The state’s political watchdog agency is having trouble finding the scent of who produced or paid for a San Diego County robocall and Carlsbad signs that broke state election laws.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission says the call and signs lacked proper “paid-for” disclosures — an offense with a maximum penalty of $5,000 per violation.
An unknown number of people received a 37-second robocall with a young woman’s voice.
The caller said: “Hi, do you wonder who to vote for for Republican Central Committee? This is GoldStandardSlate.com, which lists the candidates who will work hard for our local Republican efforts. The candidates listed have all been vetted and are proven dedicated volunteers for our party. Do not leave this office blank when voting. You can vote for up to six. Visit goldstandardslate.com for the complete list. … Thank you for being a great Republican.”
Also being investigated are signs and fliers apparently aimed at defeating Cori Schumacher, a Democrat and Carlsbad councilwoman since 2016. (On Tuesday, she won a special election* to fill a council vacancy, topping a three-person field with 47.6% of the vote.)
“In some cases, like this, we can’t find anything,” said Jay Wierenga of the FPPC. “So as a last resort, here we are” — seeking the public’s help. “Hopefully, we’ll get a tip out of it.”
The FPPC got the robocall and “Stop Cori Now!” tips through its AdWatch program, being revived from 2018, when the public uploaded more than 150 ads.
(Only state and local election ads are subject to FPPC scrutiny. Ads involving federal offices are under Federal Election Commission purview.)
“FPPC Enforcement proactively reviewed 600 more ads and combined found more than 120 advertisements that were potentially non-compliant,” said a Jan. 6 news release. “When the FPPC Enforcement Division determines who is responsible for the ad, they are then contacted for correction or removal of the non-compliant advertisement, if feasible.”
The public can submit information anonymously, with steps via this page.
The robocall and endorsement website were news to Regina “Gina” Roberts of Valley Center, the top vote-getter in the 75th Assembly District for a seat on the county Republican Party Central Committee.
She said she hadn’t been contacted by the FPPC. “Not interviewed or anything,” she said Thursday.
Two candidates who didn’t win election to the GOP Central Committee celebrated their endorsements, however. The “Roarke Shanley for Republican Central Committee” Facebook page posted on Feb. 25: “Honored to receive the ‘Gold Standard’ rating from the Gold Standard Slate!”
Also posting on Facebook was Central Committee hopeful Jordan Gascon, executive director of the county Republican Party. He wrote Feb. 11: “I’m proud to be featured on the Gold Standard Slate.” But he finished 11th in 71st District voting. (Gascon was second of two in a race for a seat on the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District board.)
On Friday, Gascon said via email that he heard about the robocall from a North County friend who received it Feb. 25, but did not get one himself.
“I do not know who created, wrote or paid for the site,” he said. “I was never contacted before receiving the text message on 2/10/2020 with the link to the slate.”
On Saturday, Shanley — an appointed incumbent of the committee — said: “I was never contacted by the FPPC, and never coordinated with the slate. I was unaware my name was used in it, until a friend shared it online.”
San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric was named in the ads and re-elected to the Central Committee; he didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Gold Standard Slate website was created May 2, 2016, with GoDaddy.com as registrar. No name is attached.
The site lists six names each in the 71st, 75th, 76th, 77th, 78th, 79th and 80th Assembly Districts.
“The candidates featured here have earned the ‘Gold Standard’ seal of approval because of their dedication not just to conservative principles but also to doing the actual work required to get Republicans elected throughout San Diego County,” the site says. “They all hope to earn your vote to help make California Great Again!”
The FPPC says paid-for disclosures apply to advertisements such as mass mailings (including blast e-mails), paid telephone calls, radio and television ads, billboards, yard signs, and electronic media ads.
“An advertisement disclosure is the portion of a political message that identifies the committee that paid for or authorized the communication. ‘Paid for by [committee name]’ or ‘Ad paid for by [committee name]’ is the basic disclosure required on campaign communications,” says the FPPC.
The “Stop CORI Now!” ads listed “Concerned Citizens of Carlsbad” as the source. But that wasn’t sufficient. It wasn’t known whether this group was the same as one with the same name that drew a warning letter in 2009.
Wierenga, the FPPC’s communications director, said a “gamut” of responses are possible in the robocall and flier cases — not just a fine.
“The FPPC’s Enforcement Division is looking for information on these cases so as to find out who is responsible, so the public can at least get some information, even if it is after the election,” he said.
Updated at 3:09 p.m. March 7, 2020
*Correction: An earlier version of this story said Schumacher advanced to a November runoff. Carlsbad doesn’t have primary elections.