The recently completed Oro Valley Town Council election was dubbed one of the most important in the town's history by virtue of five seats up for grabs thanks to an increase of the council's ranks from five to seven members.
Proof of that importance may be found in the amount of money spent by candidates and independent committees during the election - more than $100,000, by far the most ever spent in a town election.
Leading the way was an independent expenditure committee called OV Candidates 2004, which spent just more than $18,000. The committee had just three contributors, Bill Adler, Carl "Tony" Kuehn, and Celta Sheppard.
The committee was the subject of controversy just before the May 18 election when an unidentified Oro Valley resident hired a prominent Phoenix attorney to complain to the Town Clerk that the committee appeared to be working in concert with candidates Conny Culver, K.C. Carter, Helen Dankwerth, Barry Gillaspie and Richie Feinberg, something which is prohibited by state campaign finance law.
Adler steadfastly insisted his committee was complying with the law and never worked in concert with any of the candidates. Oro Valley Town Attorney Mark Langlitz chose not to offer an opinion on the complaint, saying it was a matter for the county or state to review. Both the Pima County Attorney's Office and the state Attorney General's Office declined to review the matter, saying it did not comply with state law, which requires a sworn complaint, and that it was more a matter for Langlitz to handle.
Adler said in May he was spending as much money as he was in the election because he believed in past elections candidates he thought would be less beholden to developers were overwhelmed by other candidates who spent large amounts of money, much of it received from developers.
Developer money was well represented in this election, too, with two committees formed to combat Adler's, Citizens Against Higher Taxes and Citizens for Fair & Ethical Elections. Citizens Against Higher Taxes had only two contributors, Bourn Partners, a local commercial Real Estate firm, and Vanderbilt Farms, which is owned by Brandon Wolfswinkel, whose family is the principal owner and developer of Rancho Vistoso in Oro Valley. Each contributed $5,000.
Losing candidates Dick Johnson, Bart Rochman, Don Cox and Lyra Done all received thousands of dollars from the development and Real Estate industries, with many contributors associated with Rancho Vistoso.
Johnson received the most money by far, more than $17,000 and Rochman second with more than $9,500 raised. The candidates they lost to, Culver and Carter, combined spent only a little more than $3,000, although they were greatly aided by Adler's committee which took out several full-page newspaper advertisements touting both candidates.
Of the candidates who won, Terry Parish raised the most, about $7,500, followed by Dankwerth with $6,000. Dankwerth, though, was self-financed and did not take any political contributions.