New Reports Show How County Supervisors Fill Their Campaign Coffers

Orange County supervisors (from left): Michelle Steel, Shawn Nelson, Lisa Bartlett, Todd Spitzer, and Andrew Do. (Photos by Nick Gerda/Voice of OC and Katlin Washburn for Voice of OC)

Recently filed campaign spending reports fill out the picture of where Orange County supervisors got their political money last year.

The state-mandated reports show that supervisors raised more than $650,000 in contributions last year alone, much of it from people and companies whose county contract approvals they control, according to a Voice of OC review of the filings.

The supervisors also reported nearly $500,000 in loans to their campaigns on top of the direct contributions.

Below are links to the documents for each supervisor (which include reports for the first half and second half of 2015) and a quick rundown of what they show:

Lisa Bartlett: (Report for first half of 2015Report for second half of 2015)

Bartlett, who was elected in 2014, brought in $118,000 last year as she tries to pay off $234,000 in debt from her run for supervisor.

Her fundraising has focused largely on contractors who do business with the county and CalOptima, where she sits on the board of directors. She even sent out a fundraising pitch to county vendors asking for $3,800 each.

As far as county contractors, last year she received a maxed-out $1,900 from the president and CEO of controversial contractor Project Dimensions, Inc., which local boaters have accused of incompetence on the county’s Dana Point Harbor revitalization project.

She also received $1,900 from Sukut Construction two days after she voted to award a $11 million county contract to the firm.

Bartlett will likely have to continue the fundraising, since she started the year with just $10,000 in the bank and over $140,000 in outstanding debt to herself.

Michelle Steel: (Report for first half of 2015Report for second half of 2015)

Steel, who also was elected in 2014, still owes herself $300,000 in loans to her campaign. She raised $86,000 last year, largely from Korean-Americans, but also some from government contractors.

Those include county contractors LAZ Parking, Geosyntec Consultants, and LSA Associates, as well as Orange County Transportation Authority contractor Cofiroute USA, whose $38-million contract she oversees as a Transportation Authority board member.

Steel, like Supervisor Shawn Nelson, has the advantage of having personal wealth she can tap into, with her husband Shawn Steel bringing in at least $300,000 per year from his law firm, according to her financial disclosure for 2014.

Andrew Do: (Report for first half of 2015Report for second half of 2015)

Do, who was elected in a special election in late January 2015, raised $300,000 last year, more than two-thirds of which was after he was sworn into office.

His money largely came from Vietnamese-Americans, county contractors, lobbyists and the medical industry.

Do has significant influence over public payments and rules governing the medical industry, as one of two county supervisors (along with Bartlett) who sit on the board of the county’s $3 billion health plan CalOptima, which serves about 780,000 low income and disabled patients.

He has raised at least $39,000 from people and groups in medical industry – including the Monarch HealthCare doctors network, local hospitals owner Prime Healthcare, and many doctors and pharmacists.

(Click here for a list of medical industry donors to Do, in Excel format.)

Do’s county contractor money includes $3,800 last year from Bryan A. Stirrat, a principal with the engineering and construction firm Tetra Tech BAS. Do voted to award a $1.5 million county contract to Tetra Tech BAS and another firm, SWT Engineering, in July.

Do’s fundraising will no doubt heat up this year, as he faces re-election in a potentially competitive race (he won last year by just 43 votes out of 48,000, or less than 0.1 percent).

He also still has $57,000 in loans he made to his campaign that he had yet to repay himself, as of the beginning of this year.

Shawn Nelson: (Report for first half of 2015Report for second half of 2015)

Nelson, who has been termed-out since his re-election in June 2014, has raised eyebrows recently, as well as legal questions, with his significant fundraising into his termed-out account.

There’s now a more complete picture of how much he raised last year, most of which was when his committee was named Shawn Nelson for Supervisor 2018, which state authorities said was an illegal name.

Nelson raised $105,000 in campaign contributions last year, despite coming out of his final supervisorial election with no debts and $95,000 in the bank.

He’s been raising big money from county and Transportation Authority contractors who need his approval for extensions and new contracts.

For example, he raised money directly and from top officials of the following county and Transportation Authority contractors, many of whose contracts he’s voted on: Psomas, AECOM, Hill International, Maximus, Nossaman LLP, SAIC, SCS Engineers, Dominon Holdings, Todd Theodora, West Coast Arborists, Care Ambulance Service, Emergency Ambulance Service, Geosyntec Consultants, Atlantic Aviation, Ganahl Lumber, HDR Engineering, Lowe Enterprises, Dana Point Shipyard, Jim McConnell, MV Transportation, and Republic Services.

Nelson is still debt free and now has over $160,000 in the bank for an office he can’t run for, as of the beginning of this year.

The working theory among many who track local politics is that Nelson is using his lucrative position as a supervisor to build a war chest for a run at a Superior Court judgeship, something he openly covets.

Todd Spitzer: (Report for first half of 2015Report for second half of 2015)

Spitzer, who is running for re-election this year and eyeing a later run for district attorney, dwarfs of his colleagues in the size of his political war chest.

He has more than $1 million, much of it transferred from his state Assembly campaign account but much of it raised since then as well.

With such a large reserve, Spitzer didn’t have to fundraise as aggressively as his colleagues on the board. His total tally between his supervisor account and his Republican Central Committee account was $53,000.

He, too, raised money from county and OCTA contractors, such as AECOM, LAZ Parking, Integrated Healthcare Holdings, Intratek Computing, and Butier Engineering.

Meanwhile, he’s all but drained his Central Committee account, which ended the year with a balance of just $3,000.

Its widely believed that Spitzer will run for Orange County District Attorney in 2018. And even with $1 million in the bank, Spitzer would likely be up against either the current DA, Tony Rackauckas or, a well-funded ally of Rackauckas.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ campaign announced  that he had raised over $400,000 in one night. This figure appears to be inaccurate, with the actual figure closer to $60,000, according to Rackauckas’ later campaign filings.

Voice of OC senior reporter Tracy Wood contributed to this report.

Notice something interesting in the campaign filings? You can contact reporter Nick Gerda at

  • Jacki Livingston

    Tracy! You forgot Todd Theodora, the GOP bigwig attorney who cut a sweet deal to cover up the abuse and fraud at a chain of nursing homes in the OC. The nursing homes have been double and triple billing the state taxpayers, and neglecting and embezzling from patients. Theodora represented the sleazy owners in a class actio

  • Dailysportseditor

    And some mass media pundits wonder why Bernie attracts so much love [from Dems, Independents and even Republicans] when he challenges the corrupt political campaign finance system. Thanks to Voice of OC and Nick Gerda for reporting on this issue.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Do inherited the nursing home cash cow from Nguyen, a group of substandard providers who have been sued for their negligence, abuse and theft from patients. One patient, an 87 year old woman, was dropped on her head and killed. They advertise as being a great care program, but they hire untrained personnel, and then they have the CalWin system rigged so that they have three, four, even six billing code numbers. They get paid numerous times for the same patients, then kick back a portion of the profits to these corrupt politicians. Employees who bring this to the DA, or to management, get forced out, real quick. The lawsuits are public record. You want to see something that will break your heart? Go to one of these nursing homes with no warning. You will see people sitting in wheelchairs in the hallway, begging for their filthy diapers and clothing to be changed, or for food. We treat animals better than our elderly, and it is all thanks to these five people and their greed. They get away with it, because no one has the stones to show the truth. Pure and simple.

  • Al Gibson
  • Al Gibson

    Can you just announce any amount of money and have journalists report it? T-Rack claims $400,000, which has been rounded down to about $60,000. However, according to the most recent campaign finance reports he has only $22,900.76 cash on hand. Can he say or do anything that isn’t a prevarication?

  • LFOldTimer

    Did any of you read the Register article that Bartlett has downsized the Supe public meeting schedule by 6 entire meetings in the coming year? ha. Looks like Lisa is work phobic. So now each meeting will last 8 hours and give the public fewer opportunities to address the supes publicly. Bartlett’s chair seat isn’t even warm yet and she’s already pulling shenanigans. Norberto had the impression there might be good things in store with Bartlett. I warned him not to give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s already proving me right. Now those who attend the meeting to give an off-agenda public comment have to wait until the end of the meeting to do so. Who in their right mind would wait 8 hours to offer a public comment at the end of the meeting. Of course, that’s done on purpose to stifle public participation. Bartless could change that with the stroke of a pen and move public comments to the start of the meeting. But she won’t. Why? Because she’s status quo. That’s way. 🙂

  • OCservant_Leader

    OC Board of Supervisor’s EAs, family members and appointees are placed in each County Contract department and “bring it home” for each and every RFP.

  • Paul Lucas

    I would really like to see more controls on how and when elected’s can vote when faced with a decision involving one or more of their donors. This is just outrageous.

  • David Zenger

    Nick, thanks for reminding us of the Project Dimensions, Inc. fiasco at Dana Point Harbor, in which the contractor was given $50,000 every single month for six years, regardless of whether he accomplished anything, and intentionally divorced from the contractual scope of work. PDI and its owner still have a lot to be grateful for.

    Bates was the architect of that little dereliction, and Nguyen, Nelson, Spitzer, and Moorlach all went along without saying a word of disapproval, even though they knew all about it.

    • OCservant_Leader

      Thanks for connecting-the-dots
      Most taxpayers probably don’t know their money is being siphoned into this guys personal bank account to the the tune 50k per month?

      With no accountability? For years? Really?

      Can we have an investigation into this please?

      • David Zenger

        No, you may not have an investigation.

        I turned it over to the Internal Auditor in March of 2013, and he proceeded to whitewash it. No accountability, no reckoning. Pat Bates was apoplectic and that was it for me.

        The contract was very quietly changed to time and material on April 16, 2013, and extended another five years and millions more thrown in – 10 days after I was fired by Shawn Nelson. Apparently I was “insubordinate.”

        It was so funny – the project was stalled for years as it went through the Coastal Commission. These guys STILL got paid their fixed fee every single month. The Dana Point Harbor Director – Brad Gross – thought (or pretended to think) everything was great. Incompetent or corrupt? Who can tell?

        I wonder what has been accomplished in the past three years by PDI. Not much, I’d guess, but I’m sure hefty invoices keep rolling in.

        It’s an old story at the County. The whistelblowers pick up the tab.

        • Debby Bodkin

          Interesting info…. I always wondered why the Foothill Eastern Transportation, San Joaquin Hills Transportation, aka TCA, continued to retain the same attorney/law firm to represent them as General Counsel, DESPITE the fraudulent judgments and wage garnishments orchestrated by these same attorneys….. 3 out of the 5 OC Board of Supervisors receive personal and firm donations from the attorney and his law firm….. Pay to play ethics govern Orange County, California.

          It is time the OC Supervisors, who also serve on the Board of Directors for the TCA agencies, understand that the California Vehicle Code that allows the TCA attorneys to file THOUSANDS of enforcement lawsuits for unconstitutional fines and penalties without court filing fees, also MANDATES that the filing fee must be paid to the court upon Notice of Entry of Judgment.
          Congrats to the attorneys and law firms who make a personal choice to personally and professionally donate monies to the OC Board of Supervisors. If you do not donate to the OC Board of Supes, then the public must suffer illegal wage garnishments, fraudulent judgments and elected government officials who are rewarded for by financial gain for ignoring citizen reports.

        • Jacki Livingston

          Yes…but some of us keep the documents, internal and external, because someday, they will slip, and then payday will arrive.

  • astar2b

    Someone call the Sheriff…

    • David Zenger

      Why? Was there another jail break?

  • LFOldTimer

    “These are legal scam rackets advanced by legislators with shady or questionable ethics”
    Yes. I agree. The problem is that it’s sanctioned by the system. Pavlov showed us that if a behavior is rewarded you get more of it. There’s not that much of a difference between the behaviors exhibited by dogs and politicians. The only difference is that dogs don’t act out for politicial reasons.
    “Unfortunately it will take an “ethical politician,” if there are any in existence, to initiate a movement to ban these tactics”.
    Yes, but you’re missing something. To win a seat of any political authority you have to be a member of the insider club. The candidates are thoroughly vetted in advance by the appointed gatekeepers of the major politcal parties that hold 99% of the offices. If you don’t toe the line and do as you’re told you’re excluded from high office. Any candidate who would run on the platform to “ban these tactics” would get squashed like a potato bug in the election. All you blame the individual politicians when you should be screaming about the system that’s designed in Wash DC and Sacramento.

  • Jasenn

    This is pay-to-play at its most egregious. Subtle and not so subtle extortion of business entities and the public The voters need to organize and pass legislation outlawing pay-to-play schemes. These are legal scam rackets advanced by legislators with shady or questionable ethics. Unfortunately it will take an “ethical politician,” if there are any in existence, to initiate a movement to ban these tactics.

  • LFOldTimer

    Does this include PAC money? Are we sure the public unions aren’t donating through PACS as with Janet Nguyen when she was a supe? The supes gave the AOCDS and the OCSD deputies a nice big healthy salary increase of 10% during the last bargaining session. I find it hard to believe no one was rewarded for their vote. Let’s face it. That’s the way they’ve designed our current political system. Play for Pay.
    Look, politics is no longer about service to the community. Politics has become a personal business for those involved. What’s in it for me? It’s so stinking obvious. And that goes for both Democrats and Republicans. Every decision made on the public good is based on personal profit or loss calculation. It’s got nothing to do with you. It’s all about them. And the sooner we all grow up and accept that reality the better.

  • Paul Lucas

    Isnt it illegal to vote on a contract for a vendor who just donated 1900 dollars to your campaign two days prior?

    • LFOldTimer

      Legal and illegal means nothing unless laws get enforced. If you haven’t noticed we live under a system of selective anarchy. It really only matters on which side of the aisle you sit. In the protected group or the unprotected group. That’s all that really matters here. Discussing legality or illegality is nice for those who sit in the ivory towers and scratch their beards. For the rest of us? A mute point.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    It stinks, it’s a conflict of interest, it’s an outright purchase of good will, favor and anticipated payback. It’s legal and nobody cares. Until and unless this is no longer legal this is a non-starter of a story. And, since public apathy is a given…..who cares? Same ole same ole…..the BOS can be bought and paid for with cents on the dollar and it works for them and as mentioned before it’s legal and nobody cares. On to breaking and news of a similar obvious nature it’s Feburay and it’s not raining.

  • Steve W.

    According to a “Voice of OC review” of campaign filings, those with business before the county supervisors contribute to county supervisors’ campaigns.

    I had no idea. Thanks for the breaking news.