Supervisor Criticized for Taking Donations : Fund raising: Maria VanderKolk’s acceptance of $200 contributions from developers is criticized by her predecessor.
Former Ventura County Supervisor Madge L. Schaefer on Monday accused her successor, Maria VanderKolk, of breaking her first promise to voters by enlisting the support of developers for a major fund-raiser this week.
Schaefer, who lost to VanderKolk last year, called on the incumbent to give back the $200 contributions that she has received from 12 contributors who Schaefer identified as developers, contractors and land-use consultants.
Money from several other contributors involved in real estate should also be refunded, Schaefer said.
“I insist that Supervisor VanderKolk honor her campaign promise . . . and immediately return any contribution from any person or group in any way connected with development,” Schaefer said in a news release.
“She violated her first public promise to her constituency,” Schaefer said, citing the statement that VanderKolk submitted when filing for office. In the statement, VanderKolk said that “to maintain clear vision and independence, I will accept NO DEVELOPER CONTRIBUTIONS.”
Schaefer’s broadside picked up where a bitter campaign between the veteran supervisor and an untested VanderKolk left off in June, 1990, when VanderKolk won by fewer than 100 votes in a stunning upset.
The Times reported on Friday that VanderKolk, despite her slow-growth platform and refusal to accept money from developers last year, had enlisted the support of at least seven people in the building industry for her fund-raiser to be held Saturday. The builders are among 78 dinner sponsors who have each bought four-ticket blocks for $200.
VanderKolk maintained then--and insisted again Monday--that her decision to accept money from building interests is not contrary to her position in the campaign.
The problem in 1990 was unlimited contributions from developers, who often gave $1,000 or more at a time and who had undue access to Schaefer, VanderKolk said. A new ordinance written by VanderKolk has eliminated that problem by limiting contributions from any person or company to $1,000 over a four-year campaign cycle, she said.
“I have not violated anything,” VanderKolk said. “I have fulfilled a promise by not just going in and settling into business as usual. I’ve changed the way things are done. A developer has the same influence as an environmentalist and a union member and a police officer.
“I’ve made everything equal for everybody,” she said, “and I’m going to play by those rules now. It’s good policy.”
Among VanderKolk’s dinner sponsors is Martin V. Smith, who has been Ventura County’s most productive developer for decades. Simi Valley contractor Dean Rasmussen and Thousand Oaks developer James Smyth are also sponsors. Camarillo contractor Tony Greco will host the fund-raiser.
In her release, Schaefer described Greco’s home as a “multimillion-dollar Santa Rosa ranch” and said VanderKolk should move the dinner to another location, “thus saving VanderKolk’s vision.”
She also said VanderKolk should return money not only from builders and consultants but from architects, engineers, real estate agents and attorneys who sometimes represent developers.
“It didn’t take long for VanderKolk’s vision to cloud,” Schaefer said. “It appears that VanderKolk . . . calling for campaign reform was merely a smoke screen of hypocrisy.”
VanderKolk said again Monday that she would never accept a contribution from a developer whose project is pending before the Board of Supervisors. She has accepted no money from backers of controversial projects at Ahmanson and Jordan ranches, she said.
But Schaefer said two land-use consultants who are VanderKolk sponsors, Ed Jones and Jim Dantona, do business with the county or represent clients who do business with the county.
VanderKolk said both Jones, a former county supervisor, and Dantona, a county transportation commissioner, are extremely involved in community activities in capacities that have nothing to do with their consulting businesses.
Schaefer also noted that Rasmussen owns a parcel where he wants to build a landfill in the eastern part of the county. The dump would have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
VanderKolk said that only a fraction of the $12,000 to $15,000 that she hopes to raise Saturday will come from developers, while most of Schaefer’s money was from real estate interests.
Schaefer said VanderKolk counted every developer, engineer, contractor, attorney, architect and real estate agent when stating in a campaign flyer that Schaefer had received “more than $78,000 from the development industry.”
Schaefer said VanderKolk should be held to the same definition of development interests when her contributions from the industry are calculated.
Contributors on VanderKolk’s list of 78 sponsors range from bankers to car dealers, from architects to educators. The county firefighters and deputy sheriffs unions are sponsors, as is the Hidden Valley Homeowners Assn. and the Conejo Valley YMCA.
Several environmentalists are also sponsors. Mary Wiesbrock, director of Save Open Space, the group that recruited the 25-year-old VanderKolk to run against Schaefer, said last week that she is not concerned about the supervisor’s builder contributions because of the legal limits that she helped place on them.
VanderKolk said she is holding a fund-raiser just nine months into her four-year term so she can distribute a newsletter--inserted into local newspapers--to 20,000 homes later this year. And she needs money to mail a newsletter to core supporters three times a year and to support community organizations, she said.