Progressive politicos and Wine Country VIPs line up to fund Sonoma County supervisor race

The fundraising reports also reveal a return to political action for the Sonoma County Alliance.|

David Rabbitt, Sonoma County’s longest-serving incumbent supervisor, has raised half as much money — and from far fewer donors — as his challenger, Blake Hooper, according to campaign finance filings that offer the first detailed look at the people and organizations lining up to support the dueling campaigns.

Hooper’s team preempted the Jan. 31 reporting deadline with a news release touting his donation haul at the beginning of the month. And after fundraising reports showed a large donor gap, Hooper, a Petaluma planning commissioner and former staffer for Congressman Jared Huffman, expressed confidence that his campaign had seized momentum.

“We didn’t know what David was going to raise,” Hooper said. “When we saw the total, we saw a very clear thing: The excitement is on our side.”

But Rabbitt, who is seeking his fourth term on the Board of Supervisors, said he is just now starting to campaign, citing commitments related to his job as supervisor.

“My opponent has been campaigning for several months, so it is no surprise he has individual donations,” Rabbitt said. “As we move into campaign season, I am now walking on weekends and evenings after work, and I am finding great enthusiasm for our campaign.”

The reports released this week show Hooper raised $70,815 in the second half of 2021, nearly doubling Rabbitt’s haul of $37,706.

But Rabbitt still maintains a large fundraising advantage, with $103,665 on hand after rolling over money raised from past races. That’s five times more than Hooper’s team has on hand after spending nearly $50,000 to campaign for the 2nd District seat, which represents Petaluma, Penngrove, Cotati and a sliver of Rohnert Park, as well as the rolling dairylands of southwest Sonoma County.

In a separate release this week, Hooper’s campaign touted a list of more than 200 individual donors, many with donations smaller than $100 that don’t require public disclosures. The publicly available donor list contains just over 100 individual entries, comprising a roster of well-known Petaluma progressives who gave multiple times — a tactic employed in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns.

It’s a good strategy, said Sonoma State University political science professor David McCuan.

“Since Rabbitt’s been there the longest…the key is to show a wide range of donors to indicate some kind of discontent with the incumbent, and a wide array of support on (Hooper’s) side,” McCuan said.

Hooper earned donations from former Petaluma City Council members Janice Cader-Thompson and David Glass, current members Dennis Pocekay and Teresa Barrett, Healdsburg vineyard owner Barbara Grasseschi — a high-profile local Democratic Party donor — and a host of Indivisible Petaluma members. But he has sought to distance himself from any narrative that would cast him as a candidate by, and for, progressive interests alone.

“We made sure to reach out to communities that should not be pre-sold on me, and communities that haven’t been reached out to,” Hooper said. “The conversation we have, it’s not about what kind of big-government program are we going to see. It’s about how we can have real partnerships to get long-standing issues taken care of.”

Rabbitt’s donors included Barbara Banke, head of the Jackson family wine empire, as well as Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, the California Real Estate Political Action Committee and the Sonoma County Alliance, a local business networking group.

Banke has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in past election cycles to political causes and candidates throughout the United States, many of them on the conservative side, including Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Josh Hawley, and Sens. Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell, federal campaign filings show. But Banke also gives to Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Rabbitt batted down any critique that would tie him to national conservative leaders.

“As a lifelong Democrat and running in nonpartisan races, from city council to supervisor, I believe people have varied interests and political motivations,” Rabbitt said. “The fact is Jackson Family Enterprises and Barbara Banke are residents and business owners of our county. Moreover, their enterprises are major tax contributors to the county. I do not keep track of what my supporters or contributors give to other races.”

The recently released fundraising reports also reveal a return to political action for the Sonoma County Alliance. The county’s preeminent business coalition largely abstained from campaign giving two years ago in the wake of backlash to inflammatory written comments by its then-president Doug Hilberman.

After Hilberman’s letter criticizing Black Lives Matter protests, the Sonoma County Alliance spent just $17,000 in the runup to the November 2020 election, compared to the more than $80,000 it spent to influence voters ahead of the 2016 election.

In the first candidate reports released this cycle, the Alliance has spent more than $26,000, including maximum contributions to Rabbitt and the reelection campaign of Supervsior James Gore, the current board chair.

McCuan said time will tell whether the Alliance is no longer a political liability in Sonoma County, capable of negatively impacting the campaigns with which it’s associated.

“The Alliance giving money is going to be a cautionary tale, because the donors that provide money to the (group’s political action committee) can give money lots of different ways,” McCuan said. “What will remain is those involved in the Alliance those folks have been involved in Sonoma County politics for decades, pre-David Rabbitt — and they’re not going anywhere.”

Gore, the incumbent supervisor for Sonoma County’s northernmost district, has raised more than $140,000 and spent more than $60,000 despite having no formal opponent to date.

“I always anticipate having an opponent, and I love to be ready,” Gore said. “It’s best to run for re-election from a strong position. That’s why I’ve had a kickoff and other events. I love to interact with people, even with COVID. It’s how I stay in touch with my community rather than waiting for issues to come to me.”

In countywide races, Erick Roeser, the county’s elected auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector, has not yet raised or spent money in his re-election campaign. He has no opponent to date.

Deva Proto, Sonoma County clerk-recorder-assessor-registrar of voters, also doesn’t have an opponent. She has raised $1,150, including a $1,000 donation from Larry Wasem, general partner for the Airport Business Center.

Proto and Roeser first won election in November 2018.

Tyler Silvy is editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. Reach him at tyler.silvy@arguscourier.com, 707-776-8458, or @tylersilvy on Twitter.

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