In order to combat terrorism, cover departmental costs and recoup debts incurred by campaigning, Sheriff Jim Anderson is asking his supporters for monetary contributions.
Anderson sent out a fund-raising letter two weeks ago to approximately 5,000 recipients requesting donations. According to the letter, any donations will be used to cover routine services, protect against terrorism and pay for Anderson’s $20,000 campaign debt. Anderson has also said any surplus funds will be used to support future campaigns.
Although the ethics and legality of this move have been called into question, Anderson said the request is a legitimate one.
“This is a very common practice and it’s perfectly legal,” Anderson said. “I intend on sending out a letter like this once a year.”
Anderson said the money would go toward departmental necessities before campaign debt.
“The money will be used for whatever the law allows and whatever the circumstances call for, be it fighting crime, training, fighting terrorism or campaign issues,” Anderson said. “Being involved in campaigns is very expensive.”
Section 27-20.1 of Santa Barbara County Code prohibits “incompatible activities” by county employees. Generally, this means that a county employee cannot do outside work that interferes with the performance of duties.
Salaried, appointed county employees are prohibited from doing personal work on county time. This principle does not apply to elected officials, who are “always on duty,” do not have prescribed regular work hours, and may engage in political activity so long as they do not use county resources or money to do so.
Santa Barbara County Counsel Stephen Shane Stark said Anderson’s letter does not violate this law.
“Assuming that no public funds were spent preparing or distributing the letter, the state law prohibiting mass mailings at public expense has not been violated,” Stark said. “There is no county law or policy that prohibits [the letters].”
Richard Cochran, Anderson’s political adviser, said the request for donations is sound politics.
“The letter was sent primarily to supporters of the sheriff,” Cochran said. “The important thing is everyone who got a letter had voluntarily endorsed or contributed to Anderson in the past.”
Anderson said the letter was just a request for donations and was not meant to force money out of past contributors.
“There’s no pressure,” Anderson said. “If people object to the letter, all they have to do is rip it up and throw it away.”
Despite the controversy over the letter, Anderson said the response has been favorable.
“We’ve already received many donations, and we’re still planning to send out these letters annually,” Anderson said. “I’ll be able to set money aside for any additional needs that might come up in the next term.”