A company in hot competition for Stanislaus County supervisors' approval of a large development project recently gave $33,000 to groups trying to influence the campaigns of two supervisors.
PCCP West Park LLC contributed $28,364 to an Elverta group that produced mailers attacking the opponent of Supervisor Jeff Grover before his November re-election. West Park also donated $5,000 to a group that slammed Supervisor Dick Monteith.
Tuesday, West Park pitched its multimillion-dollar development plan for the Crows Landing Air Facility to supervisors, including Grover and Monteith.
After the hourlong presentation, Grover said West Park's hefty political payment on his behalf will not influence his vote on the project, which is expected in two weeks.
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"I can't control what someone else tries to do," Grover said.
In the fall, the California Taxpayer Protection Committee mailed to voters several hit pieces railing on Grover's opponent, Gary Lopez, a Modesto school board member who had challenged Grover's re-election.
The mail included pictures of a rotten apple, a broken pencil and a mock report card giving Lopez F's and saying he "flunked as a school board member." They questioned his vote against air conditioning at older high schools and his vote favoring the showing of selected R-rated movies in some classrooms.
Salida landowners with stakes in Grover's plan for doubling that town's size contributed an additional $7,500 to the anti-Lopez effort. The California Taxpayer Protection Committee ultimately spent $34,213 campaigning against Lopez, according to recent disclosure forms.
In the fall, Grover denied knowledge of the group's activities, and he restated the claim Tuesday. He declined to say whether he favors West Park's Crows Landing proposal over that of rival Hillwood Inc., a company owned by Ross Perot Jr.
Independent expenditures, as they're called, may have influenced the county's other supervisorial campaign between Janice Keating and Monteith, Keating wrote on The Bee's Opinions page last month. Secret third-party payments can "allow outside interests to hijack local campaigns," she wrote.
In a subsequent letter to the editor, Monteith scoffed at Keating's claim that she knew nothing of a hit-piece mailer against him and noted that her mother-in-law is a key member of the group that sent it.
Keating, a Modesto City Council member, persuaded the other council members last month to investigate whether City Hall can require outside political committees to report to the city clerk's office their spending on Modesto races.
Such groups are required to file reports only twice a year with state election officials, while Modesto committees and candidates publicly report their spending to the city clerk's office twice just before elections.
Dean Andal, a former GOP state assemblyman and one-time member of the state Board of Equalization who is legendary for his campaign savvy, conducted a portion of West Park's proposal before supervisors Tuesday.
Asked about the company's contribution to the group attacking Lopez, Andal said: "I didn't direct anything. But I fully support a liberal Democrat like Gary Lopez not being in office."
Lopez's school board post, as well as that of a county supervisor, are nonpartisan offices. Grover declined to state his party preference on his voter registration.
The California Taxpayer Protection Committee spent far more money attacking Lopez than any other candidate in California. The group's next-largest amount: $15,312 opposing a public health candidate in Riverside County.
The group spent a few hundred dollars opposing and supporting various Stockton Unified School District candidates. Also, the group paid $373 for a phone bank and other literature trying to block the re-election of Calaveras County Supervisor Victoria Erickson.