By Daniel Langhorne
The election campaigns of candidates running for Orange City Council on Nov. 6 have collectively received thousands of dollars from individuals with connections to Chapman University over the last several months.
It’s important for Chapman to maintain a positive relationship with the Orange City Council because its five members control the Chapman University Specific Plan, which governs how the University is able to grow its campus and student population.
By reviewing campaign contribution forms, OC Indy found more than $11,000 in contributions made from Chapman employees, an employee’s spouse, current and former trustees and a former governor emeritus, and their businesses.
Among the notable donors was President Daniele Struppa who donated $500 to Betty Valencia, vice president of operations at American Auto Finance; $500 to planning commissioner Adrienne Gladson; and the maximum individual contribution of $1,000 to Chip Monaco, regional government affairs manager at Waste Management of Southern California.
Chapman senior staff members also contributed, including Sheryl Bourgeois, executive vice president of university advancement, who donated $500 to Monaco. Jack Raubolt, vice president of community relations, donated $199 to Gladson, $274 to Councilman Mark Murphy, $200 to Councilwoman Kim Nichols, and $100 to college student John Russo. Helen Norris, vice president and chief information officer, donated $100 to Valencia.
While the amounts may seem small in the scope of the many thousands of dollars spent this campaign season, Orange County government watchdog Shirley Grindle said it’s important to be aware of who is donating to city council election campaigns to understand how a candidate might vote. The Orange resident has been keeping an eye on campaign contribution filings by candidates for the Orange City Council, Anaheim City Council, and Orange County Board of Supervisors for years.
“It is obvious that Chapman University is investing in the future votes of the Orange City Council,” Grindle said. “The large number of campaign contributions from professors, trustees, and wives of Chapman associates raises eyebrows concerning future actions by those receiving these contributions.”
Grindle added that there is nothing illegal about Chapman employees and associates spending their own money on these contributions as long as they aren’t reimbursed by the University.
Pamela Ezell, a Chapman spokeswoman, said university employees are private citizens and are free to support their community.
“At no point does the leadership, in their role as a Chapman employee, take action for or against a candidate or use Chapman resources for political activity,” Ezell said. “The leaders of Chapman look forward to working with all of our elected officials as we continue our commitment to being good neighbors in Orange.”
Monaco collected more money from Chapman associates than any other candidates: $4,574 of his $37,116 in total contributions. He is followed by Murphy with $3,324 of his $15,198 in total contributions, Valencia with $2,229 of her $33,795 in total contributions, Gladson with $799 of her $19,565 in total contributions, Nichols with $450 of $27,673 in total contributions, and Russo with $100 of his $4,844 in total contributions.
Monaco did not respond to requests for comment.
Murphy, first elected to the City Council in 1993, has been mayor and a city council member during much of Chapman’s growth over the last two decades. When asked to comment on a list of contributions by Chapman, he lauded their support for his campaign.
“I am very fortunate to have many friends and supporters of my campaign for Mayor of Orange,” he said. “All the individuals listed below I know personally, consider them friends and I appreciate their continued support.”
Besides Chapman staff members, current and former members of the University’s Boards of Trustees and Governors contributed to Monaco and Murphy’s campaigns.
Trustee David Wilson, CEO of Wilson Automotive, donated the maximum individual contribution of $1,000 to Murphy’s war chest this election cycle. Former trustees Doy Henley and Roger Hobbs, president and CEO of real estate developer RC Hobbs Co., respectively contributed $950 and $500 to Monaco’s election campaign. Hobbs also contributed $200 to Nichols’ election campaign.
It’s noteworthy that companies owned by former trustees also contributed to candidates’ campaigns. Wilson Automotive donated $1,000 to Monaco and RC Hobbs Co. donated $1,000 to Murphy.
There was also at least one instance of a senior Chapman employee’s wife donating. Lori Olsen, who is married to Kris Olsen, vice president of campus planning and operations, contributed $175 to Murphy’s campaign.
As a Leadership Studies doctoral student in Chapman’s Attallah College of Education, Valencia has accepted donations from several education faculty members, including $200 from Professor Suzanne Soohoo, $129 from Professor Leisa Leitz, $100 from Professor Margaret Grogan, $350 from Lecturer Anne Steketee, and $100 from Professor Don Cardinal.
“I am very proud to state many in the community have seen my leadership abilities and have been supportive of this campaign,” she said. “Having individuals who believe in community and integrity in politics support our efforts, makes me proud to be running.”
Gladson said she he had met with Struppa, like many other applicants, when Chapman has proposed projects during her time on the Planning Commission.
She added that she accepted $100 from Kati Bye, an executive assistant in the Office of Campus Planning, because they became friends as members of the Rotary Club of Orange.
Gladson said she’s very mindful of her civic responsibility to listen to all of her constituents as a prospective council member and believes the $1,000 limit on individual contributions keeps the contest pretty equal for all of the candidates.
“It doesn’t mean that I promise them a vote,” she said. “I promise them that I’ll do my job.”