Turlock leaders under fire from state over 2008 robocalls

gstapley@modbee.com jholland@modbee.comJanuary 7, 2014 

— City Councilwoman Amy Bublak and former Councilman Kurt Vander Weide were behind illegal robocalls to voters in heated 2008 elections, state ethics authorities allege in a recent document.

Bublak, Vander Weide and their campaigns committed a combined 13 violations of laws related to controversial automated telephone calls, the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s top lawyer said in a Nov. 4 monthly roundup of pending cases.

Bublak said Tuesday that she intends to fight the accusations. “I had nothing to do with it, and I have no knowledge of who did it,” she said.

Vander Weide declined to comment.

The robocalls prompted headlines, the FPPC probe and a lawsuit by former Councilwoman Mary Jackson, who was elected despite being targeted by the strategy. She said she wanted to find out who instigated the calls, particularly one in which a woman with an East Coast accent impersonated her.

In that call, a woman purporting to be Jackson urged voters to reject Proposition 8, which aimed to ban gay marriage in California. The measure was supported by nearly 68 percent of Stanislaus County voters, and the call seemed calculated to turn people against Jackson. “Turlock must support a rich, vibrant community that includes everyone and regardless of whom they choose to love,” the caller said. “If you agree, I urge you to vote Mary Jackson for Turlock City Council.”

Bublak, Vander Weide and their campaigns paid a company to produce four robocalls but did not follow laws on publicly reporting those expenses, investigators said. In some cases, it appears they tried to hide their involvement by reporting payments to a consultant but saying they were for such things as mailers, signs and other campaign activity. That amounts to deception, “which served to conceal the source of the robocalls from the public,” read findings of FPPC General Counsel Zackery Morazzini to agency commissioners, who ultimately have power to impose fines and other penalties.

The document also says Bublak’s husband, Milton Richards, failed to properly report spending on the robocalls. Richards, who could not be reached for comment, is a former athletic director at California State University, Stanislaus.

The case was among the “findings of probable cause” that were part of Morazzini’s monthly report. “A finding of probable cause does not constitute a finding that a violation has actually occurred,” the report says. “Respondents are presumed to be innocent of any violation of the act unless a violation is proved in a subsequent proceeding.”

Mark Hall, owner of the Monte Vista Crossings shopping center in Turlock, surfaced in two of the counts because he gave more than $5,000 each to Bublak and Vander Weide, but they did not alert him, as required by law, to disclose his contributions as a “major donor.” Hall, who gave $17,564 to Bublak and $10,000 to Vander Weide, agreed to pay a $1,600 fine, the FPPC revealed in May.

Campaign consultant Carl Fogliani apparently masterminded the Bublak-Vander Weide robocalls, authorities say. He helped several Republican candidates that year, including Modesto-area brothers Tom and Bill Berryhill, who are accused of laundering campaign money in a separate scheme with Fogliani.

The brothers’ Assembly campaigns that year succeeded, and Tom Berryhill subsequently was elected to the Senate. To clear their names, they insisted on a public trial in the fall; an administrative law judge’s recommendation to the full commission has not been announced.

Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service