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Eugene Weekly : 05.13.04

Buying an Election

Developers back Nathanson, Denner, Slocum, Meisner with big bucks.



Actually buying votes is illegal. But buying the expensive ads that get you votes is enshrined in the Constitution, courts have said. And in the hotly contested fight this election over who will control local government, developers are spending big bucks for votes.

Developers who stand to cash in on urban sprawl, freeways and weak environmental regulations have pumped cash into Nancy Nathanson's bid for mayor and into a slate of similarly pro-sprawl council candidates.

Development interests — including developers, builders, real estate speculators, construction companies and local land and timber barons — contributed a total of $38,000 to Nathanson's campaign as of May 9. Local big business and wealthy conservatives helped kick in another $24,000. In total Nathanson has reported $62,000 in campaign contributions.


Chamber PAC

Nathanson's biggest contributor is the Eugene Chamber of Commerce political action committee. The Chamber PAC donated $3,618 directly to Nathanson and is also apparently supporting her campaign with tens of thousands of dollars more in survey and political consultant work.

The Chamber PAC is itself funded largely by big development interests. The PAC has amassed $54,000 in contributions over the past two years, $36,000 of it from development interests.

The Chamber of Commerce has 1,200 members, but its PAC is funded by only a small group of wealthy pro-sprawl and anti-environmental interests. Twenty-one donors who contributed $1,000 or more account for nearly nine out of 10 dollars that the PAC has raised. The average contribution to the PAC is nearly $600.

The Papé family was the largest contributor to the Chamber PAC, giving $5,050. The Papé Group sells heavy equipment to developers and road builders and owns the Sanipac garbage company.

The Chambers family and associated companies contributed $3,500 to the Chamber of Commerce PAC. Carolyn Chambers owns Chambers Construction and Chambers Communications (KEZI).

Gretchen Pierce and her companies gave the PAC $3,250. Pierce's family profits from development and timber.

Donors associated with Duncan & Brown (real estate analysis), the Giustina family (land speculation and timber), Hamilton construction, Jerry's Home Improvement, Michael Schwartz (M. Jacobs Furniture), and Charles Warren (Excalibur Cutlery) gave $3,000 each.

The Giustinas contributed thousands more to the Chamber PAC indirectly. The Giustinas gave $3,000 to the Repeal Unfair Taxes PAC. The Unfair Taxes PAC then gave $4,466 to the Chamber PAC in in-kind and cash donations.

Sand, gravel and construction companies were also big donors to the PAC. Delta gave $2,000, Wildish gave $1,300, Egge $1,000, and Eugene Sand & Gravel $1,000. Rexius Forest Products, landscaping supplier, gave $1,000. Developer and lumberman J.P. Hammer gave another $1,000.

Pro-sprawl business interests were the other big funder of the Chamber PAC, contributing a total of $17,000. Developer Rob Bennett, owner of the Downtown Athletic Club, gave $2,000 and business lawyers at Gaydos Churnside gave $1,000. The local Pepsi bottling company gave another $1,000.

Hynix Semiconductor, beneficiary of more than $40 million in city tax breaks and permits to destroy dozens of acres of wetlands, also gave $1,000 to the Chamber PAC.

Nathanson Donors

After the Chamber PAC, the Giustina family and their companies were the next largest contributor to Nathanson. The Giustinas gave Nathanson a total of $3,600. The Wildish clan gave $3,000 and the Papés gave $2,875.

The state's leading pro-sprawl lobbying groups, the Homebuilders Association and Realtors PACs, each gave Nathanson $2,000.

The Gonyea family, land speculators that sold Hynix property for its factory, gave Nathanson $1,050. Greg Demers, a land speculator hoping to cash in on the West Eugene Parkway, gave another $1,000. The McKay and Connor families of real estate investors gave $1,000 each. Triad Hospital, hoping to locate a facility in Eugene with taxpayer subsidies, gave another $1,000. PeaceHealth hospital CEO Alan Yordy gave Nathanson $500 through his registered business, The Infinity Group.

Construction interests including Chambers, Hamilton, Rexius and the Delta, Egge and Eugene Sand & Gravel companies gave $1,000 each to Nathanson. Other conservative business interests including Bennett, Nike board member John E. Jaqua, welding supplier Industrial Source and Tyree Oil also gave $1,000 each to Nathanson.

Many of Nathanson's biggest funders are also big contributors to George Bush and local right-wing causes. The Giustinas recently gave $50,000 to the Republican National Committee's efforts to re-elect Bush and his friends. The Wildish clan recently gave $2,000 to Republicans nationally, $5,000 for the pro-Parkway campaign two years ago and $2,000 to the Gang of 9's attack ads against city council progressives.

Demers recently gave $25,000 to national Republicans, $10,000 to Oregon Republicans, $10,000 for the West Eugene Parkway and $2,500 to the Gang of 9.

The Gonyeas gave Bush $8,000 last year, the national Republican party $25,000 and the Oregon Republican party $10,000. Delta Sand and Gravel gave $5,000 to the Parkway and $1,000 to the Gang of 9. Hamilton contributed $2,000 to the Parkway.

Almost a quarter of Nathanson's funding, including donations from the Gonyeas, Hamilton Construction and Demers, came from companies and individuals outside of Eugene.


Council Races

Many of the top contributors to Nathanson are also backing Maurie Denner, Scott Meisner and Tom Slocum for the city council. These three conservative candidates are largely funded by development interests. The Chamber PAC is the largest donor to Denner and Meisner's campaigns. The Homebuilders PAC has also invested big bucks in Denner and Slocum. Here's a look at the contributions these conservative council candidates reported as of May 9:


Maurie Denner, running for Ward 2, reported $17,000 in contributions. A total of $8,200 came from developer interests including $1,500 from the Chamber PAC.

Arlie & Company gave $1,000. Arlie is run by John Musumeci, the land speculator who made millions moving PeaceHealth to Springfield and funded tens of thousands of dollars of Gang of 9 attack ads against pro-environment city councilors.

Papé gave Denner $1,000, the Homebuilders Association PAC gave $750, Gonyea gave $700 and Wildish gave Denner $500. Seneca Jones Timber gave another $500.

Among donors who gave $250 each to Denner are: Cascade Title, Duncan & Brown, Giustina, McKay, PeaceHealth executive Skip Kriz, and the Delta and Eugene Sand and Gravel companies.

Marie & Ted Baker of the Baker family that owns The Register-Guard also gave $250. The Guard has endorsed Denner.

Scott Meisner, Ward 7, reported $7,221 in contributions. A total of $4,200 came from development interests, including $1,500 from the Chamber PAC, $650 from Giustina, $500 from Duncan & Brown, $500 from Triad and $300 from the Oregon Realtors PAC. Arlie also gave Meisner $2,000, but Meisner returned the money. Jack Roberts, the area's leading proponent of corporate tax breaks as head of the Lane Metro Partnership, gave $250 to Meisner.

Tom Slocum, Ward 1, reported $7,000 in contributions, $5,400 of which came from developer interests. An association of commercial investment real estate agents (CID) gave $700. The Homebuilders, Chambers, contractor Fred Wittkop and Cascade Title gave $500 each. Real Estate brokers Ward Beck and J.B. Buller gave $250 each and 14 other real estate brokers gave $100 each to Slocum, a registered Republican.


Battle of the Bucks

To counter the big developer bucks going into local elections, environmental and progressive candidates have raised similarly large amounts of money. Most of the donations have come from numerous small contributions from local environmentalists, progressives and labor unions.

Mayoral candidate Kitty Piercy reported $94,000 in contributions. That's more than Nathanson's total of $62,000. But with the Chamber backing Nathanson and conservative council candidates with a $38,000 war chest for this election, they are about even.

Piercy's large contributors include a $15,000 loan from Piercy's husband, $6,200 worth of in-kind work by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV) and $4,000 from the Eugene firefighters union.

Piercy also reported $1,000 donations from teacher Steve Adey, organic food producer Mel Bankoff, local property manager and environmentalist Tom Bowerman, James Gang Publishing, investor William Gilbert, Eugene Weekly part-owner Anita Johnson, brokerage business owner Deborah Noble, retiree Cary Thompson and LCC faculty member Mark Williams. The AFSCME city employee and the local Building Trade Council unions also gave $1,000 each.

The vast majority of Piercy's contributions were small, reflecting a broad base of support. Piercy reported 553 donations of $50 or less accounting for a total of $22,000 in total contributions. Nathanson reported a total of only $1,400 in such small contributions and didn't say how many she received. Reported contributions to Nathanson averaged $343.

Progressive council candidates Bonny Bettman, Betty Taylor and Andrea Ortiz reported smaller donations from many of the same sources as Piercy. Bettman and Taylor reported raising a total of about $11,000 each for their campaigns. Ortiz reported $9,000.

Some union members could conceivably benefit directly from electing a friendly mayor and council, but most of the other donors contributing to progressive candidates appear to have little to gain other than good government, healthy environment and livable quality of life.

The same can't be said for the development interests backing Nathanson, Denner, Slocum and Meisner. A city council vote can lead to tens of millions of dollars in freeway construction money to local contractors and sand and gravel companies. A new road, rezoning, or growth boundary extension can dramatically increase the value of land, giving a huge windfall to speculators. Taxes can be lowered for businesses or millions of dollars of tax breaks and other subsidies given.

A small group of pro-sprawl and developer interests is behind most of the cash fueling Nathanson, Denner, Meisner and Slocum's campaigns. Of the $135,000 combined total raised by the Chamber and individual conservative campaigns, $6 out of every $10 came from the 30 large companies and wealthy individuals who gave the most money. Those 30 special interests represent only 7 percent of the donors, but each gave more than $1,000.

Just 13 large donors (the top 3 percent) contributing more than $3,000 each account for almost half of the money raised for conservative candidates (see table). If cash does indirectly buy votes, these are the people who run Eugene.


Gang of 13

Top Donors Account for Nearly Half of Pro-Sprawl Cash

Giustina (land speculation and timber)    $10,550

Papé (Papé Group, heavy equipment, Sanipac)   $8,925

Chambers (construction and KEZI)    $5,000

Wildish (sand & gravel mining and construction)    $4,800

Hamilton Construction Company    $4,000

Gretchen Pierce (developer, timber)   $3,850

Duncan & Brown (real estate analysis)   $3,750

Charles Warren (Excalibur Cutlery)   $3,600

Delta Sand & Gravel (mining and construction)   $3,250

Oregon Homebuilders PAC    $3,250

Jerry's Home Improvement    $3,000

Rob Bennett (developer, Downtown Athletic Club owner)   $3,000

Michael Schwartz (M. Jacobs Furniture)    $3,000

Source: EW analysis of C&E reports for May election and last two years of Chamber PAC donations.

Totals combine donations of family members and companies associated with each special interest.