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An artist's conception shows a Downtown Plaza arena, which could also have a high-rise hotel.

Sacramento pro-arena group files FPPC complaint on petition drive

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 - 2:44 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 8:20 am

A coalition of building groups and Sacramento Kings fans has filed a complaint with the state's political watchdog charging that the campaign seeking a public vote on the city's arena subsidy failed to report payments it made to workers collecting signatures for the proposed ballot measure.

In a complaint filed this morning with the Fair Political Practices Commission, DowntownArena.org alleged that a campaign seeking a vote on the arena subsidy paid signature gatherers in June but did not report those expenditures in recent campaign finance disclosures.

Two groups - locally-based Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork (STOP) and the Orange County-based Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods - are involved in the arena ballot measure campaign.

Representatives of both STOP and Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods have said the groups are working separately on the campaign to collect signatures for a June ballot measure that would require voter approval of public subsidies for sports arenas in the city. The DowntownArena.org campaign contends in the FPPC complaint that STOP and Taxpayers are working together.

STOP and the Taxpayers group filed separate campaign finance reports in July, but neither reported payments to petition workers in June. The reports filed in July covered campaign activity through the first six months of the year.

The DowntownArena.org FPPC complaint is based on statements by two former arena petition gatherers, both of whom say they were paid for gathering signatures in June. One of the two, identified as Joe Woodruff, told the Bee via phone today that he worked for the petition drive for three days, beginning June 21, and got a $113 check - at $1.75 per signature - which he cashed at a check cashing center.

Joshua Wood, head of Region Builders, a building industry group leading DowntownArena.org, said he does not plan to attempt to obtain a copy of the check to prove the validity of the complaint, saying he will leave it to the FPPC to do that as part of its investigation. Wood said the second signature gatherer has asked that his name not be released publicly, but has said he will cooperate with the FPPC.

DowntownArena.org said in its complaint that the two signature gatherers said they were paid in June by Momentum Political Services for the arena petition campaign. The complaint included a redacted copy of one check signed by Momentum's owner, Monica Harris. She told The Bee she wrote the checks on behalf of Eileen Ray, owner of Discovery Petitions, who was out of town in June.

Ray, who shares an office with Harris, said she received an advance from Paul Olson of Olson Campaigns in June to pay signature gatherers. Ray said those signature gatherers began working "around the 20th of June."

Olson did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the payments. Earlier, he referred a Bee reporter to Tab Berg, a political consultant working on the petition campaign.

Gary Winuk, the chief of enforcement of the FPPC, said his office is reviewing the complaint and will decide whether to launch a formal investigation in the next 15 days.

"It's important that every committee, for any purpose, fully report all of their contributions and expenditures," Winuk said. "It's the central purpose of the Political Reform Act."

James Lacy, the principal officer of Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods, denied wrongdoing.

"There is absolutely no evidence presented in this complaint that Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods has done anything wrong," he said in an emailed statement. "Our PAC completely denies participation in any wrongdoing of any nature at all in this campaign."

Berg said he has not seen the FPPC filing, but dismissed it as a publicity stunt. "They are called PR stunts. It's a worn out old trick."

Berg said signature gatherers were pulled off the streets a few days ago, while campaign organizers analyze the validity of the signatures gathered so far and determine what steps to take next in the drive. "There will be some kind of determination by people above my pay grade about whether we need to go out again or not," Berg said. He declined to say who would be making that decision, or how many signatures have been gathered, but said he is confident the measure will qualify for the ballot.

The campaign needs to collect 22,000 valid signatures by mid-December to qualify for the June 2014 ballot.

Neither of the two leaders of STOP, Sacramento residents Julian Camacho or James Cathcart, could be reached immediately for comment by the Bee. But Camacho has previously said STOP is communicating with Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods. STOP is relying on volunteer signature gatherers, not paid signature gatherers, he said.

"We don't have a lot of dollars," Camacho said last week. "I don't know anything about TSN. They contacted us. I don't know where they get their money. God bless them, they are helping us."

Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods has repeatedly declined to release donor information beyond its campaign disclosures, which showed no contributions for the arena campaign through June. DowntownArena.org released its list of donors to The Bee last week.

Lacy told The Bee on Tuesday that his organization would not divulge its list of donors for the arena petition effort because the PAC's "policy is always to not disclose such information (donations) until legally required to do so."

"The reason for that is that such disclosure ahead of the public disclosure schedule can serve to give political opponents an insight into campaign strategy to which they are otherwise not entitled, and help the opponent gain an advantage which they do not deserve," he said.

On Wednesday, he told conservative blog Flash Report "the PAC can't release a list of donors because we haven't received any donations since July 1

Call The Bee's Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_lillis.



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