Update Nov. 3: Mustang News removed the word “eccentric” as a descriptor for candidate Donald Hedrick 

This Tuesday, Nov. 3, San Luis Obispo residents will head to the polls to vote for mayor.

Incumbent mayor Heidi Harmon has served since 2016 and is nearing the end of her second two-year term. Harmon’s main challenger in the upcoming election is Cherisse Sweeney, a local business owner who is running on the promise to bring “non-partisan leadership to city hall,” according to her campaign website.

A third candidate, former newspaper publisher and current Director of the Earth Day Alliance Sandra Marshall-Eminger, is contending for office with the goal that her candidacy will foster “new and innovative designs that improve [San Luis Obispo] without changing it,” according to her campaign website.   

A fourth candidate Donald “Don” Hedrick — an art welder who has unsuccessfully tried for the office four times — will also be on the ballot.

Since 1974, the Political Reform Act has required California candidates to file all contributions to their campaigns with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), a bipartisan election agency. These fillings are posted throughout the election cycle on San Luis Obispo’s Public Portal for Campaign Finance Disclosure. Candidates are required to disclose how much money they received, who placed the donation and a number of other descriptive materials. 

Based on data from June to the most recent filing deadline of Oct. 17, here are three key takeaways of the financial state of the race for mayor:

Sweeney is significantly outraising Harmon

Sweeney has raised $55,325 from 233 contributions since the filing period began on June 1. Harmon trails with $39,293 generated from a total of 150 contributions.

Over the same period, Sandra Marshall-Eminger has raised $2,350 from 13 contributions. Donald Hedrick did not file any data.

Number of Campaign Contributions

Harmon has garnered the support of political organizations 

Harmon received several donations from local unions and political organizations, while Sweeney received contributions from local businesses.

The FPPC requires that candidates disclose the sources of all contributions received based on the following classifications: individual, recipient committee, small contributor committee, political party and other. 

The individual classification is for independent donations from a single person. Recipient committees, small contributor committees and political party donations are all forms of political action committees (PACs). The “other” classification represents groups that do not fall under these categories, such as business entities.

Of contributions that did not come from individual donors, Sweeney received 16 donations from the “other” classification, two donations from recipient committees and one donation from a small contributor committee. All 16 of Sweeney’s donations in the “other” classification were small businesses. 

Harmon received seven donations from Recipient Committees and one donation from the “other” classification. Marshall-Eminger received only individual donations.

Groups that donated to Harmon’s campaign include:

Groups that donated to Sweeney’s campaign include:

Contributors to Harmon and Sweeney represent opposing political ideologies

While Harmon’s political leanings are well documented — she’s endorsed by the San Luis Obispo County Democrats and was the 2014 Democratic candidate for California’s 35th Assembly District — Sweeney has not officially aligned herself with a political party.

Harmon has received donations from local Democrats, including Mayor Pro Tem of Grover Beach Mariam Shah and former Atascadero Mayor Ellen Beraud. Other notable contributors to Harmon’s campaign include iFixit CEO Kyle Weins and former President and CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce David Garth.

Despite her bipartisan campaign message, data shows that Sweeney’s campaign has received donations from multiple prominent San Luis Obispo Republicans, including former Republican State Senator Sam Blakeslee and former county supervisor candidate Stacy Korsgaden. Both Bob Nelson and Debbie Arnold, whose respective campaigns donated to Sweeney, are Republicans.

Other notable contributors to Sweeney’s campaign include former San Luis Obispo police chief Jim Gardiner, SLO Brew co-founder Rodney Cegelski, Mindbody co-founder Blake Beltram and San Francisco Giants Pitcher Trevor Oaks.

Data shows Sweeney has a financial edge, but the race isn’t over yet

Campaign finance data suggests that Sweeney’s campaign is generating considerable support among the community and that she is a serious challenger to Harmon’s reelection. It’s important to note that this data only covers up to Oct. 17, so contributions made within the 17-day period between the filing deadline and the election could still alter the trajectory of the race.

Five voter service centers in the City of San Luis Obispo are now open for in-person voting until Election Day, Nov. 3. Residents may also drop off mail-in ballots at three drop off locations, including one located at the Robert E. Kennedy Library on campus. You may also submit a vote-by-mail ballot at voter service centers.

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