Candidates competing to be the next Merced County sheriff raised nearly $160,000 during the primary campaign season.
According to financial disclosure statements filed May 22 at the Merced County Elections Office, candidates Pat Lunney, Jim Sonia, Frank Swiggart and Vern Warnke had raised a combined total of $159,464.12 since campaign season launched in January.
Candidates spent a total of $120,820.09 from Jan. 10 to mid-May, records indicate.
Swiggart’s campaign reported raising the most money overall, $56,436. His camp raised $21,075 during the first filing period, ending March 17, and another $35,361 in the period that ended May 22.
Swiggart spent a total of $38,275.7 – second most among the four candidates, behind Lunney.
Most of Swiggart’s funds came from business owners and farmers. His two largest reported contributors were Mike Salvadori, owner of Century 21 Salvadori Realty, who gave about $3,100, and RHM Farms, which gave $3,000.
Swiggart’s wife, Conchita, works as a real estate agent for Salvadori. She is also listed as one of her husband’s campaign treasurers.
Swiggart attributed his fundraising success in the business community to “trust.”
“They agree we need a forward-thinking change, and we need someone who will be here long enough to get the job done and long enough to handle next situation that arises,” Swiggart said.
Lunney raised the second-highest reported total – $54,594 – and spent the most – $49,684.45. He received $28,115 during the first filing period and $26,929 in the second. His largest contributor was the Merced County Teamster Correctional Officers, which gave $5,000. Hunter Farms of Livingston and the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council each gave $2,000. Lunney also contributed $10,000 of his own money to his campaign.
“I think the people who know me have confidence in my past record and believe in my ability to provide leadership,” he said. “They believe they’re investing in the best possible future” for the Sheriff’s Department.
Lunney received numerous donations of $1,000, including one from the Merced Hotel-Motel Association, which also gave Swiggart $1,000.
Warnke’s fundraising picked up steam in the second half of the race after a slow start, but he remained third in overall money. During the first filing period, Warnke raised $11,433, but in the second period he picked up $32,801.12 for a total of $44,234.12.
Warnke’s camp reported spending a total of $29,052 between January and May 22.
His top contributor was his mother-in-law, Helen Doane, who gave a reported $17,000, making her the largest overall contributor in the race. He also received more than $3,000 from the Merced County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.
Warnke utilized Facebook fundraising far more than any other candidate in the race and said doing so “helped get the word out that the money was needed.”
“I’m very proud of this grass-roots campaign,” he said. “People are donating money and they’re donating their sweat, which, to me, is just as important.”
Soria’s reported money-raising efforts lagged far behind all the other candidates. He raised a total of $3,750 between January and May 22.
During that time, Soria reported spending $3,807.90 – more than he took in – but his campaign still reported an ending cash balance of $63.46, according to the financial records.
Merced County Elections officials confirmed that Soria’s numbers didn’t add up.
Soria has struggled with financial disclosures throughout the campaign. He missed the first filing deadline by more than a full month. He said he only became aware of his campaign’s failure to file the required documents when contacted by the Merced Sun-Star.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission has already confirmed plans to investigate Soria’s fundraising activities after the election.
Soria’s largest campaign contributor was his cousin, Robert Rodriguez, a computer technician from Los Angeles, who gave $500.
He said being significantly behind in fundraising does not concern him and that campaign money would not have a significant effect on the race. “The people who are going to vote for me are going to vote for me,” Soria said. “We’re staying very positive.”
County elections officials routinely run in-depth reviews of all filings after each election, but there was no specific timetable set for when those reviews might be completed.