Supervisor candidates, clockwise from upper left: Incumbents Rex Bohn, Estelle Fennell and Mike Wilson (who’s running unopposed), challengers Sean DeVries, Rick French, Michael McKaskle, Michelle Bushnell and Cliff Berkowitz.

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California’s decision to move its primary election up by three whole months has caused some awkward scheduling and apparent confusion. 

Case in point: Yesterday at 5 p.m. was the deadline for candidates to turn in their first fundraising report of 2020, a document called a Form 460. But the year is young! These reports include just 18 days’ worth of data, a relatively tiny window of financial information. 

There’s a much more comprehensive report due at the end of next week. By Jan. 31 (next Friday), candidates must turn in a “semi-annual” report that lists all the campaign contributions they received (of $100 or more) between last year’s general election, on June 4, and the end of 2019 — nearly seven months’ worth of data.

That’s the awkward scheduling part — a small-scale report covering 2020 fundraising a week before a large-scale one covering 2019.

Here’s where the apparent confusion comes in: The Form 460 includes a line for candidates to report how much money they had in the bank at the start of the filing period — on Jan. 1, in the current instance. That line is called “Beginning Cash Balance.” Many candidates didn’t fill that part out. 

The two incumbent Humboldt County supervisors running in contested races this year, — Rex Bohn in the First District and Estelle Fennell in the second — did, and their numbers are impressive. 

Fennell started the year with $39,380 in her campaign coffers while Bohn came into 2020 with a whopping $63,134. It’s safe to say none of their challengers have anywhere near that much campaign cash. 

Trouble is, we don’t really know really how much they DO have. None of the five challengers correctly filled out the “Beginning Cash Balance” line. 

Is that because they didn’t raise any money at all in 2019? In some cases, maybe! And in one case, definitely: Hydesville resident Rick French, one of Fennell’s four challengers, told the Outpost today, “I have not collected any money from anybody and have not spent any money.” So that’s easy.

But Cliff Berkowitz, the former KHUM DJ who’s challenging Bohn, definitely DID raise money in 2019. We know this for two reasons: One, he turned in to the Elections Office a couple of Form 497s, which are used to report donations of $1,000 or more received in the 90 days before Election Day. 

On Dec. 14, Berkowitz received $1,500 from the Humboldt-Del Norte Labor Council, and on Dec. 20 he got another $1,500 from AFSCME Local 1684. 

The other reason we know he brought in campaign funds last year is because he told us on the phone earlier. He also said his treasurer filled out his Form 460, and Berkowitz didn’t personally know whether or not he needed to include his “Beginning Cash Balance” on the form. 

In other words, we still don’t know how much his campaign has raised to date, nor how much he has left to spend. All we know is:

  1. what he gathered during the first 18 days of the year, a total of $5,020, and
  2. those two $1,500 donations in December. 

Berkowitz said the omission of his beginning cash balance was a “boo-boo” that will be remedied. 

According to staff at the county Elections Office, candidates who submit incomplete data will have to file an amended form later. 

In the case of Sean DeVries, a Redway resident involved in the cannabis industry, he erred in the other direction: He included too much information on his Form 460, listing not just what he brought in during the 18-day window of this filing period but also the donations he received in 2019. 

“I think that means I filled out the form a little incorrectly,” he said when reached by the Outpost. To date, then, DeVries has raised $2,600.

Michael McKaskle, the former chair of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, who is also challenging Fennell, only reported three donations: Ellen and Paul McKaskle, who share an address in Berkeley (his parents, perhaps?), each gave his campaign $1,500. His third donation was $100 from retired KMUD underwriter Mark Sternfield, and according to the form it was submitted on Jan. 21, which falls outside the reporting window.

Did he raise anything in 2019? Unknown. A voicemail was not returned before this post was published.

Garberville business owner Michelle Bushnell, meanwhile, did not have a Form 460 on file at the Elections Office. Reached by phone this morning she said she’d submitted it electronically, which she assumed was allowed.

Turns out, it’s not. A copy with a “wet signature” is required. When Bushnell was informed of this fact today, she put the form in the mail, according to Elections Office staff.

We tried to follow up with Bushnell to see if she could just tell us how much she raised during the filing period but that voicemail had also not been returned by publishing time. 

So where does this leave us? With an incomplete picture! 

We know this much, at least: Bohn and Fennell have a sizable financial advantage over their challengers, though Berkowitz, for one, is bringing in some big donations of his own. (His donations from the lates period include $1,500 from Pierson Building Center owner William Pierson and $1,000 from Eureka resident Robert Olsen.)

We know that French has the lowest fundraising total: $0.

And we know that McKaskle and DeVries are quite a ways back in the money game. We ought to have a more complete picture next week. 

“How do you feel about money in politics,” DeVries asked when we had him on the phone. Feel free to weigh in on that question in the comments.