WatchSonoma Watch

Last-minute surge of spending in 1st district supervisorial race


A surge of last-minute spending has sparked a final war of words between Susan Gorin and John Sawyer, the two candidates vying for the 1st District seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

The sparring has included proxies making independent expenditures on behalf of the two rivals, who are long-time opposites on the Santa Rosa City Council.

Susan Gorin, John Sawyer.

The money race has accelerated in the past week, with both direct campaign contributions and outside spending pouring more than $80,000 into the contest to replace retiring Supervisor Valerie Brown, campaign finance records show.

As she did earlier last month, Gorin outpaced Sawyer since Oct. 20, pulling in nearly $17,000 through Thursday, including more than $10,000 from two labor groups, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Operating Engineers Local 3.

Sawyer, who still leads the overall money race, collected almost $13,000 in the same period, including more than $7,000 from supporters with building and real estate interests.

The figures include contributions of at least $500 — one-time or in aggregate through this year — that were reported since the close of the last reporting period.

The last-minute cash has allowed the two campaigns to rachet up their attack advertisements in the district in the past two weeks. The region includes the city of Sonoma, Sonoma Valley and parts of eastern Santa Rosa.

Sawyer has insisted his campaign efforts and those of the groups supporting him have only been in response to a “first punch” thrown by Gorin and her allies.

“I can say without this support I would not have been able to respond to the campaign against me,” Sawyer said. “It’s only been very recently that we’ve moved negative.”

Gorin disputed that claim and alleged that Sawyer’s larger campaign coffers, plus the greater outside spending that has favored him has resulted in a four-to-one advantage in mailers for her rival.

“He has been critical of me since the first day after the primary,” said Gorin. “People I talk with at their doors, they can’t believe the number of mailers they’ve received from him.”

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 20, Sawyer reported nearly $282,000 in contributions, including a $16,300 loan. He spent about $265,000 over that period.

Gorin reported more than $218,000 in contributions and about $176,000 in spending.

The latest surge in outside money has heavily favored Sawyer. Since Oct. 20, two groups have spent more than $40,000 on activity supporting him or opposing Gorin. In the same period, outside spending in Gorin’s favor was reported at just over $13,000.

Allies for Sawyer include the Sonoma Jobs Action League, backed primarily by the Sonoma County Alliance, a coalition of local business interests, and the California Real Estate Association. The jobs league reported spending more than $25,000 since Oct. 20.

The other group supporting Sawyer, an independent expenditure committee formed by the California Real Estate Association and linked to the North Bay Association of Realtors, added more than $15,000.

Reports detailing their spending included an apparent error that prompted inquiries by county elections officials Friday and a scramble by representatives of the real estate association to fix what they called a “mistake.”

Their initial report, including $59,000 in expenditures to date in the race, listed a $14,600 payment directly to Sawyer for polling. Such a transaction would have violated rules governing independent expenditure committees, which cannot contribute directly to candidates or their campaigns. From any other entity, the payment also would have exceeded campaign contribution limits, currently at $5,250 per reporting period in the race.

Lotus Lou, a spokeswoman for the California Real Estate Association, said the form should have noted the payment was made to a Washington-based political consulting firm for polling in the county race.

The association was filing an amended form with the county to make that clear, she said. No payment was made to Sawyer from the independent committee and none of the polling results were shared with his campaign, she added.

Rob Muelrath, Sawyer’s political consultant, said the campaign had received no money from the independent group and that the campaign had paid for its own polling. He cited campaign finance documents to bolster his defense.

For Gorin, the $13,000 in recent outside spending came mostly from two divisions of SEIU, representing local government employees and health care workers. It was funneled through a group called the Coalition for a Better Sonoma County.

From the start of the year to Nov. 1, outside spending favoring Sawyer totaled more than $98,000. The amount in support of Gorin topped $71,000.

Both candidates voiced some discomfort with the tenor and influence of outside advertising in the race and the latest round of back-and-forth mudslinging.

In an interview by phone Friday afternoon, Sawyer shared some relief Election Day was near.

“Four days and counting,” he said, describing the past week as a “whirlwind.”

“We talked about this after the primary. I remember saying that at the end of the general (election) that I would not be unprepared for the pieces coming from my opponents. I believe that we have been well-prepared in this campaign.”

Reached by phone Friday evening, Gorin said the hard-fought battle was no surprise to her, given the issues at stake for the county and her staunch rivalry Sawyer.

“I knew the tenor of this campaign was going to be exactly that,” she said.

She was speaking by cell phone from a local post office, where mailers from both sides occupied considerable space in the garbage bin.

“I have my own defense to do,” she said of her mailers. “The things that I paid for, that our campaign has paid for, that I take responsibility for, are factual.”

She added, “hopefully voters will be sifting through the nastiness and making a reasonable choice.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.)

16 Responses to “Last-minute surge of spending in 1st district supervisorial race”

  1. Barney Wilkenson says:

    John Sawyer is supported by two of the biggest public safety unions and out of state real estate PACS. That worries me. He is also endorsed by the Sonoma Alliance PAC which is notorious for sending that dirty racist mailer for David Rabbit. Sorry these are not the folks I want representing my district. I am voting for Susan Gorin because she is endorsed by Sonoma Conservation Action and the Sierra Club.

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  2. It bothers me that all Susan’s support comes from big unions, with big pensions, and she claims that John Sawyer is bought by the unions that support her. It’s plain inaccurate. John is a local resident, supported by local people. Susan is trying to buy her way into our district

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  3. Kay Tokerud says:

    Susan Gorin is quitting her city council job after only two years! Sawyer served his entire term. He completed his service, she did not. If she wins there will be an additional city council vacancy which will probably end up being an appointment made by the majority. Then you end up with someone that nobody voted for. Make Gorin finish her last 2 years before giving her a Supervisor’s position that pays much more than the city council position. She’s quitting her job and she moved to get the big money. Sawyer deserves the Supervisor’s post, Gorin does not.

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  4. Redwood says:


    I just received the worst political mailer of the season, put out by Friends of John Sawyer.

    I was on the fence, but the stench of this thing put me over.

    It’s the “4 reasons to oppose” mailer. It’s really an ugly piece, and It’s frightening that somebody of Sawyer’s stature (I think he does on ok job on the council) would put this thing together and pump it out the day before the poll boothers vote.

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  5. Barney Wilkenson says:

    Susan Gorin suits our district and the county to a T. She cares about the environment and our beautiful county and she’s willing to work with business. She is smart enough to know that the it is the lush and lovely environment itself that brings business and tourism dollars. There are not a lot of people (sorry Mr Fogel) running up to see Gunterville, Alabama. Most of us live here because we care about healthy living in a clean and pristine environment. We are justifiably proud of the Sonoma Valley and Valley of the Moon and thankful to get to live in such a beautiful land. We don’t want it sold off to the real estate interests and big business developers that support John Sawyer (along with the Republican party)

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  6. chatnoir11 says:

    So exactly how long does a person have to live in a district to be a legitimate candidate? And many blocks in from teh district border? Someone in the center of the district is better than folks on the edge? Susan Gorin appears to have met the requirements of the law, and that’s all that is needed. The length of time a person lives there does not in any way indicate they are a better candidate. Just means they lived there longer. And based on the personal and nasty cartoons being sent by John Sawyer’s supoorters, he must be truly frightened by her competency. No flyers on why Susan Gorin is not qualified– just that she moved. Sorry Sawyer supporters, but your multitude of flyers and phone calls never told me why John Sawyer is better qualified. Rather they just showed you to be petty and with no real reason to vote against Susan Gorin.

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  7. bill me says:

    well Mockingbird-why didn’t Gorin run for 3rd District? Who cares how the boundaries “almost redistricted” Sawyer out too? they didn’t. He is running in his actual District. Sounds like you would vote for Gorin if she decided to run in Arkansas. I can dream can’t I?

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  8. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    As for you people who still continue to say Gorin is a carpetbagger please remember she was districted out of the district. The line was moved FOUR BLOCKS FROM HER HOUSE. FOUR BLOCKS. Sawyer is 4 blocks into the district. He was nearly districted out too.
    Susan will represent us in the 1st district. In fact, if you look at the job the BOS does, everyone of them represents the whole county. That’s their job, to make COUNTY WIDE DECISIONS.
    Vote Susan Gorin because she cares about education, our neighborhoods, and the issues of middleclass workers and their families. She is also the ONLY green candidate-don’t let Sawyer fool you.

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  9. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I AM REALLY ANGRY. I received a “DEMOCRATIC VOTER GUIDE” in the mail yesterday and it was down the line everything that the REAL Democratic voter guide endorsed EXCEPT JOHN SAWYER’S NAME IS LISTED FIRST. I know for a fact that the Democratic party endorsed Susan Gorin. This is a cheat people. I think it came from the Sawyer campaign. I got a call form the Sawyer people who’s first sentence was “did you know Susan Gorin is a job killer”? What kind of person IS John Sawyer that he would sanction this?. I call for Susan and we don’t say things like this about John. Lies.

    In teeny tiny letters there is a disclaimer that it’s basicly not the REAL DEMOCRATIC NOTICE and that it really isn’t an endorsement of anything. If you are a Democrat please make sure you use the REAL democratic voter information and if you are union, your union slate. DON’T BE DECEIVED!!!!!

    Vote for Gorin.

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  10. Missy says:

    Gorin – loves to raise our taxes

    Sawyer – same only LESS LIKELY to vote on tax raises.

    Your choice. I voted for Sawyer.

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  11. Bill me says:

    Voters should not get confused over the issues here. She will let that rental house in Oakmont go Nov 7. She is not one of us. Just look at what her buddy Marty Bennett just did-he sued SR over a pro-business grocery zoning issue. Don’t reward the “carpetbagger” Gorin. She doesn’t live in the 1st District.

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  12. Melissa Speer says:

    Susan Gorin is the most honest, straightforward, hardworking and thoughtful person I have ever met. Her desire is to work for and with the community to achieve a reasonable balance between competing interests. Not an easy task.

    To simplify and vilify her positions is reckless. Take time to really listen to what she is saying and what it is she is trying to achieve. She is not a person in the pocket of one side or another; but someone who cares about the community as a whole. The attempt to paint her as an extremist is ridiculous.

    I am speaking as someone who lived in Sonoma Valley for 25 years and cares about its future.

    Vote for Gorin.

    Melissa Speer

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  13. James Bennett says:

    Steveguy has it right.

    Moderate or Marxist.

    Our freedoms are in big trouble right now.

    More “representation” from the Wysockys Gorins and Valerie Browns and we’ll be screwed even faster.

    This oppression and the conciousness are in a race, we need to give people a chance to catch up.
    Slow it down so people can figure out what’s really goin’ on.

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  14. Kay Tokerud says:

    Right on, Steveguy. That’s exactly it. She has drunk the Kool-aid of transforming our cities and way of life. She wants people to get out of the suburban and rurual areas and move into transit- oriented development, smartgrowth. She hasn’t done it, none of them have but she thinks it’s good enough for the rest of us. Vote sawyer for 1st District Supervisor.

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  15. Larry says:

    I you want to see the cost of Sonoma County government and services increase over the next four years, vote for John Sawyer. I don’t think that John Sawyer has ever met a public employee pay and benefit and/or Santa Rosa City Fee Increase he hasn’t liked. I have watched many times while city residents attended City Council meetings to speak on various items under consideration only to watch John Sawyer offer a glib comment to the public and then vote along with Olivares, Ours, and Bartley to raise employee salaries and city fees.

    I think that Sonoma County governemt needs new supervisors that are interested in the welfare of the county not on collecting a salary and benefit package of over $150,000 for a part time job.

    I also think that tazpayers should look at what pension system changes have been approved at all levels of local government. Based on what I have observed, all of the changes votes on buy the city council members or supervisors have just been cosmetic changes.


    In reqart to being able to move into a district just to qualify for a new elected position, I think that there should be a minimum of one year residency requirement before being able to run for any office.

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  16. Steveguy says:

    I have done work all over the 1st district. My sons have both lived in the valley, and one even married a Sonoma girl.

    If the 1st district is fooled by Gorin’s carpetbagging or the obvious goal of the destruction of the valley’s way of life would astound me.

    Gorin wants you OFF your property, and be more ‘transit oriented’. She is entwined into the plan that has been hatched.

    She is the type that wants your roads to be gravel.

    I would encourage a vote for Sawyer. At least he has some legacy and caring.

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