A transportation consultant with a financial stake in the Crows Landing air base development contributed $3,000 last year to Stanislaus County Supervisor Jeff Grover's re-election campaign.
Responding to a Bee inquiry, Grover acknowledged Friday having disclosed only half the amount in his public financial records. Calling it "an oversight," he said he would immediately submit an amendment and invite scrutiny by state investigators.
Grover previously was criticized by some West Side residents for voting Feb. 27 in favor of a developer who had donated $28,000 to slam Grover's political opponent. The developer, PCCP West Park, hired and works closely with transportation consultant D.J. Smith.
The partners intend to build a business park on 4,560 acres — land that includes and is adjacent to the former naval air training base. One of the key elements to the project is a short-haul rail system.
Grover maintained that neither donation disqualified him from favoring the firm's proposal in last month's vote by county supervisors, which was tinged with accusations of high-level politics and cronyism.
"The law doesn't have any restrictions on who I can or can't vote on based on campaign contributions," Grover said. County Counsel Mick Krausnick publicly agreed before the vote.
"If I did business with them, it's a different thing, but not based on campaign contributions," Grover continued. "I think, in the absence of law, there isn't a legal or ethical discussion here."
West Park had channeled $28,000 to a third party that repeatedly hammered Gary Lopez, Grover's challenger, last fall in hit pieces mailed to voters, while Grover disavowed any knowledge. In contrast, Grover approved Smith's initial $1,500 contribution in May and reported it as required by law.
Smith had paid for an opinion survey meant to gauge voters' attitudes toward Grover, who faced two challengers in June's first voting round.
Smith, a partner in the multifaceted lobbying firm of California Strategies, is widely viewed as California's premier expert on local sales tax initiatives.
Smith said he met Grover when he was hired to poll Stanislaus County residents before voters last year turned down Measure K, a sales tax increase to benefit roads. That was long before Gerry Kamilos of West Park hired Smith to push the concept of a short-haul rail link from Crows Landing to the Port of Oakland, Smith said.
Paid for second opinion poll
His relationship with Grover formed before supervisors decided to ask development firms, including West Park, to compete for negotiating rights to exclusive development of the former naval facility, Smith said.
"(In May,) we were worried about Jeff's re-election," Smith said Thursday. "Rather than shoot in the dark, we went ahead and polled it, and he was marginal at best.
"Everyone is saying we wanted to buy Jeff's vote," Smith continued. "But we made these considerations before we even knew there would be a (bidding) process. We were not sure we wanted to do business in the county if Jeff weren't on the board."
With Grover and Lopez headed for a November runoff, Smith paid for a second opinion poll in Grover's district, spending an additional $1,500. Grover discovered the oversight after checking with his campaign treasurer this week.
"No one can take responsibility except me," Grover said Friday.
He said he would call the error to the attention of the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
Grover's Feb. 27 vote drew fire from Patterson City Council members, who said he should withdraw because of West Park's substantial contribution. Many other West Side residents pleaded with the board to reject West Park.
Grover declined to step aside and led a 3-2 board majority in choosing West Park over Ross Perot Jr.-led Hillwood. Smith participated in West Park's presentations before the vote.
Commonly sizes up leaders
Patterson Councilwoman Annette Smith said news of Smith's help to Grover's campaign left her "kind of speechless."
"He really should have stepped out of (the Feb. 27 vote)," she said.
However, she applauded Grover's request for state scrutiny of his campaign finances once the reporting omission was called to his attention.
Soon after the vote, Grover was tabbed by county Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson as a possible member of the two-man committee charged with negotiating the county's contract with West Park. Grover declined that role and Supervisors Dick Monteith and Jim DeMartini were chosen instead.
Robinson said Grover could continue his work lobbying the Legislature and the Oakland Port Authority on behalf of the county to bring a short-haul rail link between the port and the Crows Landing facility. Smith fills a similar role for West Park.
Smith, who advised six counties last year on sales tax ballot measures, said he commonly sizes up leaders in each community and supports them.
"(Grover) is the leader in Stanislaus County," Smith said. "He's a good guy. I work with people all over the state of California and very few are as principled and long-range and comprehensive in their attitude toward their job."