Source of funds often is elusive
Sandra Emerson, Staff Writer
Created: 10/24/2010 04:51:48 AM PDT

Mailers targeting the challenger in the race for San Bernardino County’s 2nd District seat on the Board of Supervisors have drawn fire from both candidates in the race and prompted residents and politicos alike to question who is behind them.

While the mailers target challenger Janice Rutherford, a Fontana council woman, her opponent, incumbent Paul Biane, has denied any connection to the group responsible and denounced the message of one of the mailers as “a despicable and cynical example of class war fare.”

The mailers, sent by Citizens Against Corruption Opposing Rutherford for Supervisor 2010, bring the national debate on independent expenditures home to the Inland Valley.

“Even in an age of transparency there’s still a lot of shadows in politics,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

While independent expenditures are protected as free speech under the U.S. Constitution, some contend they allow special interests to circumvent campaign contribution limits and undermine the electoral process by hiding the source of funding for or against a particular issue or candidate.

“There are a lot of groups out there that are really unaccountable, who are making all these expenditures,” said Robert Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies. “Sometimes there are misleading charges, and it usually is very negative.”

Such is the case with the recent mailers targeting Rutherford.

When they first went out, many wondered who was responsible for them, and little information other than the name of the political action committee was available. A list of donors to the committee, including some Inland Valley businessmen, became available Friday when the committee’s 460 campaign forms were filed.

Stern noted that independent expenditures in races such as San Bernardino County’s Board of Supervisors, where there are no limits to contributions to candidates, is unusual.

“Usually, independent expenditures are where there are contribution limits, so this is a little strange,” Stern said. “The question is who is funding this?”

Stern pointed to a couple of possible reasons.

“One is that they don’t think the candidate is running a good campaign,” Stern said. “Two, they want to be more negative than the candidate wants to be.”

The danger with negative mailers, Stern warned, is that they might sometimes backfire on the candidate most expected to benefit from them. Although Biane is not the target of the recent anti-Rutherford mailers, it could still have an impact on his campaign, said Chris Jones, a campaign consultant for Biane.

“These independent expenditures are a blessing and a curse,” Jones said. “You can’t stop them, and we just encourage voters to focus on the issues that are important and ignore some of the more extraneous and inappropriate attacks.”

Mailers denounced

While the anti-Rutherford mailers drew denunciations from both candidates in the race, they also prompted many in the community to question where they came from.

One mailer was sent to Upland voters linking her to a federal investigation into Upland Mayor John “JP” Pomierski.

The ad says Rutherford had accepted a loan and endorsement from Pomierski and alleges Pomierski is being investigated for “influence peddling,” “pay-to-play,” “selling access” and “shaking down businesses.”

Another mailer also sent to Upland residents depicts Rutherford in gag glasses with a fake nose and mustache, accusing her and her late husband of legally changing their last name to “hide lawsuits and failure to pay employee wages.”

A mailer sent to Rancho Cucamonga residents has drawn fire from Biane’s campaign as well. The mailer features a base ball cap with the word “Fontana” and a top hat, presumably representing the city of Rancho Cucamonga, warning that “Rancho Cucamonga doesn’t need Fontana’s problems,” including “high crime,” “high taxes,” “traffic conges tion” and “shady developers.”

Biane released a joint statement with Supervisor Josie Gonzales calling the Fontana mailer “a despicable and cyni cal display of class warfare.”

But when it comes to the other two mailers, Jones believes there are some relevant issues being raised.

“The Pomierski flier I think has more legitimate issues to it for a candidate like Janice Rutherford who’s making ethics her cornerstone of her campaign,” Jones said. “The fact that she allied with Mr. Pomierski. The fact she hired Bill Post mus’ campaign operator to run her campaign. These things raise legitimate questions.”

Pomierski, along with three other elected Upland officials, endorsed Rutherford for super visor in May.

The month following the endorsement, it was made clear that Pomierski was the target of a federal investigation when FBI and IRS agents on June 10 confiscated boxes of records from Pomierski’s home, where his construction company is based, and from Upland City Hall, JH Builders in Upland, and Venture West Capital in Rancho Cucamonga.

Rutherford, who is running on bringing ethics back to the county, has returned fire with her own mailers, underscoring the fact that Biane has been identified as one of five unnamed, unindicted co-conspirators in a felony complaint against two former county officials.

Biane could not be reached Friday for comment on those mailers.

Citizens Against Corruption Opposing Rutherford for Super visor 2010, which didn’t register with the Secretary of State until after the mailers had gone out, only identified two officers when it did submit its paperwork.

One of those officers, Jesse Mainardi, is an attorney for the San Francisco-based Sutton Law Firm, which specializes in political and election-related law.

The firm has represented businesses, individuals, candidates, ballot measures, political action committees and non profit organizations in many local, statewide and national elections.

Some of the best known politicians the firm has helped include San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

Mainardi said he and treasurer Frank Williams only handle the committee’s expenditures, and he declined requests for more information on Williams or other members of the group.

Rutherford and Biane have said they believe Williams is the same Frank Williams who recently retired as executive director of the Baldy View Chapter of the Building Indus try Association.

That Williams could not be reached for comment. An auto-response to e-mail sent to him stated that he was on his honeymoon and would not be returning until Dec. 1.

Donors to the committee were revealed on Friday, when the group filed its campaign disclosure reports.

The contributions, totaling $35,000, came from Frank Glankler III, Urban Advisors Inc., Arron Corporation dba Alta Loma Limo, Harold Kneller and Gregory Severson. Glankler, who contributed the largest donation at $25,000, is retired and living in Henderson, Nev.

According to a 2005 Daily Bulletin article, a Frank Glankler has been associated with developer Jim Previti since 1992, and served on the board of a company owned by Previti. Severson, the owner of Duke Pacific Construction, donated $5,000.

Alta Loma Limo in Rancho Cucamonga donated $2,000.

Kneller, owner of HK Construction in Rancho Cucamonga, donated $2,000.

Urban Advisors, in Rancho Cucamonga, donated $1,000. The company is owned by Ted Dutton, the father of state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga.

The mailers lack a statement indicating that they were not authorized by a candidate in the race or a candidate’s com mittee, which violates the state’s Political Reform Act.

A new section of the act requires the disclaimer to be placed on any advertisement paid for by an independent committee.

Mainardi said because of an error during the production and distribution of the mailers, a number of them may not contain the disclaimer.

The elusiveness of the group targeting Rutherford is frustrating voters, Rutherford said.

Voters “want to know where the money is coming from and it’s one of the challenges in our system,” Rutherford said. “We have the First Amendment. People have the right to what they want to say. We try to have the disclosure laws there, so people can make judgment on what is distributed.”

Independent expenditures

The use of independent expenditures in campaigns has skyrocketed in recent years, bombarding voters with more campaign material in their daily mail.

Contribution limits placed on candidates in many elections have led to a dramatic increase in independent expenditures over the last several years due to the ability of independent committees to raise and spend as much money as they want, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

By 2006 independent expenditures in California’s legislative and statewide campaigns had grown by 6,144 percent since voters approved Proposition 34 in 2000, according to a 2008 report by the commission.

The use of independent expenditures as a means to circumvent contributions limits is certainly being seen, but that is not always the case, said Justin Levitt, associate professor of law at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

“Independent expenditures aren’t necessarily a sign that people want to give money to a candidate, but can’t,” he said. “Sometimes they’re just people who want to spend money on a particular message and don’t want to give money to candidates.”

By law, independent expenditures must be made completely independent of the candidates, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission. No coordination can take place between the candidates or their campaigns and the entity that makes the independent expenditure.

Some candidates may have some involvement behind independent expenditures if “during a campaign you want to put some distance between your self and the hardest attacks on your opponent,” Pitney said. “Now sometimes independent groups do that without any coordination.”

And in most cases, the independent expenditure is negative or critical in nature.

“Since most advertising that is effective has to be negative to reach the voters,” Stern said. “The voter generally doesn’t pay very much attention … but a negative piece may catch their attention.”

The commission on Wednesday reported the presence of independent expenditures in the Nov. 2 California general election. It found that 50 committees spent $10,000 or more on independent expenditures during the statewide elections. No fewer than 169 individuals, groups and businesses gave these committees a combined $28.8 million in contributions of $10,000 or more, according to the FPPC.

The committees gave to eight races, which include two Assembly, two Senate, three constitutional offices and the gubernatorial race.

A similar result has been seen in congressional races, Boyle said.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January made the decision to remove limits on how much corporations and unions can donate to congressional races. “That said, corporations and unions are no longer limited in what they can spend and they can use their general treasury money to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate,” Boyle said. “We’re seeing tons of that, and we think that’s a very bad thing.”

It’s unclear who is spending how much money and the possible influence it could have over a candidate is a major concern of the organization, she said.

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