The Riverside County group has a nearly $900,000 war chest as it strives to build clout and protect its retirement benefits

BY DUANE W. GANG
STAFF WRITER
dgang@pe.com

Published: 20 November 2011 08:19 PM

After a record year for political spending, the Riverside Sheriff’s Association is sitting on nearly $900,000 in cash as the 2012 elections approach.

The group likely will be a potent force, political experts say.

Last year, the association spent more than $1.4 million on campaign donations, mailers and other political activity, finance records show.

That’s more than in the previous 10 years combined, a review of campaign finance reports shows. From 2000 through 2009, expenditures totaled $1.1 million, according to the records.

The association spent record amounts in 2010 on efforts to get a friendly voice elected supervisor and to pass a ballot measure aimed at protecting public-safety retirement benefits.

With two seats up for election on the Board of Supervisors next year and a host of candidates in newly drawn Assembly, state Senate and congressional seats in Riverside County, the union representing sheriff’s deputies will be a group to watch, the experts said.

That’s especially true as retirement contributions and public-employee pay — key issues for all unions — continue to be a dominant discussion at the county and state level.

“The public-safety unions are a force you don’t want to mess with if you are a politician,” said Jack Pitney, a Claremont McKenna College government professor. “First, because they have money. Second, because they have public sympathy.”

Knowing a public-safety union has so much money, a candidate “has to think twice about getting on their bad side,” Pitney said.

The Riverside Sheriff’s Association represents more than 2,000 deputies and other law-enforcement professionals and is funded through member dues.

It has long been active in local politics. The association helps fund candidates directly with donations and through independent expenditures. It endorses candidates and pays for mailers, television and radio ads, polling and more.

But the association also has been accused of negative campaigning and playing hard-ball politics. Last year, political mailers featured negatively altered images of supervisors, for instance.

The association funds two groups — the Riverside Sheriff’s Association Political Action Committee and the Riverside Sheriff’s Association Public Education Fund — from which it spends on political activity.

As of Oct. 22, the political action committee had $109,805 cash on hand, and the public education fund had $780,209 in the bank, records show. The association started the public education fund in 2006, and it has largely banked money each year since.

‘POLITICALLY INVOLVED’

“RSA is committed to staying politically involved in issues which affect our profession, our members, and public safety in general,” association president Pat McNamara said by email last week.

“Issues of concern to the association may increase in importance in some years and decrease in others,” he said. “RSA’s political activity, including spending, has a direct correlation to the priorities that exist in a given year.”

The bulk of the association’s spending last year was on the campaign for Riverside County’s 4th District Board of Supervisors seat and two pension measures on the November 2010 ballot.

The union provided more than $330,000 from direct donations and payments for television and radio ads in the desert — to former Palm Springs Police Chief Gary Jeandron’s campaign for supervisor. Jeandron lost to Supervisor John Benoit.

Also last year, the association through its general fund provided $797,000 to support the Yes on Measure L campaign. The association sponsored the measure, which sought to require voter approval before raising or lowering public-safety pensions.

Supervisors backed the competing Measure M, which gives supervisors the ability to lower benefits without going to the ballot.

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