Sousa said the school used the money to buy $10 gift cards for 50 of the 200 students attending the graduation dance.
"I wouldn't say it buys a vote, but our interactions influence our thoughts," Sousa added. "If you have a positive interaction with someone, you may have a positive image of that person."
Pedrozo said he doesn't allocate the money to garner a positive image, but because he believes in the organizations, which wouldn't otherwise receive funding.
On the flip side, Pacheco said although he supports the same community projects and called them "worthy," he said if he's elected supervisor, he'll find other ways to fund them, including grants and fund-raisers.
There are those who say discretionary fund allocations from a supervisor do sway how they vote. Laura Phillips, executive director at the Merced County Arts Council, said Pedrozo's support in the form of $500 to the Arts Alive program would likely influence her voting decision. "Certainly anyone who supports the arts I would personally vote for," said Phillips. "That shows me that he shares my concerns about what's important in the community."
The $500 allocation funded cash prizes in a competition for visual artists in which they were judged by local artist, Karen LeCocq.
One of the largest recipients of discretionary fund allocations in District 1 is the Bible Christian Nineveh Outreach in Le Grand, a non-denominational nonprofit that feeds more than 1,900 people a month. Pedrozo has donated $5,000 a year to the organization since it began nearly five years ago.
Director James Tesone said he's friends with both candidates in the race, calling them "good people," but said he wouldn't be swayed by the allocations made from Pedrozo's discretionary funds.
"I don't think it curries favor, because it's the kind of thing I would hope whoever took his place would be just as willing to offer," Tesone said. "If he would have said I didn't have a penny, he would still get my vote." Tesone said the money was used to buy nutritious foods and given to Le Grand and Planada residents two Saturdays a month.
MaryAnn McKissick, a community activist in Merced, takes a strong stand against Pedrozo using his discretionary funds for self-promotion in the campaign.
"It does put him at an unfair advantage if he uses taxpayer discretionary dollars to showcase his accomplishments," McKissick said. "If he's using taxpayer money to promote himself, especially the discretionary money, that's unethical."
Both Pedrozo and Pacheco support Tri-City Youth Football, an organization that serves children ranging from age 7 to 13.
Pedrozo allocated $2,500 from this year's discretionary fund, which the organization used to purchase helmets and shoulder pads. The money came just in time, as the group added 50 more children this year.
"I don't think he holds the funds over anyone's head," said Ben Esquivel, Tri-City's president. "I think if the shoe were on the other foot, and Jim had access to the discretionary funds, he would be taking advantage of it too."
Casey Steed, former candidate for supervisor in District 2, said the special funds should be eliminated, but he added that if they're not eliminated, the unused dollars shouldn't be rolled over year after year. "I believe that the funds should be used each year and not be carried over, or at least put back in the general fund," he said.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.