Last week, leaked emails between SLO County 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill and employees of some of the county’s most prominent businesses appeared to contain Hill chiding some of those businesses for not donating to his re-election campaign, while praising others who had.
While the emails raised eyebrows in the community, Hill isn’t the only candidate taking money from entities that do business or hope to do business with the governing body.
According to campaign finance records Hill’s opponent, SLO City Councilman Dan Carpenter, received $1,000 from SLO-based Souza Construction in 2016. The donation represents the second highest donation to Carpenter’s campaign so far. It’s not the first time the two have crossed paths. In 2014, Souza Construction partnered with John Madonna Construction to contest the city’s awarding a $16 million bid for the Los Osos Valley Road interchange project to another company, the Watsonville-based Granite Construction. According to city records, the council voted 4-1 to uphold the planning department’s decision, with Carpenter as the lone dissenting vote. Had the bid been overturned, the lucrative contact may have gone to the Madonna and Souza joint venture.
Speaking to New Times Aug. 16, Carpenter said he voted against upholding Granite’s bid because the company wasn’t local.
“My arguments were very clear; … it was to keep the project and jobs local here in San Luis Obispo County,” Carpenter said. “There was never a quid pro quo.”
Carpenter said that the donation from Souza Construction was the result of one of his early donors, who was friends with the company’s owner, Steve Souza, asking Souza to contribute to the campaign.
Souza Construction has also done business before the county Board of Supervisors. In 2013, the company was awarded a $236,000 bid for repair work along See Canyon Road, according to county records. The year before, it won a more than $4 million contract for a bridge-widening project after contesting the award of a bid to another company.
Steve Souza was a partner in Las Pilitas Resources LLC, which proposed a contentious quarry project on Highway 58 3 miles outside of Santa Margarita. The supervisors ultimately shot that project down in 2015, with Hill among the three opposing votes.
Carpenter acknowledged that money was necessary to run a successful political campaign. And he said that he didn’t take donations in exchange for support on projects, something he said that local developers, many of which had projects in SLO city, were aware of.
“I think that because of the rapport I’ve built with them over the years, they know, ‘If I present Dan with a project that’s good for the community, he will support it,’” Carpenter said. “They know I need the money, … but they don’t feel the pressure to write me a check to get the result they want.”