Monday, October 10, 2016

More on the Financial Backers of 'TUSD Kids First'

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 11:15 AM

A few weeks ago I posted about the independent expenditure campaign, TUSD Kids First. The main takeaway was that TKF had collected a total of $35,150, most of it from five local businesspeople: Committee Chair Jimmy Lovelace, $3,334; Treasurer Kathleen Campbell, $8,170;  Cody Richie, $7,500; Jim Click, $7,500; and Tom Regina, $5,000. At the time, the TUSD board candidates and TKF had submitted their Pima County campaign finance reports listing their contributions through Aug. 18. Since then, a new set of finance reports have been filed which include contributions through Sept. 19. The only new contribution to TKF was from Jimmy Lovelace for $216.05. However, new contributions to the candidates reveal more about the priorities of the independent expenditure committee.

TDK appears to have two main objectives. The first, which has been clear since the IE began in February, is to get rid of either or both of two current board members, Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster. That would shift the balance of power to a new board majority, replacing the current majority formed by Juarez, Foster and Adelita Grijalva to one which included Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks. The second objective, which has become clearer with the most recent financial statements, is to elect Brett Rustand as a member of the new majority. 

Three of the major TKF contributors, Ritchie, Campbell and Flake, have been active in contributing to individual board candidates. Let's go through them one by one.

We'll begin with Cody Ritchie, even though at $7,500, he's not the largest TKF contributor, nor is he one of the two people running the committee. The reason to begin with Ritchie is, he's the principal owner and president of Crest Insurance Group. Board candidate Brett Rustand is a vice president at Crest, one of more than twenty employees with that title; it's a large company. That means Ritchie is Rustand's boss and most likely would be delighted to see his employee sitting on the TUSD board. Ritchie is a generous political donor who has given over $100,000 to political candidates over the past ten years, exclusively Republican candidates, including most recently, more than $5,000 to Donald Trump. His one contribution to a 2016 TUSD board candidate was for $1,000 to Brett Rustand. He gave $1,500 to Michael Hicks' reelection campaign in 2014.

Next is Kathleen Campbell who gave $8,170 to TKF and is its treasurer. She isn't listed as giving any contributions to board candidates. However, her husband James gave $1,000 to Mark Stegeman's campaign and another $1,000 to Brett Rustand. Other than their contributions related to TUSD board races, the Campbells aren't big political donors. The only other recent contribution I found was $1,250 to Martha McSally's reelection campaign.

On her contribution to TKF, Kathleen listed her occupation as "Home Builder" with Mesquite Homes, the company she and James own, and for her address she used their downtown business office. On his contribution to Stegeman, James listed his home address and left both his occupation and employer blank, making it more difficult to connect James to Kathleen than if they had listed the same occupation and address. For his $1,000 contribution to Rustand, he used the name Jim instead of James and again used his home address. He listed his occupation as "Developer" rather than "Home Builder" as Kathleen did, and Oasis Tucson instead of Mesquite Homes as the company name. Oasis Tucson is the original registered name for Mesquite Homes. It looks very much like Kathleen and James are trying to obscure their connection to one another in the three financial reports.

In the 2014 TUSD board election, the Campbells gave $2,500 to Michael Hicks' reelection campaign and $2,302 to Debe Campos-Fleenor's campaign, both of whom were also supported financially by Mark Stegeman. Hicks won. If Campos-Fleenor had won as well, it would have moved the board majority into Stegeman's camp.

The Campbells have a larger financial stake in the decisions made by the TUSD board than any other TKF contributor. Their company, listed sometimes as Oasis Tucson and sometimes as Mesquite Homes, placed bids to purchase three of the schools closed by TUSD in recent years, most likely so they could build homes on the properties: a $3,500,000 bid on Townsend, a $1,100,000 bid on Van Horne and a $1,656,000 bid on Wrightstown. All three school sites went to other bidders. A board which favored further school closures would increase the Campbells' opportunities for buying district property in the future, and a  friendlier board majority could improve their chances of coming up winners in the bidding process.

Next is Jim Click of Jim Click Automotive who gave $7,500 to TKF. Click is a generous contributor to local organizations, and he also gives generously to political campaigns. He's given over a million dollars in political contributions over the past decade to state and national Republican committees and candidates. He and his wife Vicki each contributed $6,250 to Brett Rustand's campaign. The total of the two contributions, $12,500, is a little under half of the $28,284 Rustand has collected. Those are by far the most generous contributions the Clicks have made in recent TUSD board elections. Previously, they gave $2,000 to Michael Hicks and $2,500 to Debe Campos-Fleenor in 2014 and $430 to Mark Stegeman in 2012.

Neither Jimmy Lovelace nor Tom Regina have contributed to any of the board candidates' campaigns.

Summing up: Rustand received more than half of his total contributions, $14,500, from three major contributors to TUSD Kids First. Stegeman received $1,000. None of the TKF donors contributed any money to the campaign of Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, though the IE lists her as one of the three candidates it endorses along with Rustand and Stegeman.

A Note About Stegeman's Campaign Self Funding. Based on the contributions to candidates, it appears that Rustand is by far TKF's favorite candidate with Stegeman coming in a distant second. However, it may be that the group's affection for Stegeman is greater than is indicated by their contributions. The reason is, Stegeman has a history of self-funding a major portion of his previous two campaigns and may not need the extra help their contributions would provide.

When Stegeman first ran for the board in 2008, he contributed $15,500 to his own campaign and received about $3,350 from other contributors. In 2012, he loaned his campaign $38,600, all of which he spent, and received about $10,000 from contributors.

So far in this campaign, Stegeman has only loaned himself $3,500, but that's no indication of how much of his own funds he's willing to spend. In his 2012 campaign, he didn't make his first loan of $10,000 to his campaign until Oct. 11, so it didn't show up on his campaign finance report until Nov. 2, a few days before the election. He loaned the rest of the $28,600 to his campaign well after the election was over. About $20,000 of his contributions came more than a year later.

So, based on his contributions to his past elections, if Stegeman needs to spend thousands of dollars more than he receives in contributions, he will be able to self-fund whatever it takes to pay his expenses. He doesn't seem to need the financial assistance of the big TKF donors.

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