OXNARD — Less than a week before election day, City Councilman Andres Herrera has more than $53,000 in his coffers from cash contributions and nonmonetary contributions, more than any other candidate for city office in the county and almost twice as much as his closest opponent.
But some candidates are questioning the amount of money Herrera has accepted from developers, construction firms and other businesses--many from Los Angeles and Orange County.
Some of those businesses have pending contracts with the city.
Herrera defends his fund-raising efforts, arguing that many of the Los Angeles contributions are from friends he made in his college days at UCLA in the 1960s.
Oxnard has no limits on campaign contributions, with the exception of special elections, and some candidates believe there ought to be a cap.
"I think limits are something that should be considered," said first-time candidate Emmett Whatley, who has raised only $200 in cash, along with a $1,300 nonmonetary contribution from a conservative Ventura-based political action committee.
"I personally don't believe in going out and asking businesses and developers for money because you are indebted to them for that."
Others, like Mayor Manuel Lopez, said the right balance has to be struck between collecting money and pounding the pavement. Lopez has raised $13,247, more than half in contributions of less than $100 from individuals.
"I feel that to win an election it takes a combination of funding and people involvement and I have always stressed people involvement," said Lopez, who has been in Oxnard politics for about two decades.
"I think the more independent you are, the better decisions you make."
Among council and mayoral candidates, Herrera leads the pack in fund-raising countywide.
In Oxnard as of Oct. 19, City Council candidate John Zaragoza had $29,639, with the majority of his contributions coming from individuals in Ventura County.
Incumbent Bedford Pinkard has brought in $17,761, also with the majority coming from county residents.
Council candidate Roy Lockwood has donated $10,650 of his own money to his campaign.
The other candidates, Anthony De La Cerda, Robert Randy Taylor and Oscar Karrin, have not declared contributions.
Herrera has been the focus of attention among some candidates because of the vast amount of money he has collected. His fund-raising abilities have improved considerably from 1992, when he first ran for office and collected $32,806 in cash and nonmonetary contributions by the Oct. 17 reporting deadline, according to his campaign disclosure statements.
At that time, all but two of his contributors were from Ventura County. The vast majority of the money came from individuals, according to the disclosure statements. The only developer that contributed to his campaign coffers was the Oxnard-based McGaelic Group run by Kevin Bernzott, currently the president of the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce.
By contrast, this year about 75% of Herrera's contributions are from companies, including developers, engineering and construction firms and produce companies.
Herrera said the difference is his accomplishments on the council.
"What I am doing differently today, is that my '92 pledges are now realities," said Herrera. "We have had a great resurgence in economic development and a net gain for people in jobs and salaries. People are more apt to buy into a portfolio that has been successful."
This year, Herrera has received more than $13,000 from Los Angeles and Orange County companies. For example, BLT Enterprises, a Los Angeles-based waste disposal transfer company that manages Oxnard's Del Norte waste transfer and recycling facility, contributed $1,690 in cash, more than any other contributor. Herrera is also the director for the Ventura County Regional Sanitation District.
In addition, Herrera has received over $2,000 ($1,733 in kind and $500 in cash) from Oxnard-based Borla Industries, a muffler manufacturer that hopes to build a stock car race track in Oxnard. Alex Borla, the owner of the company, also held a fund-raising breakfast for Herrera on Oct. 9 where the idea to build the proposed race track was discussed.
Herrera said neither of those contributions are a conflict of interest.
"Those contributions are not illegal and they are appropriate and properly reported," said Herrera, who added that it takes a lot of money to reach the city's 55,000 voters. "If I were working for BLT then it would be a conflict. I don't have any financial gain from BLT."
To be sure, Herrera is not the only candidate to receive money from developers with pending city projects. All three incumbents received money from the North Shore at Mandalay Beach development company, which is currently seeking to build luxury homes in Oxnard's beach area.
All three incumbents say they do not consider a $475 cash contribution from the developer a conflict of interest.
"If someone were to send me a $10,000 donation then I would question it," said Lopez. "If somebody sends me a $400 contribution then I accept it."
Yet the potential for a conflict concerns some candidates. Whatley, Zaragoza, Lockwood and mayoral candidate Oscar Karrin say Oxnard should impose campaign contribution limits.
"I have been saying that for years," said Karrin, who has not raised any money this year. "People don't realize that you don't get money unless you give something back."