The second-quarter campaign finance reports for this year’s Oro Valley mayor and council election show that Mayor Satish Hiremath and council members Lou Waters, Mary Snider and Joe Hornat have raised more than two-and-a-half times as much money as their challengers.
The incumbents received lots of money from donors tied to corporate companies. The challengers, mayoral candidate Joe Winfield and his team of Melanie Barrett, Josh Nicolson and Joyce Jones-Ivey, have boasted about their “no-strings-attached” grassroots campaign, and the finance reports seem to back that philosophy.
As of June 30, Winfield raised $12,401 from individuals, and used $5,000 of his own money to fund his campaign. His donors are mostly retired members of the Oro Valley community, with a few engineers sprinkled in there. His largest donation was $1,500 from a local resident, with a majority of the other donations ranging between $50 to $300.
Winfield spent $6,390 of this money, mostly on the yellow T-shirts and signs that have popped up across town. In his finance report he indicated that $1,286 of his campaign funds were shared with Jones-Ivey to pay for supplies and advertising.
By contrast, Hiremath had raised $20,680 from 22 individuals. The most notable donations come from HSL Properties president Omar Mireles and owner Humberto Lopez, who each gave $4,000 to Hiremath’s campaign. These contributions have become the most controversial aspect of the incumbents’ time in office, and have been repeatedly tied to their purchase of the El Conquistador golf course, which was previously owned by HSL Properties. Neither Mireles nor Lopez could be reached for comment.
“My donors identify with my business mindset and demonstrated community leadership when choosing to contribute because they like the fact that the town runs as if it were a business,” Mayor Hiremath wrote in an email. “I am the public face of the town and my job is to create relationships with anyone who wants to better our residents’ quality of life. The challengers call these groups ‘special interests.’ They have damaged relationships with individuals and groups, thereby making it easy for me to secure donations.”
The finance reports show that Herb Kai and John Kai Jr.—owners of Kai Enterprises, a multi-million dollar farming operation in Marana—both donated $2,500 to Hiremath, as well as Waters, Snider and Hornat. When Tucson Local Media asked Herb Kai, who is a councilmember in Marana, about his family’s $20,000 total donation to the incumbents’ campaign, he said that he loves the work they have done for the Oro Valley community these past few years.
“I think the incumbents are doing a great job for Oro Valley,” he said. “They attract new business and are providing amenities to the community.”
Kai and his family offered the donations to the incumbents and he confirmed that the candidates did not solicit any donations from them. He said his family really supports the mayor and council, so they chose to donate.
“The golf course is a sour point for many people in Oro Valley, but it is a lot of property and it will be used one of these days,” he said.
From a developer’s perspective, Kai sees the golf course as an investment. He thinks it’s important and brings a lot of people to the area. Regarding the claims about the golf course losing money, Kai said that water costs are a big part of the controversy.
“Oro Valley roads are in good shape, there’s a park for Oro Valley residents to use and I think they’re making sure that there’s retail available in Oro Valley so they don’t have to go somewhere else,” Kai said. He jokingly added that he wouldn’t mind if they came to Marana.
“CEOs of successful businesses support business-friendly, pro-growth councils who employ sound business strategies,” Hiremath wrote. “They understand that creating and sustaining an economically viable community has its foundation upon creating jobs. They appreciate and respect that I am a 25-year business owner myself, and have dealt with payroll, budgeting, efficiencies, and fiscal responsibility. I use the same model governing the town, and the results speak for themselves. They trust past performance will predict future success.”
The mayor and council’s finance reports look very similar to each other; the “CEOs” Hiremath mentioned also donated to the campaigns of Waters, Hornat and Snider. Along with Lopez, Mireles and the Kai family, these donors include regional president Jeff Grobstein of Meritage Homes, local developer Gregory Wexler of Wexler and Associates, and Jim Click, Jr., president of Tucson’s largest car dealer. By mid-July, Waters raised $13,740 from individuals, Hornat raised $13,310 from individuals, and Snider raised $11,830 from individuals.
Snider spent the most money out of her three running mates, paying $3,907 for campaign supplies, IT services and a venue rental. Waters spent $2,714 and Hornat spent $2,594; both of them paid $2,500 to Saguaro Strategies, a political consulting company that has done work on behalf on Hiremath and the consultants in recent years. Hiremath had spent the least amount of money as of the only $1,448 of his large campaign fund has gone towards campaign supplies.
All the incumbents accepted donations in amounts of either $250 or $500 from two political actions committees: SouthWest Gas and UNS Energy Corps, which is the parent company of Tucson Electric Power.
Winfield said that the majority of his donations came from meet and greet events that he and his other council candidates held for the community. He also set up a website to allow people to donate money online, and in the beginning of his campaign he received donations from residents via Facebook.
“From the outset I made it clear, I took a pledge that I would not accept donations from special interests or anyone that would benefit from doing business with the town, anyone who would benefit financially,” Winfield said. “One of my ground rules was not to accept special interest or developer money and I believe that’s been a problem introduced by the incumbents, so I wanted to avoid that.” He added that Mayor Hiremath outraised him in campaign funds, but the majority of his opponent’s funds came from special interests.
The other challenging candidates received the majority of their donations from Oro Valley residents, many of whom are retired. Barrett received $3,793 from individuals and spent $393 while Nicholson got $2,304 from individuals and spent $291. Both spent their money in amounts less than $250, so it was not detailed on their paperwork.
To generate money for her campaign, Barrett said the meet and greet events that she and her running mates held were very helpful. She also sent emails to several acquaintances explaining why she’s running, and inviting them to donate. She said some contributed while others didn’t, and she added she had a couple of contributions from family members, too.
“I think that it’s important that the money for campaigns comes from residents of Oro Valley so that whoever is serving in office is serving those residents in Oro Valley,” Barrett said. “I think that’s one place our campaign has excelled.”
Joyce Jones-Ivey received $2,253 from individuals and added $646 of her own personal money. She had spent $813 so far; $250 of that was a purchase for “voter information” from the Arizona Democratic Party in Phoenix.
Jones-Ivey, who has been one of the most prominent critics of the incumbents’ donations from special interests, accepted $500 from a PAC called Arizona List, which is a committee that works to help the political campaigns of pro-choice Democratic women in Arizona.
The next round of campaign finance reports are due on Monday, Aug. 20. The primary election is Tuesday, August 28. For more information about voting, visit www.orovalleyaz.gov/town/departments/town-clerk/town-elections.