Karen Rarey

Karen Rarey was appointed to fill a vacant Brentwood City Council seat during a meeting on Dec.29.

Following community criticism on campaign contribution dollars, mayoral candidate Karen Rarey announced this week she will return funds donated to her from unions.

On Oct. 12, during a virtual interview, Rarey shared her decision to return contributions made to her “Karen Rarey for Brentwood Mayor 2020” committee by unions and the California Real Estate PAC (political action committee).

“Residents have spoken loud and clear that they don’t even want the perception of impropriety from their future elected officials,” said Rarey. “As the sister of two lifetime tradesmen, I’m proud to receive the support and endorsement of the unions, but in light of the outrage by residents about a substantial donation to another candidate’s campaign, I have decided to return the funds. I still stand with the unions as they are about jobs for working men and women. They provide a career path with prevailing wages for their members and even fight for prevailing wages on job sites for non-union members. They also give back to our community through volunteerism.”

According to Rarey, she has returned $1,500 from IBEW Local 302; $1,500 from Operating Engineers Local No. 3; $1,000 from District Council 16; $1,000 from California Real Estate PAC; $750 from Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 159; $750 LiUNA Local; $500 from NCCRC; $200 from Heat & Frost Insulators Local 16; and $100 from Elevators Constructors Local 8.

Rarey’s campaign contribution disclosure 460 forms submitted through the city’s Fair Political Practices Commission portal did not reflect the returns at The Press’ Oct. 21 press time, as the forms already posted were from the previous filing period. The second pre-election deadline for all committees to submit a 460 form is Oct. 22.

Residents applauded the move.

“I’m a 62-year member of the Operating Engineers No. 3,” said resident Jim LaFond in a public Facebook comment directed at Rarey. “What (you’re) doing is commendable. We have already voted for you.”

Rarey’s reference to “another candidate’s campaign” was in regard to current Vice Mayor Joel Bryant, who’s running against her for the mayoral seat. Last week, Bryant received public criticism for accepting a $20,000 donation from Sierra Pacific Properties, which is an entity owned by Albert Seeno, who also owns Discovery Builders — the applicant of the contentious Bridle Gate project. The applicant delayed bringing the project before the council until after the election in the wake of the Planning Commission’s vote to recommend a denial of the project in its current form.

In a previous interview with The Press, Bryant stated that his vote cannot be bought and spelled out cases in which his voting record had supported this claim — including such projects as Walmart, the transfer station and the Amber Lane apartment project. He stated that his votes on those projects went against the desires of developers who had previously contributed to his campaigns.

When asked if he would consider returning the developer dollars, regardless, Bryant said such a move would give credence to those who are saying campaign dollars are influential.

“I feel that by returning campaign donations, especially at this point in time, sends a message that either a person felt that it was wrong in the beginning, but was willing to go against their conscience to get votes,” he said, “or they didn’t feel that there was anything wrong with it, but yielded to pressure from a special interest group to go against their own conscience.”

Council candidates Indrani Golden, Olga Vidriales and Claudette Staton also accepted contributions from sources beyond the individual donors. Golden responded to criticism of her acceptance of $5,000 from the same Sierra Properties. She stressed the importance of working with companies in order to attract employers to the city.

“What I’d like to know is why are developers only bad when they’re building someone else’s home? Developers also built The Streets of Brentwood and all the other shopping centers in Brentwood,” Golden said. “I had my views on development before receiving the contribution from Sierra Pacific Properties, not the other way around, and no one is going to buy my vote. So, while I understand why some people may be concerned, they need not be as I’m committed to doing what is best for both my neighbors in District 3 and all the residents of Brentwood should I be elected.”

As filed early Oct. 21, Vidriales showed a total contribution of $5,600 from individuals along with real estate and union PACs. Staton showed contributions from a handful of unions totaling almost $10,000 in the last period.

Vidriales stated that she was grateful the Delta Association of Realtors showed support in this election, as she won’t have to contribute another $7,200 from her personal savings.

Staton said she saw no reason to return her contributions.

“I am proud to have the support of the working men and women of Brentwood and around the county,” Staton said. “Some of us are not wealthy enough to fund our own campaigns.”