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Sheriff's Letter Upsets Deputies

Santa Barbara County official seeks funds for campaign debt. Some may go to future races.

May 26, 2003|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — A fund-raising letter from Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson aimed primarily at paying off his old campaign debt has touched off a new controversy over how he plans to finance future campaigns.

Anderson didn't say anything in the letter about using donations to build a war chest for future elections, but now he says he might. And that has sparked criticism.

In addition, the letter was sent to some deputies who work for him and who have complained that they thought the boss was unfairly trying to squeeze them.

Anderson won a primary election over three candidates last year, largely with the backing of the Deputy Sheriff's Assn., which contributed $50,000 of the $137,000 that the campaign cost. Anderson still has $20,000 in campaign debt.

After talking with political consultant Richard Cochrane, Anderson decided the best way to raise money would be a letter aimed primarily at past supporters. Drafted by Cochrane, it was mailed to 3,000 to 5,000 people.

A few of them were members of the Deputy Sheriff's Assn., whose support for Anderson had been given despite former Sheriff Jim Thomas' backing of the runner-up candidate, Dave Dorsey.

"Some of the members who received the letter were upset about it," said Deputy Jon Simon, new president of the deputies union. "It was like we already gave him $50,000 and put him over the top. And now he's asking for more?

"But you can't please everybody," Simon added. "I've talked it over with the sheriff.... We don't really have a position on it. But I told him it might be a good idea to let us know in advance of something like this."

Though the complaint of some union members was that they thought they were being asked for too much, others saw the letter as misleading. With budget issues in mind, Anderson opened by asking supporters to help him make sure the county continued to provide adequate resources to law enforcement.

The letter then asked supporters to help him retire his $20,000 campaign debt. Any surplus would be used to start a Sheriff's Discretionary Fund, which "I would use to fill gaps in training and other needs."

Enclosed with the letter was a card giving potential contributors these three choices: "Use my contribution as you see fit." "Use it to retire your campaign debt." "Add it to the Sheriff's Discretionary Fund."

The sheriff and Cochrane later explained that the letter was aimed mostly at traditional contributors to law-and-order campaigns, not at union members or those who work for Anderson.

But when a local newspaper asked Anderson if those "other needs" in his discretionary fund might be a war chest for future campaigns, the sheriff acknowledged that they might.

Jim Knox, executive director of Common Cause of California, said: "I'd say it's uncommon to mix campaign debts with issues this way, but not unlawful. The extent to which it's misleading is really how he uses the money. It certainly has the potential to be a bait-and-switch."

That certainly was not the intent, said Anderson, 47, a Lompoc resident who worked his way up in the department over a 27-year career and who lent himself $27,000 of his campaign costs last year.

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