The fight in Fullerton over whether there should be a recall election for three City Council members ultimately came down to a money battle between outspoken Fullerton businessman and blogger Tony Bushala and the police.
The fight wasn’t close, according to campaign finance reports released Wednesday. Bushala spent almost $150,000 in his nearly single-handed and apparently successful effort to collect enough signatures to put the recall on the June ballot, the records show.
Meanwhile, opponents of the recall, Protect Fullerton-Recall No, raised $62,000, about half of which came from police unions, police officers and a political action committee that supports law enforcement, according to records emailed to Voice of OC by campaigners.
Bushala, who founded and writes for the blog Friends for Fullerton’s Future, was one of only three donors to the effort to recall council members Richard Jones, Pat McKinley and Don Bankhead, according to the campaign filings.
Of the $169,317 raised by the recall campaign, $149,267 came from Bushala; $20,000 from his brother, George Bushala; and $50 from Lake Forest nurse Merry Axelrod, according to reports filed by Fullerton Recall.
“I’m fortunate to have the resources to finance this recall,” Bushala said in an interview.
The largest opposition donation was $19,000 from the Fullerton Police Officers’ Asssociation political action committee. McKinley, one of the recall targets, is a former Fullerton police chief. Another $10,000 came from the Sacramento-based Peace Officers Research Association of California political action committee.
Smaller donations of $500 and $1,000 from other police agencies, including Newport Beach and Riverside, also were received. Altogether, police-related contributions constituted about half the money received to fight the recall.
The rest came mostly in contributions of $100 to $250 from dozens of Fullerton residents, many of them retired.
The recall campaign gathered far more than the 10,554 signatures needed to initiate a recall election on each of the council members. More signatures than necessary are gathered because not everyone who signs is a registered voter in Fullerton, a requirement.
The county registrar of voters is checking the signatures to ensure enough are valid. After that, the City Council must set a date for the recall election.
Bushala launched the recall effort after the July beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas at the hands of Fullerton police officers. One officer has been charged with second-degree murder and another with involuntary manslaughter.
Initially the recall campaign focused on Thomas’ death and the slow public response of the three council members. But Thomas became just one of the issues during a campaign that highlighted a long-standing Republican split in Fullerton between Bushala’s camp and supporters of the three council members.
The recall campaign spent a total of $151,919 and was managed by Fullerton School District board member Chris Thompson, who was paid $14,400.
Orange County Republican Central Committee member and Tea Party leader Tim Whitacre was paid $64,177 for gathering signatures, according to the report. A year ago, Whitacre unsuccessfully challenged county GOP Chairman Scott Baugh for leadership of the party’s central committee.
In addition to Whitacre, more than 35 paid signature gatherers received from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for their efforts.