By Vern Nelson
February 28, 2011

Given the shitstorm coming down the pike for the various insiders implicated in the attempted Great Swindle of the Orange County Fairgrounds, we figure it’s time to start introducing some of the players whose names you’ll be hearing a lot in the news in the coming months. And current Fair Board chairman Dave Ellis is one such character who’s been particularly fascinating to me for a long time now. Publicity-shy, he’s conducted his 25-year political career as much as possible in the shadows. (He now prefers to be called “David,” probably because it’s even harder to google.)

Why is it, I wondered, that so many people – of every political persuasion – say things about Dave like:

“That was the sleaziest political operative in Orange County who just walked past.”

– a long-time Newport Beach Republican activist.

“I shook his hand and then looked for some hand sanitizer.”

– Geoff “Pot Stirrer” West, conservative blogger of “A Bubbling Cauldron.”

“It’s impossible to insult Dave Ellis: He lives in the sewer, he knows that he lives in the sewer, and he’s proud of living in the sewer.”

– a colleague who has worked with Dave for years.

I knew I needed more details! But even the most cursory sketch of the man’s quarter-century political career quickly bloats into an encyclopedia of OC GOP corruption and scandal. At all the great moments – from the 1994 bankruptcy, to the attempt to foist an El Toro International Airport on the public, right up to this year’s Fairgrounds Swindle – Dave Ellis was there in the center, pulling strings, raking in bank, and chuckling to himself.

I’m glad it’s impossible to insult Dave Ellis, because I want to do a complete portrait of him, warts and all (or should I avoid redundance and just say “warts?”) And why should he feel insulted anyway, given that what most of us would consider misdeeds, Dave considers great successes!
“Cutthroat” Consulting, 1985 to present.

Newport Beach is a Republican universe. Hence, not only are Dave’s clients all Republicans, the folks he attacks, the enemies he’s made, are also mostly all Republicans. OJ blogger Ron Winship, a former council candidate and victim of Dave’s, tells me that if you’re not on Dave’s team, you’d better be expecting a scurrilous and deceptive attack mailer a few days before the election, leaving you no time to respond.

Here’s one typical dirty trick Dave played on behalf of one of his Newport Beach clients: In the 2002 council race there was an anti-development slate known as the “Greenlight Committee.” (One constant seems dependable: Dave is always on the side of unlimited development, and politicians with that philosophy tend to be the ones to hire him.) That year, Dave’s pro-development client Gary Adams was in danger of being defeated by his Greenlight opponent Richard Taylor.

So Dave, without Adams’ knowledge (and improperly using his “Airport Working Group” connections) created a totally deceptive robo-call message that went out to thousands of NB voters in the last few days before the election, claiming 3rd candidate Ron Winship was the “Greenlight candidate” and encouraging all anti-development Newporters to “vote for Greenlight candidate Ron Winship.” This successfully split the anti-development vote and drained enough votes from Taylor to Winship to throw the election to Adams.

Typically, when asked if he was responsible for this lying robo-call, the mendacious Ellis laughed heartily and denied it – twice. But after Taylor hired a detective who tracked the message down to the “Airport Working Group” (which was practically synonymous with Dave) he copped to having “created” the message, but protested that he never “authorized” its being released, blaming THAT on “the vendor.” Yes, and the impeccable Dave Ellis has some prime beach-front property in Costa Mesa to sell you.

Apparently Dave was forced to go “talk to the DA” about this whole affair. (Picture a few cozy moments confiding in a Father Confessor, followed by martinis and backslaps.) The main reason this story got as much press as it did is because Mayor Adams, unaware of the trick played on his behalf and mortified to have won in such an underhanded way, went on to craft a law to prevent such abuses in the future.

People who’ve been inside Dave’s office tell me that, like a safari hunter with stuffed heads adorning the walls, his rooms are wallpapered with his trademark “Eleventh-Hour Hit Pieces.” The kind that usually spell success for Dave’s clients. The kind that (I imagine) drove his longtime partner Scott Hart to sever ties with him ten years ago (or am I just projecting the relief in Scott’s voice in this article?) The kind that drove the beloved Barbara Venezia out of politics in 2006, to put and end to the savage attacks on her husband. By the way, two years later Babs struck back with this pricelessly catty passage in her Register column:

To read entire updated story, click here.