The largest donations in the history of Manteca municipal politics were a pair of $5,000 checks written in the 2018 mayoral election.
One was a $5,000 donation to Steve DeBrum’s re-election campaign by the Punjabi-American Association of Manteca (PAAM).
The other $5,000 donation was made to Cantu by Eliberto Cantu of Texas.
DeBrum lost to Ben Cantu despite out spending him 2 to 1.
The second largest donation on record was $4,000 made by PAAM. It went to Debby Moorhead in 2010 in her unsuccessful effort to unseat them mayor Willie Weatherford.
In both elections the eventual winner devoted significantly more effort to in person campaigning and had a campaign organization that was more effective.
The donations underscore the dubious nature of limiting Manteca campaign donations to a lower level than the now $4,700 they will default to under state law if local jurisdictions it to not adopt their own per person cap on donations.
Limiting contributions are seen by some as a way of bringing about better election outcomes.
Of course when they mean “better election outcomes” they mean electing candidates who are in synch with their view of the world.
The Manteca City Council when they meet tonight at 7 p.m. will ponder whether to set lower donation limits. If they do so they will also take on the responsibility of enforcing such limits.
There is little doubt it is costing more to run for office given everything costs more from signs to mailers.
But is there a straight correlation between money spent and the election of a candidate?
The 2020 election, thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns, provided a pretty good insight as candidates were forced for the most part to abandon one-on-one contacts and group gatherings in favor of mailers, signs, and social media efforts.
Gary Singh was the highest vote getter in city history with 16,682 votes. He also set the fundraising record of $76,068. The second place finisher, Charlie Halford, spent $21,616 as opposed to the $40,000 plus Singh did. Singh topped Halford by 1,685 votes. Singh spent 100 percent more money but only got 1,685 votes or 12 percent more votes than the 14,497 Halford collected.
And Halford edged out the No. 3 finisher Debby Moorhead in spending months $21,616 to $20,269 but collected 70 percent more than her 8,503 votes.
Fred Cunha finished just 225 votes or 3 percent behind Moorhead despite being outspent roughly 3 to 1.
You can read the numbers a lot of ways but clearly having a lot of money did not necessarily translate into more votes per dollar spent for the council races.
So why aren’t people who push for election caps getting the results “they” want specifically on the local level?
First, there is the obvious answer that might qualify as the trite “inconvenient truth.”
The majority of people may not be all that dissatisfied with the direction Manteca is headed and view growth either as a fact of life or a necessary evil.
Second, outside of making their dissatisfaction known on social media and other platforms they are making no serious effort to organize a “movement” to get the change they want. Saying you’re going to start a recall or push for a specific government policy or even an amenity such as an aquatics center that there clearly weren’t a significant enough of people passionate about it other than to say they wanted one is a lot different than actually doing something about it.
Let’s take growth for instance. The horses may seem like they are out of the proverbial barn, but the barn hasn’t been razed.
It might sound like a bit of a convoluted analogy but consider what people in Tracy that didn’t like the fast pace of growth did just a decade ago. Tracy had thousands of entitled lots that had the legal right to build homes on although not nearly as much as the 9,000 or so Manteca has today.
A significant grassroots effort that went beyond simply complaining on social media and making sharp statements at council meeting forced the issue. It took a lot of time, organizing, and face-to-face gatherings. To avoid protracted legal battles a compromise was struck treating the entitled lots in place different than new projects going forward.
Tracy is two to four years from hitting 100,000 residents but you can argue the reset has helped address many concerns.
This was done by a community-based group looking for a candidate instead of waiting for a candidate to emerge that would carry their water.
Developers theatrically could have spent those wanting a tighter control on growth into oblivion. It didn’t happen because there was a “real” movement that simply wasn’t an echo reverberating through the Internet
There is also a wild assumption that developers somehow are buying the election.
It is painted as if the developers have elected officials in their back pockets.
Let’s take the envisioned Raymus Parkway, or whatever it is being called this week, as the prime example. This was not driven by the development community but rather city planners. A lot of people don’t want it, yet it is going in. The development community is accommodating it as the city is conditioning maps for it through their projects while telling residents impacted by it that there is no official route adoption.
The roadway, as it passes through new projects, adds to the cost of building homes. Developers aren’t advocating it or embracing it. They are simply doing what they are told to do.
You also need to look at the source of funding for campaigns and the local economy. If you group developers and the building community together, they are the No. 1 dollar amount for campaign contributions.
Yet besides the big local names — Raymus, Atherton, and Filios and their affiliates — development firms per se are not the big source of money. They are the construction unions, cabinet makers, construction firms and such.
Keep in mind the $14,000 that represent the biggest contributions in Manteca campaign history came from civic organizations and an individual from Texas and not developers.
There are a lot of agricultural interests including those that have farmland in the path of development. And there are a lot of businesses and their associations they support such as PAAM.
Setting a lower campaign threshold might create the illusion that somehow things will change but it is just that — an illusion.
If election outcomes aren’t to your liking the best way to change things is to get boots on the ground and go beyond letting off steam on social media.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com