Harper recall organizers ran ad in newspaper, website with fake committee name, paper takes responsibilityFriday, June 12th, 2015
Collected money without keeping proper records; never formed committee, opened bank account or filed state paperwork
By Allen Payton
In a recent Herald article about the failure of the second recall attempt against him, Harper stated “Now that the recall attempt has ended, I am asking Mr. Buongiorno to please cancel the ‘Committee to elect Wade Harper,’ it is misleading, dishonest and it is not a committee to elect me.” That has opened up other issues regarding how the recall was handled.
Harper was referring to what appeared in an ad the recall organizers ran in the East County Times print edition and online in April.
“The misleading committee was listed within an ad posted on Contra Costa Times,” Harper stated via email.
According to Buongiorno, he was told by one of the remaining recall organizers in April, the day the ad ran, that there was a type-o in the ad. He informed the organizers that it was a violation of state elections law to use a committee name that wasn’t theirs or hadn’t been filed.
By that time, Buongiorno had resigned from the effort, as he was undergoing a kidney transplant.
Times takes responsibility for “typo”
In an email to Harper, Times’ reporter Rowena Coatsee explained what happened:
“I had looked into the bizarre wording of the ad when it first appeared and at that point contacted the account manager. I’m forwarding you her response, although I’m not sure whether it was she or someone else who actually made the typo.
She explained to me that political ads are required to identify who paid for them and as such they usually contain the wording ‘Paid for by the committee to ELECT (fill in the blank).’ But in this case, unfortunately, whoever keyed in the information didn’t carefully read the heading of the ad ‘Recall Antioch Mayor Wade Harper’ and so he/she wrote the standard verbiage.
She went on to say that yes, we can run a corrected version of the ad, but also pointed out that it might create confusion now that the recall is over — i.e., people might think there’s going to be yet another attempt (there won’t), etc.
But it’s up to you — please let me know what you’d like to do ….”
“You have stated that this was a “typo.” I reject the idea that this was a “typo” as my name is spelled correctly. In my opinion this was an error in judgment that does harm and discourages any fundraising by the subject of the recall (me). This is my request, 1) refund the cost of the ad to the customer(s), 2) print a retraction stating that this ad was not paid for by Committee To Elect Wade Harper and that this was printed in error. This was a BIG mistake by Bay Area News Group and should never have happened. Thanks.”
“It was someone’s poor judgment,” he added.
When asked who approved the ad, and if all ads require approval before the Times runs them, Coatsee responded:
“I’m afraid I have no idea…Rich indicated (and the updated story will reflect this) that a couple of members of a splinter group went ‘rogue’ and took it upon themselves to place the ad. He says he knew nothing about the wrong wording until someone alerted him — categorically denies authorizing it.
When he saw the wording at the bottom of the ad, he told me he thought it was a typo.
But yes, you’re right — any ad that we run is approved by the person/group that pays for it (obviously) and then goes through a vetting process on our end.
As for our internal processes, I have nothing to do with ads, as you know. Editorial and advertising here are two different departments that almost never intersect (for good reason). So who creates the ads we run, who signs off on them — I wouldn’t know.”
Multi Media Account Manager Karen Cortez, who handled the ad for the Times, was asked who approved it and she responded via email:
“The error in the ad was not the clients fault it was ours. I can simply give the name of the committee. There (sic) contact information was in the ad.”
The ad was run both in the print edition of the newspaper and on their website, she added. “We are publishing a correction statement in the East County Times on Sat. [June 13, 2015].”
Organizers never created formal committee
The Times may have used an incorrect committee name in the ad, the organizers never formed a committee, although they were required to do so, in their effort to recall Harper, according to the Secretary of State’s Political Reform Division, if they raised or spent at least $1,000.
When Buongiorno was asked when the recall committee formed, he responded, “It is required only if you have expenses that exceed $1,000.”
Buongiorno explained what happened after he resigned from the effort, in March, due to undergoing a kidney transplant. He said he passed on the responsibility to a committee of five people who were all agreed to keep the recall going, including Antioch residents Jani Fletcher, Lisa Lacy, Paula Knight, Anabelle Gudilano Donato and Laura Allen Stewart.
“They were given the information, they were given the forms and they were supposed to have done that, but they didn’t,” Buongiorno stated. “I told them I already had a name, of ‘Reclaiming Antioch’ that I was going to put on the form.”
When Paula Knight was asked about forming a committee, she responded, “No we were never informed of that by Rich. We were asked to form a committee, because he was going in for transplant surgery. But, we were never told it had to be done by law. Lie. Never happened.”
“I’ve talked to Jani and Lisa and they don’t know anything about that,” she shared. “All we were told on the recall Harper page. ‘I just got a call by UCSF and I gotta go. You guys have to form a committee.’”
“We only had about five or six people step up, out of 300, to lead the effort,” Knight continued. “We all donated the money for the ad to be placed in the Contra Costa Times. We were never informed we had to file any forms.”
Knight and Buongiorno were the original organizers of the recall.
“Rich handled the first one,” she stated. “We started the second one and Rich, again, got all the information he needed. Never was there a request that we file any forms. Because if he did tell us, it would have been done.”
They paid $500 for the ad in the Times.
When asked if a bank account had been opened, Knight responded, “I think there might have been an account. Anabelle, she set up the ad to go in. She or someone in her family did the graphics.”
“When we started the second recall, some of us donated money for the other expenses,” she explained. “I gave cash to Rich. I remember Rich saying form a committee and open up a bank account, but I don’t know if that was done.”
We put our heart and soul into this, the five or six people who stepped forward. We went door-to-door, set up tables at stores.”
She was sympathetic and understood that Buongiorno needed to back off because of his transplant.
“But, he was home within three days and he was in contact with us, constantly,” Knight added. “Now he’s throwing us under the bus.”
No one is sure if $1,000 threshold was reached, no bank account was opened
“We never had a bank account, because I was the only one spending money, me personally, on my credit card,” Buongiorno said. “That’s it.”
A total of $250 came in through a PayPal account in Buongiorno’s name. That is until the ad was paid for.
“I made sure I had receipts for everything,” he said. “I would say at the most people gave was an additional $50.”
Other than Buongiorno, no one else contributed more than $100, he said.
“Maybe Paula didn’t know,” he offered. “But, the other two did. Lisa and Jani were the ones heading things up. I told one or the other, I don’t remember, because they’re sisters and always together, that they had to form a committee once they reached $1,000.”
“I was told by Arne we had to use Form 460 to report the finances,” Buongiorno stated. “That asks who everyone is and it also says ‘once you reach $1,000.’ Then once you do you have to report it. You can do it earlier, but you have to do it once you’ve hit $1,000.”
Lisa Lacy, Annabelle Donato and Laura Stewart did not respond to multiple attempts to contact them for this report.
However, when a phone number for Lisa Lacy was called, a man who would only identify himself as “one of the proponents,” but later identified as Roger Hudson, answered questions.
“The stuff he [Buongiorno] got he didn’t write down and all we did was collect signatures and get money for the ad,” Hudson said. “We got the truth on our side.”
When asked how much money was raised, he responded, “We got $500. Half of that came from us” referring to the group of individuals helping to pay for the ad. “Nobody contributed $100 or more to us.”
When asked about what Buongiorno said that they had to form a committee and open a bank account, Hudson responded, “He’s lying…to you. He had the committee.”
When Jani Fletcher was reached for comment, she shared about her part in the recall effort.
“I took up the $500,” she stated. “It was all cash. People would give $5, $10. I don’t think a committee was ever formed.”
“It was Amy Landry, Susan Williams and Marie Crandell, that’s who we thought was the committee,” Fletcher stated. “But they dropped out of sight. I didn’t know about forming committees. I was just trying to get signatures. He [Buongiorno] never mentioned nothing about a committee.”
“Rich jumped all over me because I was taking down people’s names and amounts they gave, because I wanted to be honest about it,” she stated. “He said he had no idea how much people had given. I said, ‘Are you kidding? Because this is serious.’”
When told that Buongiorno said no one had contributed more than $100 Fletcher responded, “That’s crap, because I gave him money after money. He collected money at a bar, one time, and at a park.”
“I know some people with a fancy car contributed. That had to be more than $100,” she added.
In response to Fletcher’s accusation, Landry provided the following statement via email:
“Based on my experience during the first recall attempt, Rich was very detailed with information about how and why a committee needed to be formed. Rich provided the information time and time again regarding fundraising and the formation of a committee during both attempts to recall.
I was a tentative member of the committee during the first recall attempt. Before we could even raise any money and finalize the formation of the committee, the first recall attempt ended abruptly (“missed” deadline). It was at that point that personal matters pulled my attention away from the recall. When the second attempt began, I signed the Intent document with the other proponents and donated money (to someone other than Rich) through my PayPal account.
The reason why this matters to me is because the comments made about the original committee are inaccurate and imply that there was some type of dishonesty or wrong doing. I assure you that the lot of us (including Rich) wanted every little aspect to go perfectly because we all knew that one little error could mean the end of all our hard work.”
State requirements for political committees
By law any political effort becomes a committee and organizers must file the required reporting forms, once the $1,000 threshold is reached, according to California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) spokesman Jay Weirenga, stated.
Candidates and other campaign committees are required to file papers with the California Secretary of State’s office and then obtain an FPPC identification number.
Regarding the committee name listed in the newspaper ad David Hoang, Program Technician II of the Secretary of State’s Political Reform Division said “We have no record of a committee with that name.”
“The ad should have also included the Fair Political Practices Commission number,” he added. “You can talk to them about what legal action they can take.”
He said the information on all political committees in California could be found on the Cal-Access website, which lists only two committees with the name Wade Harper included. Those are for both Harper’s 2012 and 2016 campaign committees for Mayor. That information can be viewed, here.
Organizers may face up to a $5,000 fine
“When we would receive a complaint or notice something in a media report, that would raise our attention, we would investigate,” the FPPC’s Weirenga stated. “We don’t do any criminal action, here,” If the DA wants to pursue this, they can use our law.”
“Violations of the political reform act can be fined up to $5,000, based on how complex the case is and how cooperative those involved are, and how egregious and how much harm it can cause the public,” he added. “Those are the kinds of things that are taken into consideration. There are penalties and there are rules to be followed in proper reporting of committee activities.”
UPDATE 6/13/15 9:45 PM: Harper considered filing complaint, but won’t
Harper had said he was considering filing a complaint against both the Times and the organizers of the recall for the misleading committee name.
“I will definitely be looking into possibly filing a complaint,” Harper stated, earlier this week.
However, in an email to the Herald on Saturday, June 13, 2015, Harper wrote “After prayerful consideration I have decided not to file a complaint against the recall proponents (specifically Mr. Buongiorno). I know he has had health challenges. I wish him good health as he recovers.”