Running a campaign in Lodi has become increasingly expensive over the years, as candidates blanket the city with hundreds of yard signs, brochures, newspaper ads and even TV commercials. As costs climb, so does the need for donations, which often tally $20,000 or more per candidate.
About 30 years ago, Lodi City Council members raised significantly less money. During the 1982 election year, Councilman Fred Reid was the top earner, with $2,780.
Donation totals remained stagnant for more than 10 years and started to rise in the ’90s. Phil Pennino successfully ran in 1992 after he received $2,999 in donations. During his failed re-election bid only 10 years later, he was up to $28,540 — about a 950 percent increase.
The highest contribution went to former city manager Dixon Flynn’s campaign. He received $36,856 in addition to loaning himself $11,461. He still did not win.
During recent elections, it is commonplace for candidates to receive $20,000 or more during an election.
Most council members say the increased costs are due to the need for name recognition, which requires a blitz of advertising.
“You have your select group of friends who are going to vote for you whether you raise money or not,” Councilman Bob Johnson said. “But there are 26,000 voters that don’t know you. You need to get your name out and build some identification.”
With thousands of dollars floating around every campaign season, how do council members avoid being influenced by donors?
During his time on the council, Larry Hansen has never rejected a donation and has raised $41,945 over two council campaigns. He also has never had someone say, “I donated to your campaign, so you owe me this favor.”
“I try to be very clear on what people’s expectations are if I am accepting a fairly significant contribution,” he said.
Because she has been in politics for 25 years, Councilwoman Susan Hitchcock said everyone knows they cannot influence her vote. If anyone tried, she said she would disclose it at a public meeting. She has raised $38,677 since 1998.
Hitchcock said she has probably refused donations, but she did not give any examples. The main reason she would turn down a donation is to prevent public perception that she owed any favors.
“That’s a reason that you would turn something down; not that you ever feel like they are going to buy your vote, but simply because someone might perceive it that way,” she said.
Candidates, donors and especially the voters need to study where the money is flowing, said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Money has its place in politics, he said, as long as campaign donations don’t influence decisions.
“Some candidates have the intestinal fortitude to accept a campaign donation and not be influenced,” Coupal said. “But those are few and far between.”
He said candidates need to raise money from a variety of community sources.
“Over-reliance on one interest group is one sign that there will at least be the perception of impropriety,” he said.
While he has never rejected a donation, Mayor Phil Katzakian said he would avoid large ones. His top supporter, Bennett Development, donated $1,750 during his 2006 campaign when he raised $28,104 total.
“If someone wanted to give me $10,000, I would wonder what I am on the hook for. ... I would probably be inclined to turn down a big chunk of money because I’m not sure it would look good either way,” Katzakian said.
Katzakian does not believe his donors expect anything because he knows them and they understand his views.
“I feel bad for somebody who donates a lot of money and thinks they are going to get a vote,” he said.
If any strings are attached to a contribution, then Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce said she would not take it.
“You are not giving any guarantee that you are going to support them. What you are giving is your ear. But it’s extended to everyone, whether it is my neighbor or the guy who gave me a $99 check,” Mounce said.
Mounce has raised $42,587 since 2002, and she has never refused a donation.
Only once has a donor tried to suggest she vote a certain way. In 2004, she had a donor call her after the election and tell her to vote for a certain candidate for mayor. She did not follow the donor’s wishes.
“I was flabbergasted because never did I promise to do what he said. ... I’m not going to vote for someone because someone else tells me to,” Mounce said.
Sometimes there are other reasons a council member might reject a donation. Bob Johnson, who has raised $79,507 since 1998, has never rejected a donation.
But during the last election, he told donors to stop giving because he already raised $20,000, which was enough money.
“If I haven’t gotten my message out now, another $3,000 would not help,” he said.