, over and above its “non-monetary” contributions to Santa Cruz United. Santa Cruz Together paid $29,000 for “Campaign consultant and petition circulation” to the consulting company Dynami Athens Corporation, incorporated on July 18, 2019, and run by Robert Singleton – the CEO, Secretary, and CFO (and one of the defeated candidates in the 2016 City Council election).

Total expenditures to put the recall on the ballot are not yet fully evident. It is not clear, for example, where the expenditures for several expensive citywide mailers were reported by Santa Cruz Together, which sent them out on behalf of Santa Cruz United. Nevertheless, conclusions can be drawn.

The fundamental and repeated misrepresentation put forward by Santa Cruz United spokespersons is that this was a grassroots campaign. No doubt a number of people made small donations and some Santa Cruz townspeople were involved in volunteer signature gathering. But campaign reporting forms show that the major funding supporting the signature gathering campaign to qualify the recall for the ballot came from Santa Cruz Together.

By any previous standard, $70,000+ is an unprecedented amount paid in Santa Cruz for signature gathering. Santa Cruz United spokespersons repeatedly claimed that volunteers gathered 90% of signatures. This claim is false on the face of it. If it were true, paid signature gatherers obtained only 2,300 signatures of the 23,000 that Santa Cruz United claimed it submitted, receiving an astronomical (and completely implausible) $30.62 per paid signature. (Typical per-signature payments in California range from $3 to $8.)

Paying petition circulators per signature injected a corrosive effect into a democratic process: it increased the motivation of signature gatherers both to misrepresent facts and to pressure people in order to get them to sign. And indeed, a number of people reported such pressure and misrepresentations by signature gatherers.

This is a sad chapter in Santa Cruz politics. We hope and trust that Santa Cruz voters will vote No on the recalls, to stand up against big money buying their way into getting a recall election on the ballot.

For documentation from campaign finance reporting forms, go to:

This Press Release from Stop the Santa Cruz Recalls was originally published on January 29, 2020 here:
Add Your Comments

Comments (Hide Comments)
by Ed Porter
I love Indy Bay but I could never fit the recall proponents into the "Grassroots"category.

I have probably worked on hundreds of genuine "GRASSROOTS" campaigns and ALL of them featured two things:
First: Volunteer labor from locals, and
Second: SMALL individual contributions ONLY.

The PRO-recall campaign is neither.

Recallers relied HEAVILY on highly paid, signature gatherers, some underage (which is not legal), many from other communities like San Jose. (They knew nothing about Santa Cruz conditions but, had a good supply of lies to try to compensate.)

And they have more money from the real estate and developer community than any campaign in Santa Cruz history! Probably times 5 or more! Sure, they had a few local volunteers and some local money. But, it's been a tiny percentage of the BIG money and the highly paid workers. Sorry, these people are NOT grassroots. Capitalist maybe, but NOT grassroots. Follow the money!
You need to be looking at Singleton’s other connections. Downtown Forward and the campaign for the parking garage Library. Meyers and Matthews are behind this shell. This is the start of why they need the recall. They are using nonprofits to manipulate our town and we will pull the curtain, if enough people come forward to speak out. The Friends, The commissions, the Mah any organization they have access to the boards of is being manipulated to say they are for this garage. This is a push of unhealthy growth to gain money and power. We need to pull back and put resources into alternatives. They lack the imagination to see a new world is possible. It’s the begging of a fight they will lose. In mass communication their true desires will be seen. We need to address the under pinning of their greed. They will lose as the changing of the guard commences. There is another world with community over business. We must be vigilant.
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