ENCINITAS — A group called We Love Encinitas sent out mailers during the campaign season using survey information highlighting citizen satisfaction. The group is now being scrutinized over its 501 (c) 3 status.
Earlier this year it wasn’t apparent what group or individual was behind the two mailers that were sent out in October. The mailers contained a contact address, which led to a shopping center and a crude website that showed only the survey results. The site has since been revamped to include news and happenings around Encinitas.
Last month, it was established that Paul Gaspar, who owns Gaspar Physical Therapy and is the husband to current City Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar, is the CEO and founder of the We Love Encinitas group.
Gaspar said that his only goal with the group, which claims to be a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit on its mailers, was to advance positive news about Encinitas and city staff.
But all searches into the group’s 501 (c) 3 status have yielded no results.
Inquiries made to the Internal Revenue Service turned up no records showing that We Love Encinitas, or We Love Encinitas Community Advocates as they are referred to, has a 501 (c) 3 status. The California Franchise Tax Board also said that the group wasn’t listed as a tax-exempt.
Further investigation into parties attached to the group showed that Kristin Gaspar was the agent of process, as listed on documents received from the California Secretary of State’s office dated on Oct. 22.
When contacted for a response she said, “Any information listing me as the registered agent is clearly in error as I have not in the past and do not currently serve in this role. Your future and current questions can only be addressed by the We Love Encinitas organization.”
In documents dated Nov. 6, she was no longer listed as the agent of process, Paul Gaspar was named in place.
An agent of process is an individual or corporation designated to accept court papers if the entity is sued, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
The documents also list David Meyer, a real estate consultant and land developer in Encinitas as the secretary and chief financial officer of the group. Meyer’s past advocacy includes forming a political action group to oppose policies promoted by the late Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan.
In an email, Meyer said that any questions about his involvement with the group should be directed through We Love Encinitas, and not his personal email and phone number.
All requests for comments from We Love Encinitas, including whether the group has been granted or is applying for 501 (c) 3 status, have gone unanswered.
As of last week, the Fair Political Practices Commission said that one complaint had been received about the group. However, it was dismissed due to the fact that the group hasn’t explicitly advocated for any councilmembers in its mailers.
Of the two mailers sent out, one walks a fine line between what a 501 (c) 3 can and cannot do, especially given the timing of when the mailers were sent out, said Marco Gonzalez, a lawyer with the Coast Law Group, which brought Paul Gaspar’s name to light.
Drawing criticism from some, the group’s second mailer included survey data from the private firm True North Research, also based in Encinitas, next to Councilmembers’ pictures and quotes, but leaving off Councilmember Teresa Barth’s image.
Previously, Paul Gaspar said the group’s mailers and an ad it placed in U-T San Diego were reviewed by lawyers who deemed them nonpolitical.
City activist Dennis Lees said he is filing a complaint with the IRS regarding the group’s claim they are a 501 (c) 3, as indicated on the mailers. Lees said he hopes the IRS investigates the group.
“They’re playing games that are unethical and possibly illegal,” Lees said.
According to the IRS, a 501 (c) 3 is a tax-exempt organization that operates for religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes, among other categories. Donations to many 501 (c) 3s are tax deductible. Organizations with the designation “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against candidates.”
Gonzalez said he doesn’t intend on taking any legal action against the group.
“The consequences will likely be felt at the ballot box,” Gonzalez said, adding that he would like to see the city have a larger conversation about “deceptive” slate mailers.
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