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[whitespace] Attorney files complaint against pro-Measure B group

Says group failed to meet filing deadlines

Cupertino--Gary Wesley, a San Jose attorney, filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) concerning the campaign filings by proponents of Santa Clara County ballot Measure B, which voters narrowly approved in the election on Nov. 27, 2000. His complaint focused on the campaign of the "Committee for Clean, Safe Creeks," which he claims failed to meet the filing deadlines of the Office of the Registrar of Voters for campaign finance disclosures.

Measure B proposed to improve flood protection for local homes, schools, businesses, and roads. In addition, the measure proposed to restore local creek and bay ecosystems, add open space trails and parks along creeks, and ensure the cleanliness and safety of creek and bay water for the next 15 years.

To accomplish this, the measure called for the implementation of a special parcel tax, that would cost each homeowner about $39 a year, which will go into effect on July 1, 2001, and remain until June 30, 2016. The Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) expects the tax to produce $25.4 million a year, according to spokesman Mike DiMarco.

Wesley reported the pro-Measure B campaign failed to file its financial records with the Registrar six days before the election, as required, and did not file an official report until Dec. 15, 2000. The Office of the Registrar confirmed this, although officials there added the office did receive a fax communication from the campaign on Oct. 12, outlining its financial history to that date. The Committee for Clean Safe Creeks (CCSC) also reports it gave a list of their contributors to the San Jose Mercury News before the election.

Mary Watson, filing officer for the FPPC, says the fax the Registrar received from the committee "does constitute a legitimate disclosure, but they have to follow up with a hard copy. They hadn't at the time, and this was an oversight on our part."

After Wesley brought the irregularities to her attention, however, Watson says she contacted Rick Callender, campaign manager for the CCSC, on Dec. 14, and informed him of the campaign's missing documents. According to Watson, Callender, a SCVWD employee and Cupertino Chamber of Commerce board member, came into the FPPC's office, where she and others in the Registrar's Office explained what the committee needed to file, and Callender agreed to provide the missing information.

Wesley filed two additional reports to the FPPC on Dec. 28 and Jan. 2, 2001, after the Registrar received the first round of reports from the CCSC, detailing his interactions with the Office of the Registrar and reiterating his complaint against the campaign. He also broached the matter of the funding sources for the CCSC.

In his December letter to the FPPC, Wesley writes that "it would have been useful for voters to have known that the contributors to the Yes on B campaign were mostly corporations and employees who could benefit personally from its passage... Accordingly, I hereby complain about the untimeliness of the campaign statement filings."

Wesley says his concern stems from the nature of the campaign contributions the Committee for Clean, Safe Creeks received during its work in support of the measure. He says the campaign, whose budget was relatively small in this election of record spending, received large donations from such corporations as Applied Materials, Cisco Systems, Calpine/Bechtel and Hewlett Packard. The campaign received its largest donation--$50,000--from the Coyote Valley Research Park, LLC, the company that manages issues surrounding Cisco's controversial plans for a new campus in Coyote Valley.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District Mid-Management Association, a district employee group, also donated $5,000 to the CCSC.

With all the corporate money involved, Wesley says he believes a timely disclosure by the Committee for Clean, Safe Creeks might have changed the opinions of many voters who chose to support the measure. He points to sizeable donations by large corporations as his justification for labeling the CCSC a "special interest campaign," and believes if voters had seen the list of campaign contributors, then they may have chosen to vote against it.

"Looking at who they got their money from, you can see why they wouldn't have wanted the information to be known by the public," Wesley says.

Measure B passed by the narrowest of margins: the measure needed two-thirds of voters to approve it, or 66.6 percent of the vote. The measure received 66.9 percent of the vote, with the number of votes totaling 481,714. A difference in a mere 1,066 votes would have changed the outcome of the election.

The FPPC could issue a fine against the CCSC for its tardiness. However, Wesley believes the FPPC may overlook the irregularities because of the fax the CCSC sent to the Office of the Registrar. He says because the Office of the Registrar did not immediately notify the CCSC of the need for an original financial statement, the FPPC would concentrate on larger violations of the filing deadlines. The FPPC could refer the CCSC to the county district attorney on misdemeanor charges if they discover a willful disregard for the campaign regulations, but Wesley admits, "I've never heard of that in this county."

Callender responds to Wesley's complaints by denying any intentional disregard of the disclosure rules, and says the error "was a volunteer mistake by a grassroots organization." The original statement of organization for the campaign lists Sue Pino as the organization's treasurer, Rick Callender as assistant treasurer, and Santa Clara Valley Water District Board Member Gregory Zlotnick, an elected official, as principal officer. However, Callender recently said Zlotnick had little to do with the campaign, and so most of the duties fell upon Pino and him, who both had little experience in running a such an operation.

"For first-time FPPC filers, I think we did an admirable job," he says. "These are very technical forms, very hard to understand. It's kind of like filing forms for the IRS--if you have someone professional, you're sure you're doing it right."

Wesley claims Zlotnick's prior experience as a candidate should have kept the CCSC abreast of campaign requirements, but both Callender and Zlotnick state that he (Zlotnick) did not involve himself extensively with the business of the campaign.

Regarding the late filings, Zlotnick says, "I was not engaged at that level of detail. It was my understanding that [Pino] knew what the obligation was, and I had always assumed that it was done; I didn't even know there was a question about this stuff."

In an amended statement of organization filed along with the Dec. 26 financial disclosures, the CCSC had removed Zlotnick's name as principal officer.

"Greg didn't really have much to do with the campaign," Callender said. "We just left him off when we changed the statement of organization."

Zlotnick did file a lawsuit on behalf of the campaign against the co-signers of the counter-argument that appeared on the ballot. Before the county printed the ballots, Zlotnick sued to remove misleading statements in the counter-argument. The suit ended with the authors of the counter-argument removing statements that suggested no governmental body oversaw the budgetary decision of the SCVWD. The amended argument appeared on the ballot along with the argument in support of the measure.

Zlotnick's campaign, "Zlotnick for Water District," also donated $5,000 to the CCSC.

Wesley represented the defendants in the ballot-argument case. According to Wesley, he worked pro bono, and took the case because of a personal relationship with one of the defendants. He says he did not make his complaint to the FPPC in the interests of the defendants in the prior case, and only his name appears on the statements sent to the FPPC. He admits, however, that his prior involvement in the events concerning Measure B may give the CCSC an opportunity to claim he has filed his complaint on behalf of the measure's opponents.

Zlotnick says he thinks the complaint stems from the beliefs of "about a half a dozen people who live abutting the creek, saying 'we want frogs in our backyards, forget flood control.' It's not a very communitarian point of view, I'll put it that way."

He also finds it ironic that "these people are so concerned about tax dollars, and now they have the FPPC running around spending money."

The last filing by the CCSC shows a budget surplus of $146,692. However, Callender says that the campaign actually entered into debt, and the organization still exists only because they still need to raise money to satisfy their creditors. The next report will also include a list of 30 additional donors not reported on Dec. 26, but Callender says the largest contributors appeared on the previous filing.

Two of those contributors, the Coyote Valley Research Park, LLC, and Calpine/Bechtel have a relationship outside their donations with CCSC. Coyote Valley Research Park, LLC, manages the site of Cisco's proposed campus, and Calpine/Bechtel has applied to build a natural gas power plant in the same area, a project that Cisco and the Research Park oppose.
Kevin Fayle

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