Recall group outspent Newport Councilman Peotter in failed bid to oust him

Critics of Newport Beach City Councilman Scott Peotter raised close to $100,000 and racked up more than $130,000 in bills in their unsuccessful attempt to recall him last year, spending more than $2.50 for every dollar Peotter and his supporters spent in his defense.

Campaign statements filed last month detailing financial activity through December show that the Committee to Recall Scott Peotter collected $98,270 during the roughly five-month recall effort, mostly in cash donations from individuals. The biggest chunk of contributions — about $43,000 — happened in the July-to-September reporting period. Recall organizers began collecting petition signatures in early June and dropped off the petitions to the city on Oct. 27.

The top five recall donors overall were:

  • Marilyn Brewer, former California assemblywoman: $10,625;
  • Petros for City Council, the campaign committee for former Newport Beach councilman Tony Petros: $9,500;
  • Paul Blank, Newport Beach harbor commissioner and a vice president of Urban Decay cosmetics: $8,179;
  • Susan Skinner, a local activist and neurologist: $7,309;
  • Sharon Wohl, homemaker: $4,000.

Other contributors included three former Newport Beach mayors — Mike Henn ($3,000), Rush Hill ($1,500) and Keith Curry ($1,000) — and two residents who plan to challenge Peotter for his District 6 council seat when he is up for reelection in November.
Mike Toerge, a former planning commissioner who lost to Peotter in the 2014 race for the seat, gave $5,000 (a $1,000 contribution and a $4,000 loan). Corona del Mar resident Joy Brenner gave $300.

The recall committee tallied $132,634 in paid and unpaid bills.

Most of the expenses were for petition circulation. Records show the committee made 13 payments last year to Calabasas-based PCI Consultants Inc. totaling $66,734. As of the time of filing, the committee owed the petition-management firm an additional $41,863.

Pro-Peotter funding

Meanwhile, the pro-Peotter camp raised a total of about $45,000 through two committees.

Newport Beach Residents Against Recalling Councilman Peotter raised $27,312. Records show that only $312 of that was raised in the recall effort’s final weeks.

Fieldstead & Co., an Irvine-based philanthropy run by savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson Jr. and his wife, Roberta, contributed $15,000 in cash and $2,312 worth of campaign consulting, almost entirely in the July-to-September period.

The Newport Beach Residents group spent $32,637, largely on campaign literature, mailers and automated phone calls.

The Committee to Oppose the Recall of Scott Peotter was run by Peotter himself to focus on a counter-petition for people to withdraw their signatures from the recall petition. It spent all $17,502 that it raised and closed out the campaign with no debts.

The committee received $5,000 in cash. The rest of the contributions were earmarked for petition services funded by the Scott Peotter for City Council 2018 committee.

The Orange County registrar of voters office announced in December that it had validated 8,339 of the 10,696 recall signatures submitted. That was 106 shy of the 8,445 — representing 15% of the city’s registered voters — needed to force a special recall election.

In January, the county district attorney’s office seized the recall petitions from the registrar’s office in Santa Ana over concerns about “potential irregularities.”

The search warrant affidavit is sealed, so specific allegations are unavailable.

Recall organizers have suggested that a paid third-party petition circulator may have forged signatures.

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