Dark Money Mailers Target the 2020 Blue Wave

Getting any mail about local races this election cycle?  My fire pit appreciates the kindling, especially the mailers from IEs and PACs supporting Republicans or tearing down Democrats.  So always check to see who is sending you that mailer encouraging you to “re-elect Mike Carroll” even though he was never elected in the first place or wants to tear down Katie Porter.

Most of these mailers are tied to to the same pro-housing developer PAC, the California Homeowners Association.  What a collection of a strange web of contributors, contributions, and expenditures across Orange County that adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that combines pro-developer political interests together with personal vendettas.

Simply put, the CHA is attempting to bury local candidates beneath a flood of misinformation. Here are some facts:

  • The past few weeks, residents of Irvine, Dana Point and San Clemente have been flooded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in misleading mailers and advertisements attacking local candidates – specifically Gary Newkirk (Dana Point), Tammy Kim (Irvine), Gene James (San Clemente)
  • The connection between these mailers? They all attack pro-affordable housing candidates and they are all paid for by the California Homeowners Association.
  • This year alone, the CHA PAC has spent an astounding $354,872 in late independent expenditures, as well as another $186,000 in contributions to candidates. That money has come from big developers like the Irvine Company, as well as individual candidates like Janet Nguyen.
  • The mailers they are funding make no attempt to be truthful. They misspell candidate names, put information out of context, and traffic in blatant lies against local candidates. A local ad run by the group is even alleged to violate FPPC regulations and figures associated with the FPPC have open investigations into their behavior.
  • The CHA spending attempts to flood Orange County voters  to mislead the public and add to that,  – reveals a strange web of political interests and personal vendettas. For example, a billionaire disavowing mailers put out his name and an active lawsuit between a former candidate and a client. But underscoring matters is an obvious attempt to buy candidates on the ballot for big developers while burying pro-tenant, pro-affordable housing, pro-community candidates beneath a flood of falsehoods.

What is the CHA and how much has it spent in general?

  • The CHA PAC supporting “fiscally-responsible candidates” who take hardline stances on crime, anti-transparency stances on property development, and far-right stances on regulation (here)
  • CHA has $211,609.38 in main expenditures this year (here)
  • CHA has made another $186,000 in contributions to candidates this year (here)
  • Including late independent expenditures, the CHA has spent more than $350,000 this year (here).
  • The CHA has received $371,792 in contributions from other PACS and donors this year (here)
  • The Chairman is Donald Wilson, GOP consultant and who is also an insurance consultant for Aflack
  • Filings show the CHA paid $121,926 to produce, print, and distribute mailers (here)

The CHA has pumped a lot of money into races before, dating back to 2010.

  • Spent $1,222,374 in expenditures in 2016 (here)
  • Donated nearly $10,000 to support the death penalty (here)
  • Taken a lot of money from developers and builders (here)
  • Spent over $100,000 in the Orange County Board of Supervisors race (opposing Andrew Do) (here)

Where does CHA get its money from?

  • From major developers in Southern California. A few of their biggest donors include:
  • $30,000 from the Orange County Business Council Biz PAC (here)
  • Significant donors include the Segerstrom Company, the Irvine Company, Rancho Mission Viejo LLC, and many other major Southern California developers (here)
  • $40,000 from the California Apartment Association PAC (here)
  • $23,000 from the Building Industry Association of Southern CA-PAC
  • From their website: “The Building Industry Association of Southern California’s Political Action Committee (PAC) supports candidates knowledgeable and friendly to the building industry.” (here)
  • $25,000 from the Arnel Development Company (here)
  • $20,000 from Janet Nguyen (here)

How much are they spending against Irvine City Council candidate Tammy Kim and why?

  • “Council candidate Tammy Kim has two opposition mailers attacking her that are paid for by the California Homeowners Association. The major funding for the mailers came from the PAC individual donor, billionaire Kieu Hoang. In addition to dropping $48,000 against Kim in our local election he also contributed $100,000 to President Trump’s re-election campaign.You can read about Mr. Hoang here.” – from https://irvinewatchdog.org/2020/10/06/dark-money-in-irvine-elections/
  • Specific spending against:
  • That money has been poured into mailers that attack Tammy Kim’s record and background.
  • It’s clear why Tammy Kim is under attack by the CHA. Among her top priorities is affordable housing, greater transparency in public works projects, and Community Choice energy. (here)

How much are they spending against Dana Point Council candidate Gary Newkirk and why?

  • Dropped $9,960 against Gary Newkirk (here) (here)
  • The first issue on Gary Newkirk’s Critical Issues list: Zoning and Development
  • He says “Developer pressure to construct more and bigger structures threatens the relaxed charm of our town and threatens residential parking.” (here)
  • He stands clearly for community housing and Dana Point housing rights, against large outside developers
  • Stands for the right kind of development
  • “Imagine the impact of almost $10,000 on a district where only 1,450 people voted in the last presidential election!” (here)
  • The mailers traffic in multiple allegations fiercely denied by Newkirk and even misspell Newkirk’s name (here)

How much are they spending against First District Supervisor Andrew Do and why?

  • The CHA spends the most money against Andrew Do. Odd considering he is a Republican.
  • $117,905 total dropped against Andrew Do (here)
  • A significant amount of CHA funding comes from billionaire Kieu Hoang, who donated $50,000 to recall Andrew Do after a falling out between the two. He has also spent $1.1 million trying to recall a majority of the Westminster City Council. (here)
  • Now, all CHA mailers run with the statement “major committee funding by Kieu Hoang,” but Hoang insists he has nothing to do with the CHA and swears no association with the mailers. (here)
  • Hoang remains under FPPC investigation (here)

How much are they spending against San Clemente Council candidate Gene James and why?

  • The CHA has spent $1,500 against Gene James directly (here)
  • Additionally, the CHA paid $77,905 to the firm Bieber Communications, headed by Jim Bieber, for mailers and advertisements (here) (editor’s note, Bieber and I got into it over the plastic bag ban effort years ago. Interesting fellow.)
  • Jim Bieber is currently suing Gene James for defamation (here) (here)
  • The CHA was behind a recent advertisement accusing James of lying about his military record. (here)
  • CHA likely paid Bieber communications to design the advertisement and other mailers against James, whom Bieber is currently suing.
  • Open question about whether the advertisement may have violated FPPC rules (here)

How much are they spending against Santa Ana Mayoral candidate Vince Sarmiento and why?

  • Spending $14,500 on the Santa Ana mayor race (here)
  • Sarmiento’s top issues? Housing. Sarmiento supports affordable housing, opposed changes to affordable housing regulations that would have enabled more for-profit developments. (here) (here)
  • They’ve also given $17,000 in support of Sarmiento’s opponent, Jose Solorio (here)
  • Over $30,000 spent in total on the Santa Ana mayoral election.

There are other PACs and IEs out there just as awful.