Democracy drowning in a sea of money

Democracy drowning in a sea of money

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One of our county supervisors once told me that campaign contributions have no effect on their decisions. This reminded me of an expression I heard recently in the UK, "Don't pee up my back and tell me that it's raining.

I am looking at a graph that displays how much money certain individuals have “invested” in the three Napa County supervisors who are up for reelection on March 3. And the view is staggering.

In the 2020 election alone, Charles Wagner (Caymus & Wagner Family Wines) has contributed $42,500 to the three incumbents, including $20,000 to Belia Ramos.

Craig and Kathryn Hall (Hall Wines, Walt Ranch, and more) come in second, with $39,500. The lion’s share of that, $25,000, went to Alfredo Pedroza. In fact, the graph shows that Pedroza takes the lion’s share of money from the big spenders.

Looking at these numbers, and seeing what’s happening in the county, I find it difficult to believe that it has no influence on the decisions being made by the Board of Supervisors. Otherwise, why would these people throw so much money their way?

The specific favors they might be looking for become even more apparent when you look at how much money has been given to Pedroza since the 2016 election. There is another graph that shows how much influence ($37,300) Craig Hall, from Frisco, Texas, wields over Pedroza. That amount of money makes it easy to understand why Pedroza supported Hall’s 2,300-acre Walt Ranch project, which will cut down 14,000 trees, threaten local water supplies, and amplify oak woodland destruction. And Pedroza supported it even though there was overwhelming opposition from local neighbors and residents throughout Napa County.

Other Pedroza benefactors also have big projects either already approved or in the works. Peter Read’s Circle R Ranch will soon be converted from wildland and cattle grazing to vineyards. The run-off from that could impact Milliken Reservoir and Napa’s municipal water supply. Read has given Pedroza $17,500.

David Phinney’s 278-acre Bloodlines Vineyard project above Rector Reservoir, currently before the county for approval, will also impact a municipal water supply. Phinney has given Pedroza $12,500.

Peter Nisson (Hess Collection) has a 20-plus acre vineyard expansion project before the planning commission that will require the removal of some 368 coast live oak trees up on Atlas Peak. Nissen has given Pedroza $8,000.

But what is most disturbing is the impact this huge influx of money has on the democratic process, which becomes crystal clear if you look at the graph that compares the amount of money available to each of the contestants in District 4 for their campaign.

As of January 18, Pedroza had $357,352. Amber Manfree had $30,239.

Keep in mind that we are talking about District 4, where only 8,639 people voted in 2016.

What we have here is not a democracy. But a plutocracy. A society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth.

The money Pedroza's sponsors are giving him is not needed to win this election. But it does create a virtual firewall to prevent anyone else from daring to run against him.

Fortunately, Amber Manfree did not get that memo...or she simply chose to ignore it. That's courage of the highest order. And that’s what is lacking on the current Board of Supervisors.

Since deciding to run just a few months ago, Amber has inspired more than 200 volunteers who are busy now pounding the pavement, talking to constituents, writing postcards, distributing signs, and making phone calls on her behalf. They don't have boatloads of cash to influence the outcome of this election. But they are giving her their most valuable asset, their time—because they have the most to lose, their quality of life.

And Amber has respected their commitment by facing every challenge thrown her way, appearing at every candidate's forum and participating in every interview she's been invited to.

I can't say the same for her overly-funded opponent, Alfredo Pedroza, who seems to think giving away tacos on Tuesdays, hiring organizations to make robo calls, and mailing (ad nauseam) misleading fliers is all it takes to win him the votes he needs.

It’s clear to me that Amber is the obvious choice for Napa County supervisor. I hope you agree because this corrupt funding of our local elections has to stop. And we're the only ones who can do it.

Let's send the plutocrats an important message. If you're in District 4, please vote for Amber Manfree. If you're not, please tell all your friends who are. This is how we'll win and reclaim democracy. Together.

Elaine de Man

St. Helena

Editor's note: This letter has been modified to remove a reference to the Woolls Ranch Winery, which was approved before Pedroza was appointed to the board.

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