Questionable contributions mar SLO County’s supervisorial campaigns

Supervisor Bruce Gibson

By KAREN VELIE

With the majority of seats on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors up for grabs, special interest groups and individuals are donating large amounts of cash to the candidates who support their agendas.

Seven candidates are currently vying for three supervisorial seats. The candidates differ on several key issues including redistricting, local cannabis regulations and groundwater management. Generally, Democratic candidates support privatizing the Paso Robles Water Basin, looser cannabis regulations and a lawsuit challenging district boundary maps, issues most Republican candidates oppose.

On June 7, SLO County voters in districts 2, 3 and 4 will vote in the supervisorial races.

District 2

The district runs along the coast from San Simeon to Cayucos, and inland picking up San Miguel and Atascadero. It currently has more Republicans than Democrats, though the exact number is difficult to determine, as the county’s voter registration has not yet been updated to reflect current district boundaries.

Geoff Auslen

Supervisor Bruce Gibson, a Democrat, is facing two Republican challengers: Dr. Bruce Jones and Geoff Auslen.

Gibson, a resident of Cayucos, raised $69,331 in total contributions, including $2,000 he loaned himself.

Matthew Turrentine, a former director of the Paso Robles Agriculture Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS), a group that promoted a ballot measure to privatize the Paso Robles ground water basin, donated $2,000 to Gibson’s campaign. In 2016, Gibson helped Turrentine spearhead the measure, which nearly 80% of voters rejected.

Nevertheless, Turrentine, Gibson and others continue to promote water banking and privatization.

Developer Gary Grossman and “Das Williams for Supervisor” each donated $1,000 to Gibson’s campaign. Williams, a Santa Barbara County supervisor, is battling allegations that he drafted policies that benefited people in the marijuana industry who donated to his campaign.

For years, Gibson and former District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill argued that because Californians voted to legalize pot, the county should not restrict cannabis cultivation.

Under expenses, Gibson lists $3,000 to Tribune columnist Tom Fulks for campaign consulting and $613 to Nick Andre’s business Kumani for web design. Aside from running web and consulting services, Andre was a top employee of marijuana mogul Helios Dayspring.

Dayspring pleaded guilty in Dec. 2021 to one count of bribery and one count of filing a false tax return. Dayspring admitted to paying thousands of dollars in bribes to then-SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill for favorable votes on his cannabis business interests. An FBI investigation into allegations of corruption in SLO County is ongoing.

Geoff Auslen, a resident of Atascadero and small business owner, raised $33,908 in total contributions, including a $25,000 loan to himself.

Auslen’s largest donor was Tom Jones, a government affairs director at PG&E, donating $2,500. Tom Jones’ wife Jamie Jones has worked closely with Dayspring, helping the controversial cannabis kingpin secure permits.

Auslen also received $1,000 donations each from former Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley and Robert “Grigger” Jones, a former attorney and partner of developer Kelly Gearhart. Both O’Malley and Jamie Jones assisted Gearhart in moving his projects through the city of Atascadero.

In 2015, the disgraced developer was sentenced to 14 years in prison for wire fraud and money laundering, a sentence which was later reduced to nine years.

Dr. Bruce Jones is a retired orthopedic surgeon. He is the chair of the Templeton Area Advisory Group. Jones entered the race following the 2021 reporting period.

District 3

The district includes Grover Beach, Pismo Beach and a portion of San Luis Obispo. It has 5,729 more Democrats than Republicans.

Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg

Former District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill committed suicide after FBI agents raided his home and his office in the county building. Governor Gavin Newsom then appointed Dawn Ortiz-Legg to finish his term.

Ortiz-Legg, a Democrat, and Stacey Korsgaden, a Republican, are vying to finish the remaining two years of Hill’s term.

In 2021, Ortiz-Legg raised $113,042 in total contributions. During the same period, Korsgaden’s campaign contributions totaled $98,118, which included a $6,000 loan Korsgaden made to her campaign.

Ortiz-Legg’s largest donors were primary developers and business owners. Mindbody’s Rick Stollmeyer and investor John Wilson donated $7,500 each.

Stacy Korsgaden

Matthew Turrentine, the former director of PRAAGS, donated $2,500 to Ortiz-Legg’s campaign. He continues to promote water banking and privatization.

Developer Gary Grossman and Das Williams for Supervisor each donated $1,000 to Ortiz-Legg’s campaign.

Korsgaden’s largest donor, Maureen Cooney Hughes (the wife of billionaire B. Wayne Hughes, Jr.), donated $10,000. The Hughes regularly donate to Republican candidates.

Thousand Hills Ranch, an event venue in the Pismo Beach area, and Tribune columnist Joseph Rouleau, donated $3,500 each to Korsgaden’s campaign.

District 4

District 4, which includes Nipomo, Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley and Pozo, has more Republicans than Democrats, giving incumbent Supervisor Lynn Compton, a registered Republican, a slight advantage over Jimmy Paulding, a registered Democrat.

Supervisor Lynn Compton

Compton raised $181,664 in total contributions. During the same period, Paulding’s campaign contributions totaled $358,218, the most among all supervisorial candidates in 2021.

Compton’s largest donor was Legacy Village, a residential drug and alcohol treatment center for veterans owned by Dennis Farmer. The Nipomo-based business donated $10,000.

Compton also received a pair of $6,875 donations from retired Cambria resident Nancy Flam and land use consultant Jamie Jones. Jones has worked closely with Helios Dayspring, helping the controversial cannabis kingpin move his projects through the county.

Paulding led with the largest single donation of the campaign season, $12,000 from Bill Moffett, a San Fransisco-based construction consultant.

Arroyo Grande Councilman Jimmy Paulding

Dick Mazess, a proponent of relaxed marijuana regulations, donated $5,900 to Paulding’s campaign. Another strong proponent of cannabis businesses, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams, donated $1,000.

SLO County Citizens for Good Government and three SLO County residents are challenging the county’s redistricting, saying that it was adopted to benefit the Republican Party at the expense of Democrats including Paulding. Two of the people behind the group, Jim Gardiner and Rick Terborch, each donated $258 to Paulding.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in Paso Robles, even though none of the parties live in North County. But, the complaint maintains the place where the suit was filed was proper because the supervisors’ action affects the entire county.

The suit was then assigned to the only civil judge in the Paso Robles branch court, Hernaldo Baltodano. Erica Baltodano, the judge’s wife, is on a board with one of the plaintiffs and also represents Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg on the Civil Service Commission.

Erica Baltodano donated $760 to Paulding’s campaign in August. Judge Hernaldo Baltodano disqualified himself in late January from hearing the lawsuit because of conflicts of interest.

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