Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where developer money flows (updated)

At last week's East Charlotte candidate forum, one question the neighborhood group asked of all City Council candidates was whether they had received a campaign donation from REBIC, the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, a powerful lobby of developers and real estate executives. (Technically the campaign donation is from its PAC known by SPAACE.)

Libertarian Travis Wheat, Democrat Darrin Rankin's wife (who was representing him) and Republicans Matthew Ridenhour and Jaye Rao reported no REBIC donations as of last week. Democrats Patrick Cannon and David Howard and Republicans Edwin Peacock III and Tariq Scott Bokhari all reported receiving a total of $1,000.

Despite the lack of REBIC money, Rankin's campaign spending reports show campaign contributions from uber-developer John Crosland ($1,000), uber-lobbyist Bailey Patrick Jr. ($100), developer Howard Bissell III (son of Howard "Smokey" Bissell).

Incumbent Democrat Susan Burgess bragged last week at the forum that she had never gotten a REBIC donation, which she attributed to her positions on environmental and other issues. But a close look at her campaign reports shows generous developer money flowing her way. Here's a sampling (all are developers unless otherwise noted): Clay Grubb $1,000, David Miller $1,000, Stoney Sellars $1,000, construction magnate Luther Cochrane $750, Smokey Bissell $500, real estate lawyer Collin Brown $500, John Crosland $500, Afshin Ghazi $500, David Haggard $500, Fred Klein $500, Al Levine $500, Daniel Levine $500, Todd Mansfield of Crosland $500, Pat Rodgers of Rodgers Builders $500, real estate lawyer Jeff Brown $400, lawyer Bailey Patrick $200, John Collett $250, Jim Dulin $250, David Furman $250, Peter Pappas $250, "unknown" with Childress Klein gave $250, Ned Curran $150.

Update, 3:55 p.m. Tuesday 10/20: Burgess has added a reply in the comments below. Also, be aware other City Council candidates also get developer money. This is NOT a complete list of any candidate's donors, but just for starters:

- Edwin Peacock III: $1,000 from John Crosland, $450 from Ghazi, and $1,000 each from Al and Daniel Levine.

- Patrick Cannon $1,000 from Crosland, $500 from Clay Grubb, $400 from Stoney Sellars.

- Tariq Bokhari reports $500 from Crosland, and $150 from lawyer Bailey Patrick.

- David Howard: $1,000 from Crosland.

- Andy Dulin (District 6): $500 from Crosland, plus $1,000 each from the Levines.

- Warren Cooksey (District 7): $250 from Crosland, $500 from Joel Randolph (in Sept. 2008).

Read all the donation reports for yourself: Here's a link. Be aware that the final reports aren't due until after the election. And it's sometimes instructive to see who chips in with donations after it's clear who'll be in office. Next campaign finance report due Oct. 26. Then nothing more is due until Jan. 29. It's remarkably handy for keeping the voting public from learning who might have tossed in a big bundle right before election day.


Algernon said...

Good Job Mary, you found neutrality somewhere in the coffers I see....ever wonder what the political landscape would be like if "campaign contributions" were outlawed all together as they should be.....

Politics has become a spectator sport, just look at how those in power over look chubby charlie rangels tax fraud and illegal activities. rangel doesn't even deny it, he is just laughing at those who question him

I should run for office, I'd campaign with this burping baby over my shoulder, fire everyone currently holding office and make the political arena a purely volunteer affair with a strong lean to the retired, experienced nothing to prove elderly set.

Anonymous said...

Look back over Warren Cooksey's tweets, and you'll find him very happily hanging with the 'SPACCers.' Hmmm, former Planning Commissioner in bed--errr, at a barbeque--with REBIC? In CLT? Never. ;-)

Warren Cooksey said...

Mary, don't forget that if candidates receive any contribution of $1,000 or more after the last report due before the election, they must report receipt within 48 hours. Thus, the voting public can know about large contributions before voting (except those who vote early).

Anonymous 8:28, I generally lean towards supporting property rights, so I'm going to be supported by people who agree with me. Developers are in that group, though this year I've received nowhere near the contributions from individual developers that Susan has.

I also strongly recommend service on the Planning Commission as a precursor to service on the Council, as it gives one the experience of making land use decisions without being subject to political pressure from whatever source. In my case, it also shows that my voting record as a Planning Commissioner is very similar to my voting record as a Council Member.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Algernon, if you run I will vote for you. I will never vote for an incumbent as I assume the position gives them access to gifts which do not get reported, see stories re Easley, Black, etc. I plot it will take you one term and you will be in someones pocket and I then vote for the non-incumbent. If we all did this in 6 years and the media did its job we would not need campaign contributions.

Judge Belk said...

now how's judge belk supposed to get in on that?

Anonymous said...

But the big question is, how do Lassiter and Foxx compare in developer dollars?

Susan Burgess said...

Mary, I want to make a distinction between individual developer donations and REBIC/SPPACE endorsement and donation.

I received campaign contributions from developers I have met with to discuss specific projects. I assume they support my candidacy because I am always available to meet and open to their petitions. I also am always available to meet with neighborhood groups and individuals to discuss the same peitions. I make independent decisions based on what I believe is fair and good for the city.

Neighborhood activists are the most active volunteers in my campaign for re-election. In fact, I met my campaign manager, Martin Doss, working on neighborhood issues.

REBIC/SPPACE is interested in broad issues as Tree Save Ordinance, inclusionary zoning, Post Construction Control Ordinance (storm water run-off), Urban Street Design Guidelines, and Rental Property Registration. My positions and voting record are not always in agreement with the developers and realtors, but more aligned with environmentalists and neighborhood interests. I did not receive the SPPACE endorsement but did receive the Sierra Club's.

I love service on the City Council and even enjoy campaigning and discussing issues. I absolutely dread raising campaign funds. This very issue is why I am a strong supporter of voter owned elections or public financing of municipal campaigns. This broadens the field of those who would consider running for office and removes the assumed influence of donors. Chapel Hill has adopted this policy and I believe Charlotte should as well.

Susan Burgess
Mayor Pro Tem

Anonymous said...

Mayor Pro Temp Burgess:

When developer Afshin Ghazi petitioned council to rezone his Fairview Road property in the Picardy neighborhood to allow a huge, high-rise residential complex amidst one and two-story houses, you were one of the council persons who wholeheartedly voted for approval.

Despite, I must point out, the fact that (1) the city's own planners recommended AGAINST it; (2) the zoning commitee unanimously recommended that council NOT approve it; (3) a MAJORITY of Picardy residents signed a petition delivered to council asking that the rezoning be rejected (4)the SouthPark Small Area Plan did and does not call for skyscrapers in that area and (5) evidence that came to light in election board records that several councilpersons had received campaign donations from Ghazi or his associates prior to or about the time of the vote.

To add insult to injury, you never responded to residents' request that you explain your action in light of all the anti-rezoning recommendations from professional staff, a committee and the neighborhood.

Care to now?????

(Lassiter and Foxx also voted to support the developer, and neither ever explained their vote. All I can hope is that they both somehow lose in the general election.)

Anonymous said...

to take money from Ghazi is the lowest of low. I cannot respect you Susan. I hope one day I'll get elected to office so that I can line my pockets.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, the types of people that run for office need to be sent somewhere. Is there anyone that has any pride and isn't swayed by the all mighty dollar?

Anonymous said...

Ghazi has to have body guards around him 24/7 and a guard dog. I don't think that is because he is concerned with the crime levels in the city. I think it's pretty apparent!

Anonymous said...

I believe Mayor Pro Tem Burgess did receive money from SPPACE/REBIC back in 2003...oh how fast her memory fades!

Bill Armando said...

Anon at 02:44 pm:

Seems like you had everything going for you except the one thing that counted, representation on city council. Only developers have that.

I hope someone at tonight's debate between Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum asks those candidates how they stand on ethics, campaign contributions and their record of ignoring the neighborhoods.

You know those two BOA guys who emailed each other "It's screw the shareholders!" Well, in city hall here in Charlotte it's "Screw the 'Hoods!".

Anonymous said...

$1000 or less is all it takes to buy a politician in this city? Jeez, shoulda jumped in the game sooner, i was saving up.

Anthony G. Castrillon said...

As a former candidate in this year’s City Council At-Large primary I can see if from each perspective and understand the voters’ frustration but can empathize with the candidates as well. I was unsuccessful in part because of the lack of funding received. Mary Newsom can attest from the brief phone interview she had with me that I was clear about not wanting to be successful in the primary/election merely because I raised the most money, had friends with deep pockets, the most radio ads or signs along each major street and intersection. I wanted my message of a high quality of life for all Charlotte’s citizens to be a grassroots effort, not one bankrolled by any political machine. After saying that, I was labeled as not having political savvy, which I truly wore as a badge of honor, for my goal wasn’t to be the conventional, run of the mill politician. I obviously didn’t make it out of the primary, and even though I do believe that the four strongest candidates made it out of the Democratic primary, had I taken the path of spending with reckless abandon, I do believe the results potentially could have been different. Unless you’ve walked a mile in a candidate’s shoes, it is hard to understand what is asked and expected from each one. I call it the great money grab because as soon as you’re a candidate you receive mailings for various fundraising functions where you are asked to donate anywhere from as little as $50 to $1000s in order to be credited as a sponsor for said function. Many times organizations that offer endorsements have these certain functions, so you do the math. I firmly believe that anyone that chooses to run for office is truly a concerned citizen that wants to make a difference and isn’t someone in it for sinister reasons. I do not condone inappropriate candidate behavior, but no one can deny that to get one’s message across or to accomplish pretty much anything it takes money, and most times the ones with the most money win, and win again, and again and again. Do remember, that if candidate A doesn’t take the money, candidate B or C will, the money is going to someone’s coffers, so it would seem foolish from the candidate’s perspective not to work for raising as much funds as possible for their cause. This seems “unfair,” but we shouldn’t blame a candidate for playing by the rules of the game, even though the game appears to be flawed. I’ve met the candidates on both sides and had the pleasure to get to know some of them on a more personal level, and they are decent people with good intentions. It is up to you to get to know more about them and if they share your vision for Charlotte, they deserve your vote.

Anonymous said...

This happens in the small towns as well. In Huntersville, the "pro-transportation" crowd of Sisson, Jeter and Lucas roll over and approve 450 apartments on 73 when they have not been capable of getting it widened despite being the road boys. Read their reports, if they file them.

J said...

Anon 07:33:00 PM nailed it. Charlotte politicians are for sale like in every other city in the world, but here you can buy a politician with a 3-figure contribution.

And I have no clue what to do with the mayor's race. I am equally frightened by both of them. I fea that Foxx is another typical tax-&-spend Deomocrat, and I'm afraid Lassider is too much of a McCrory clone, in the sense that he would spend more time whining about Raleigh shafting us than attacking Charlotte's issues.

rick b said...

As a candidate for local office, I have made it a point never to take money from a developer. NEVER.

Ms. Mayor Pro Tem, I agree...REBIC and the SPAACE PAC are reprehensible and it is very nice that you have not accepted contributions from them, but I have a hard time believing that individual developers hand out the big bucks just because you are "always available to meet and open to their petitions".

In a high-growth area such as ours, there is way too much money to be made by developers, and this money is closely tied to local government approval of their rezoning petitions or their conditional zoning applications. There are far too many "yea" votes for developers on all of our local government boards, and our environmental problems, traffic problems, and school overcrowding problems (which lead to tax-increase problems) are a direct result of our local governments being way too cozy with developers.

In fact, developers are equally responsible with the banks, if not more responsible, for the real estate meltdown due to their "gold-rush mentality" toward new development in the Charlotte region which caused a rapid and massive oversupply. But, as responsible as those greedy and unscrupulous developers are for the mess, let's not forget the local government officials who facilitated the excess by their rubber stamping of virtually anything a developer brought before a governing board. Those government officials are also responsible for some of the misery now being suffered by residents of the region.

This rubber stamping was even more likely to occur if the applicant had made significant contributions to council members, and in Charlotte, it was almost certain to occur if Developer Lobbyists Bailey Patrick or Walter Fields (whose names also frequently appear on campaign donor lists) were shilling for the developer in question.

We like to talk about avoiding "even the appearance" of impropriety in our governing activities. When you get right down to it, in this region, a majority of local government decisions are development-related. With that in mind, the coziness with developers and the acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds from developers certainly creates a major "appearance" of impropriety, if not an actual impropriety.

Developer money should be considered poison by any candidate. As a voter, I view a developer contribution as a disqualifier for a candidate.

Anonymous said...
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JDC said...

Don’t city council’s own ethics rules require councilpersons to recuse themselves from voting on a matter on which they would profit? Why not carry that rule to its logical conclusion?

If, for example, you’ve received a contribution from a developer, you’ve already profited because that’s $500 or $1,000 in your war chest that you the candidate wouldn’t have had to toss in yourself. And if you just happen to vote the way a developer would prefer, say, on a rezoning matter, - just pure coincidence - wouldn’t you the future candidate stand to profit from the expectation of more contributions from that developer?

So why aren’t councilpersons recusing themselves from voting on rezoning petitions from developers who contribute to their campaigns? The benefit is that they’d never again have to take the heat from citizens over such matters.

In fact, since so many candidates are taking contributions from developers, the number of recuses might result in no vote being taken, or postponements, due to quorum considerations. If that happened often enough, developers and lobbyists would no longer contribute to city council. Problem solved!!!

JRW57 said...

This is the first time I've ever attempted to leave a comment, so please bear with any errors I commit.

It appears that everyone in this thread of comments feel that developers are the root of all things wrong with our city including the ruin of our neighborhoods, congestion on the roads, overcrowding in schools, loss of open space, etc. So why don't you stop using the products they build? If we all agree that one neighborhood grocery is enough, don't go to the new one even if it's more convenient or has better produce, or service or whatever. If there's enough houses in the neighborhood get together and buy the remaining land and don't allow it to be developed. There's great incentives for creating conservation land. Don't use or reduce your use of municipal water, sewer, or fire, police and trash services. Also, petition your governmental representatives for higher taxes. That will alleviate their need to continually grow the tax base. Why aren't the citizens doing any of these simple acts? I believe it is because we all want our individual benefits without any sacrifice. We want parks and walking paths and we want other people to drive less and we don't want any NEW houses to be built around us. We want a new Harris Teeter on our way home but not beside our home. We want fewer kids in our schools but we don't want to pay for new schools with higher taxes.

We are hypocrites. Politicians at the local level are basically good people trying to perform their civic duty. They are bombarded with everyone's wish list and they are vilified when they can't fulfill those wishes for zero increase in taxes. But look within. There is plenty of waste in government, but how much does each of us waste? How much of each of our individual actions compromise our own morals?

It's easy to project all of the current problems we face onto some other group. But the reality is that we've all compromised what we know is right and sensible in order to get what we want vs. what we need.

To fix our problems is pretty simple. Stop focusing on who did what in the past, and figure out what we need to move forward in the future. This can be accomplished in a series of town hall meetings. The answers that result will determine how much development there is, and what our taxes are. Pay as we go and keep it simple. I know I don't want a government that has the responsibility of taking care of everything in my life. Let's provide this kind of direction to our representatives and they won't have to deal with the perception of special interest groups controlling our future.

Stephen said...

Pete Pappas could only swing $250? After all the millions he's been given by us? Damn thats cold.

I often live in the "most developers are evil" camp. But I'll step out for a minute and say this: Developers, for better or worse, have a big hand in the shape of this or any city. That being said, City Council doesn't work for them. They work for us. It should be a privilege to build here, not a rubber-stamped right. Don't be afraid to restrict them or even say no sometimes. What are they going to do, leave and never develop anything here again? No, they'll reform their plans and resubmit. If they do pack their toys and leave, so what, someone else will come along to take their place.

So a reminder to all current and future Council members - remember who you work for.

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