11:31 PM PST on Saturday, November 28, 2009

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Inland developer Stephen Russell Holgate spent well into the six figures to propel the legislative aspirations of San Jacinto Councilman Jim Ayres, according to Riverside County prosecutors. But why would he?

Land-use decisions have long been the turf of city councils and county boards of supervisors. The Legislature includes 120 people. Ayres, if his 2006 Assembly campaign had been successful, would have been just another member of a heavily outnumbered Republican minority.

This month’s political corruption indictments in San Jacinto highlight a long tradition of moneyed interests supporting the political goals of candidates at all levels, from school board and judgeships to the Legislature and Congress.

The support can reflect friendships, shared ideology or a desire for access to elected officials. Campaign donations can be a way of saying “thank you” to an ally for past assistance.

In some cases, the money can be viewed as an investment in the future. Many donors already are comfortable with long-term bets, such as a developer who buys a land option on the guess that it someday will become a high-priced housing development or business park.

Today’s freshman lawmaker assigned a small Capitol office could become tomorrow’s regional power player who can make a phone call that produces results.

Whatever the reasons, the volume of political contributions continues to grow across the board.

Last week, a report by the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute for Money in State Politics identified $5.8 billion dollars in itemized contributions to federal and state campaigns during the 2007-08 election cycle.

In August, a report by California’s campaign finance watchdog found that candidates for legislative and statewide office in 2010 and beyond already had raised $60 million.

SWEEPING INDICTMENT

The Nov. 12 corruption indictment of nine civic and business leaders accuses them of laundering tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money as well as tax fraud, bribery, perjury and filing false government documents. The indictment names four out of five members of the San Jacinto City Council and a school board member.

Besides Ayres, 48, others named in the 155-count indictment are Holgate, 62; San Jacinto Mayor Dale Stubblefield, 41; Vice Mayor John Mansperger, 41; Councilman James Potts, 67; and Ayres’ wife, Nancy Jo Ayres, 44, a San Jacinto Unified School District board member.

Also charged are developers and businessmen Scott Douglas Shaull, 45, of Roseville; Robert Edward Osborne, 69, of Mission Viejo; and Byron Jerry Ellison Sr., 70, of San Jacinto. Shaull and Ellison have developed properties with Holgate.

The indictment charges the group with 56 felonies and 99 misdemeanors.

A Press-Enterprise review of city records and court documents also shows that Ayres and other indicted council members repeatedly voted to approve projects favorable to Holgate and Osborne, who also allegedly helped funnel money to Ayres’ campaign.

Such votes raise conflict-of-interest concerns but often are perfectly legal.

Holgate has not commented publicly since the indictment. Ayres has declined to comment on the case but said he has no plans to resign from the San Jacinto City Council.

Some political experts noted that Ayres, if he had been elected to the Assembly, still could have helped Holgate and other supporters. A person’s local connections don’t disappear when they go to Sacramento.

Some politicians are even more ambitious, and play a large role in recruiting and supporting like-minded candidates for elected office across an area.

Republican consultant Matt Rexroad, who worked against Ayres in the 2006 campaign, said he believes Ayres was intent on “empire building.”

“Jim Ayres is probably the kind of person who would continue to be very involved in San Jacinto politics” if he had been elected to the Assembly, Rexroad said.

To read entire story click here.