Five top officials in the Westlands Water District on Saturday collectively gave more than $50,000 to support Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Don Peracchi, who is chairman of the Westlands board, gave the most -- $25,000.
Board member Frank Coelho Jr. gave $10,000 through his Casaca Vineyards, as did Riverdale-based Errotabere Ranches, whose president is Westlands board member Dan Errotabere.
Lemoore farmer and Westlands board member Gary Esajian donated $5,000, and water district general manager Tom Birmingham gave $2,500.
All are Republicans.
"Politics makes for strange bedfellows," said former Assembly Member Sarah Reyes, a Fresno Democrat and Prop. 30 supporter. "I can't imagine that they don't have ulterior motives for their contributions to Prop. 30. They have nothing to do with schools, but I'm glad they've jumped into the fray."
Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance in Stockton, thinks he knows one ulterior motive -- the proposal for a system to take water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that in the past was known as the Peripheral Canal.
Jennings said $50,000 is "an inexpensive investment" for west-side farmers who could benefit from such a system around the troubled delta.
Jennings said state money possibly could be used to supplement user fees to pay for building the system.
"Remember, the hit on Prop. 30 is that it all may not go to schools," he said.
But Errotabere -- who noted that he made the donation as a private citizen, and not as part of his role as a Westlands director -- said his reason for giving the cash is simple: He supports Prop. 30.
"We just think that California has to get its financial house in order," he said.
Giving money to Prop. 30, however, puts the Westlands officials squarely in line with such organizations as the state Democratic Party, the California Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union, as well as on the opposite side from the state Republican Party, which opposes it.
Birmingham, Esajian and Peracchi didn't return phone calls seeking comment, and Coelho couldn't be reached.
Michael Der Manouel Jr., chairman of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County and a critic of Prop. 30, said he hasn't talked to any of the five and has "no idea why they gave the money."
"I just don't know how anybody could believe a tax increase will get our house in order when it never has in the past," Der Manouel said. "If (Prop. 30) passes, California will have the highest combined sales and income taxes in the nation."
The Westlands officials aren't the only agriculture leaders supporting Brown on Prop. 30.
"I truly feel that this governor has the best interests of this state at heart," said Barry Bedwell, a Republican and president of the Fresno-based California Grape and Tree Fruit League. "He's working toward what he sees is a reasonable solution to this."
It's not unusual for business leaders to support seemingly opposing viewpoints. Take a look at campaign contribution reports this year for Peracchi and Errotabere, for example.
Errotabere has given to Republican congressional candidate David Valadao of Hanford and GOP Reps. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Jeff Denham of Turlock. But's he also has given to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.
Peracchi has given to Denham, McCarthy and House Speaker John Boehner, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the National Republican Congressional Committee. At the same time, he has donated to Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa, a Fresno Democrat.
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