Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Goleta candidates decry dirty politics


Allegations of dirty politics, smear campaigns and election law violations are flying in Goleta as the race for two seats on the City Council enters its final week.
Two candidates, former Councilmember Margaret Connell and Planning Commissioner Ed Easton, filed a complaint with state officials yesterday alleging a political action committee has failed to file campaign disclosure forms required by law.

The group, known as the Coalition for a Healthier Goleta, has funded several campaign mailers and recently purchased a television spot attacking the candidacies of Connell and Easton.
While the two candidates certainly took issue with the claims in the advertisements — using terms such as “hatchet job” — Connell said the main problem is the coalition’s failure to provide information about its financial backers or its leadership.
“They must report who is financing their campaign and how they are spending their money,” she said. “This kind of outrageous flouting of the Fair Political Practices Commission rules makes for a sicker Goleta, not a healthier Goleta.”
Easton said the recently purchased TV spot is particularly mendacious, alleging it distorts Connell’s record, implies falsehoods and has no basis in fact.
“Seven days of this ad will sicken everyone,” he said. “…What’s worse is it’s done with anonymous dollars.”
As of yesterday afternoon, the coalition had yet to disclose contributions to its war chest for two consecutive filing periods. Election law requires groups to provide campaign finance information if they spend more than $1,000.
Calls made to Roy Zbinden, a former candidate for Goleta City Council and the only local contact listed for the coalition, were not successful. A woman who answered said Zbinden is out of town and had no way of passing along a message. She was not sure when he would return.
A San Francisco firm is handling advertising for the coalition and its treasurer is based in Los Angeles, according to Connell and Easton’s campaigns.
Connell said she doesn’t expect state officials to take any action prior to the election, but expressed hope that those responsible will be fined or dealt with appropriately.
Connell and Easton, who have emerged as a slate ticket of sorts against Councilmember Jean Blois and Goleta businessman Don Gilman, called on their opponents to condemn the actions of the coalition and urge its leaders to pull the advertisements.
Reached yesterday afternoon, Gilman said he has yet to see any new advertisements by the Coalition for a Healthier Goleta, but decried all negative attacks.
“I don’t approve of any smear campaign,” he said.
Gilman added that he doesn’t know any of the coalition’s leaders or backers. He did admit to shaking Zbinden’s hand at a campaign forum, calling that his only experience with the former council candidate.
“That’s all I know of him,” Gilman said. “I know nothing about the rest of it.”
Blois also denied knowledge of the coalition’s leadership yesterday afternoon.
“I know nothing about the committee,” she said. “I certainly wouldn’t condone any group that wasn’t filing properly and reporting properly.”
Gilman countered any implication they were involved in the actions of the coalition by attacking other political action committees involved in the race.
Gilman cited a mailer he received yesterday from a group known as Friends of Goleta that portrayed Blois driving a bulldozer titled the “Development Express” over a pile of dirt labeled “Goleta.”
On the other side of the mailer, he said, is an endorsement of Connell and Easton.
“This ought to wake up some people as far as smear campaigns go, because it’s blatantly misleading and half-truths,” he said.
Blois said she has noticed an increase in negative campaigning toward the end of previous elections in Goleta’s short history.
“It’s just too bad when it gets nasty,” she said. “I would much prefer it if things were on more of a positive note.”
Nonetheless, she made a point to note several campaign contributions to Connell and Easton in recent weeks.
“[They] have raised an enormous amount of money,” she said. “Practically half of it has come from hotel owners, which is interesting.”
A review of campaign disclosure documents at City Hall confirmed the Coalition for a Healthier Goleta had not filed any forms.
Friends of Goleta — which ran advertisements and sent out mailers in favor of Connell and Easton — listed contributions of $9,274 and expenditures of $6,626.
Richard Whited, a commodities trading advisor at a Santa Barbara-based trading firm, is credited with making $6,200 in donations to the group.
Another committee, known as the Goleta PAC, reported receiving $39,800 and spending $40,155 this year — largely on mailers, advertisements and door hangers in support of Blois and Gilman.
Donations to that group include $10,000 from the Shelby Family Partnership, $5,000 from Irvine-based R.D. Olson Development and $1,000 from Pacifica Commercial Realty. Goleta PAC also received $3,000 from the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, along with $7,000 in non-monetary donations.
As far as the candidates themselves, Connell and Easton have raised more money this year than Blois and Gilman.
Connell reported contributions of $52,913, with $33,460 coming in the month of October. She has spent $38,000, leaving her with approximately $17,000. Significant donations include $10,000 from South Coast Inn, $3,000 from Pacifica Suites and $2,000 from Friends of Salud Carbajal.
Easton received $49,343 in donations including $31,475 this month, and has spent $40,682 on his campaign, leaving just under $10,000. South Coast Inn and Pacifica Suites donated $10,000 and $3,000 respectively, while Ramada Limited gave $2,500.
Blois brought in $13,098 this month for a total of $24,510 and spent $12,494. She drew donations of $1,500 from the California Real Estate PAC and $1,000 from the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast.
Gilman received $29,809 — with $18,323 pouring in during October — and spent $28,759. His donors include the California Real Estate PAC ($1,500) and the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast ($1,000), as well as Conquest Investments ($1,500) and the Santa Barbara County Firefighters Government Committee ($2,500).

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