ENCINITAS — During a press conference at City Hall on Oct. 29, critics accused council candidates Mayor Dan Dalager and Kristin Gaspar of attempting to circumvent the city’s campaign donation laws by using slate mailers.
Attorney Marco Gonzalez said there was a lack of transparency in the funding of campaigns and that Dalager and Gaspar had violated the city’s $250 campaign contribution laws. “We have a right to know who is buying our elections.”
The city’s code restricts campaign contributions to a candidate and a committee to $250. Committees can either support or oppose a candidate or position. No less than eight mailers, including slate mailers supporting Dalager and Gaspar, have been sent to Encinitas residents. A slate mailer is defined as a mass mailing that supports or opposes at least four candidates or ballot measures.
Bruce Ehlers told the crowd that several donations to Voter Education Group, a slate-mailer organization managed by Burbank-based Durkee and Associates, violated either the spirit or the lettering of the rules of campaign contributions. “They’re using every trick in the book,” he said referring to Dalager and Gaspar. Ehlers promised that all of the evidence in support of the illegal campaign contributions will be sent to the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission in a complaint after the election.
Foremost, Ehlers said that five contributors, including DCM Properties, Doug Harwood and Alice Jacobson, gave a total of $6,500 to the group under the guise of supporting Proposition A. However, the mailers gave only a footnote to the countywide issue while prominently displaying photographs and an endorsement of both Dalager and Gaspar.
Deputy Mayor Maggie Houlihan also spoke regarding the improper use of endorsements by Dalager and Gaspar. “The Dalager, Gaspar campaign has violated the public trust with unethical endorsement practices,” she said.
Houlihan cited a letter signed by Councilman Jerome Stocks claiming that then Mayor Houlihan “signed a declaration naming July 2nd Kristin Gaspar Day in Encinitas for her service to Encinitas and the Rotary Club.” Houlihan said the letter gives “the impression that I was personally acknowledging and commending Ms. Gaspar for contributions to the city.” However, Houlihan said she did not write the proclamation. She is on record as endorsing Councilwoman Teresa Barth and candidate Tony Kranz in the election.
At least one other person said that he was surprised to see his name on a campaign mailer endorsing Dalager and Gaspar. Ed Petersen, of the nonprofit Coastal Dragons Youth Rugby Football Club, emphatically denied endorsing any candidate. “I’m actually very annoyed by the whole thing,” Petersen said on Oct. 30.
He is listed incorrectly on the mailer as the president of the club, but rather is on the executive board and acts as the field coordinator. “The Coastal Dragons have no desire to take any sides in any politicking whatsoever,” he said. “We’ve been thrown in a terrible position.”
In fact, Petersen said the unauthorized use of his name and the rugby club’s name could potentially put the group’s nonprofit status in jeopardy. “I’ve never, ever provided an endorsement to anyone,” he said.
Petersen said the club requested a retraction from both candidates. “Dalager said he didn’t see the mailers he pays for before they go out,” Petersen said. He hasn’t received a reply from Gaspar.
After the slate mailer landed in mailboxes throughout the city in early October, Petersen said he became aware of an e-mail from Gaspar asking for his endorsement. The e-mail is particularly relevant because campaign laws prohibit campaigns or committees from coordinating with slate mailer activity.
Both Dalager and Gaspar have said neither was aware of the design of third mailers on their behalf.