We’ll begin with a political definition. An Independent Expenditure (an IE for short), according to California Government Code §82031, means an expenditure made by any person, including a payment of public moneys by a state or local governmental agency, in connection with a communication which expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or the qualification, passage or defeat of a clearly identified measure, or taken as a whole and in context, unambiguously urges a particular result in an election but which is not made to or at the behest of the affected candidate or committee., an expenditure “expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate” made by an outside group.
IEs may be made in unlimited amounts. (Though groups making them have to comply with the relevant laws that govern their fundraising.) Groups which make IEs are generally prohibited by law from coordinating with the campaign they are supporting.” Specifically Government Code §85501 states; “A controlled committee of a candidate may not make independent expenditures and may not contribute funds to another committee for the purpose of making independent expenditures to support or oppose other candidates.” So what happens when evidence occurs that demonstrates a campaign coordinated with an IE? An FFPC complaint, most likely, and fines.
In the 2010 election, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido was again re-elected but this time, Mayor Pulido failed to garner 50 percent of the vote even while winning over three other challengers. Santa Ana attorney, Alfredo Amezcua, was his closest challenger and the target of a nasty IE, the Good Government of Orange County Committee, ID #1322953, that launched a website to smear Amezcua’s reputation. The site was www.amezcuafacts.com and featured a number of posts republished by New Santa Ana and Orange Juice bloggers Art Pedroza and Santa Ana Planning Commissioner Sean H. Mill. One could surmise that the IE simply re-purposed these blog posts. The IE was operated by a supporter of Miguel Pulido, Victor Ibarra. The campaign filings for this committee did not report ANY expenses or payments for a website. Here is a screen capture of all content on the AmezcuaFacts.com site from February 2011.
After the election, it was revealed that Mayor Pulido, through his campaign consultant, had paid Art Pedroza $5,150 for “web services,” ostensibly to launch and run a blog for the Mayor. It wasn’t hard to tell Pedroza developed Pulido’s blog and the ones for city council members Michele Martinez and Sal Tinajero. The blogs had a similar layout, similar text and writing styles. Pulido paid considerably more than the nearly $400 paid by Martinez and the nearly $600 paid by Tinajero. Pedroza promoted all three blogs on his New Santa Ana blog and Orange Juice Blogs as being “good civic blogs.” The sites even got advertising space on New Santa Ana.
None of the three Santa Ana city council member blogs generated significant traffic or comments, but were viewed by many as a means of buying the silence of Pedroza, once such an ardent critic of the Santa Ana electeds that he often referred to them as “the Santa Ana City Clowncil.”
Evidence has recently surfaced that ,while the AmezcuaFacts.com website was identified as an IE, Art Pedroza had complete control over the website and its content. At a minimum this is a significant conflict of interest and, by a reasonable person’s standard, Pedroza’s receipt of more than $5,000 from the Pulido campaign for “web services” could be construed as Pedroza coordinating with the Good Government of Orange County Committee IE on behalf of Mayor Miguel Pulido’s campaign.
Simply stated, we invite you to access the AmezcuaFacts.com website here and see where it takes you. And if you tuned in late and clicking through no longer takes you to the default website of Pedroza & Associates as it did for weeks throughout June and early July, you can click on this video below to see if for yourself. If you clicked on the website and it no longer takes you to the website of Pedroza & Associates, that would be Mr. Pedroza covering his tracks. Again.
How do we know about all this?
We haven’t written about the status of our lawsuit against Art Pedroza and the OrangeJuice Blog for months. It’s still pending. The $17,000 judgment against the Orange Juice blog was secured in November without a dime being paid. The case against Pedroza personally was set to go to trial in May, and this case was much stronger than the case against the blog as a business entity. Attempts to settle the suit to our satisfaction were not productive.
In late April, in an attempt to end the litigation, Mr. Pedroza and his wife Camille filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. It is their second bankruptcy filing in the past 20 years. Thinking Liberally Media was listed as a creditor and the unresolved lawsuit against Mr. Pedroza personally was also listed as a debt even though there is no judgment in the case.
The timing was interesting because Judge David Carter, who didn’t get the paperwork in the bankruptcy filing until early May, had issued a minute order compelling Mr. Pedroza to turn over his hard drive as part of the discovery process and further sanctioned Mr. Pedroza who has refused to do so. Pedroza previously ignored an earlier order to turn over the hard drive and later ignored a compromise order to provide a copy of the hard drive to a computer forensics specialist — at his expense — to comply with discovery orders. The bankruptcy filing put a freeze on all actions for the lawsuit, but did not “terminate” the lawsuit.
A hearing of the creditors was held June 9; as a creditor, our lawyer, Todd Gallinger was able to ask Mr. Pedroza questions about assets and other forms of income that appear to be missing from his filings under oath. Pedroza admitted to owning Miguel Pulido’s blog and having transferred it to Dennis DeSnoo. He also admitted to transferring the Orange Juice Blog to Vern Nelson for one dollar. Nelson has told us he owns the Orange Juice Blog completely but after we attempted to settle with him, Pedroza contacted our lawyer and demanded we cease communications with Nelson over an asset related to his bankruptcy filing. So who’s telling the truth here and who really owns the Orange Juice Blog?
The trustee in the case ordered Mr. Pedroza to submit a new filing listing the other Internet assets and in the amended filing, Mr. Pedroza listed the Orange Juice Blog as his property and an asset (which begs the question, did Pedroza commit perjury in the re-filing or under oath in the hearing?). Mr. Gallinger had a limited amount of time to ask questions and from the audio transcript of the hearing, Pedroza is both forgetful and evasive.
Here’s a sample of the transcript:
Gallinger: You haven’t done any consulting under Pedroza and Associates for the past two years?
Pedroza: Um, I’ve done a little bit, but sporadically, I was employed so it was really hard to find time to do that. But um there’s been some revenue but not very much.
Gallinger: Okay, when you say some revenue how much are we talking about over the last two years?
Pedroza: Um, yea I’d have to go look at the tax returns.
Gallinger: Have you done the contracting work for anybody associated with the City of Santa Ana?
Pedroza: Oh I did some web design work for, nobody for the city, but I did do some contracting work for a gentleman named Dennis DeSnoo.
Trustee: Is all this listed?
Pedroza: It should be.
Trustee: This is listed as… within the income on the statement of financial affairs?
Pedroza: Well I’m trying to think back, that would have been back in 08, wasn’t it? So it wouldn’t have been in the current because that would have been back in 08.
Gallinger: So no contracting work for Dennis DeSnoo or anybody else in web design work since 2008?
Pedroza: I’m trying to think here, um when was that election? No, it wasn’t in 08 it was 2010.
Gallinger: You mentioned a couple of domain names that you owned or used to own… what about any domain names affiliated with MiguelPulidoBlog.com?
Pedroza: I do not believe I have retention of that, I think Mr. DeSnoo, it was transferred to Mr. DeSnoo.
Gallinger: But you did at one point register that?
Pedroza: At one point yes.
Gallinger: Was that part of your contract duties for Mr. DeSnoo?
Pedroza: Yes, it was.
After the hearing, the blogs belonging to Pulido, Martinez and Tinajero went dark. The GoDaddy WhoIs Page lists MiguelPulidoBlog.com as owned by DeSnoo and DeSnoo. But note the last date the site was updated; June 10, 2011. The day after the meeting of creditors where Mr. Pedroza testified under oath he had transferred the domain name to Pulido’s campaign consultant “a while ago.” A screen capture below shows the date of the update.
DeSnoo & DeSnoo
PO Box 11426
Santa Ana, CA 92711
Registered through: GoDaddy.com, Inc. (http://www.godaddy.com)
Domain Name: MIGUELPULIDOBLOG.COM
Created on: 29-Aug-10
Expires on: 29-Aug-11
Last Updated on: 10-Jun-11
The Michele Martinez blog does not list an owner. That site is down as well and the GoDaddy WhoIs page shows that this blog was also last updated on June 10, 2011. The screen capture is below. Sal Tinajero’s blog is also down, and shows that Councilman Tinajero is the owner of the blog that bears his name. Like the Pulido and Martinez blogs, that site was also updated last on June 10, 2011. Now while Mr. Pedroza wasn’t specifically asked about those two blogs, he should have answered whether he owned them or not as he said he did with Pulido’s blog. Since the sites all went down almost immediately after the hearing, did Pedroza try to hide evidence to cover possible perjurious statements made to his bankruptcy trustee?
Back to AmezcuaFacts.com for a moment, no owner is listed and the site was last updated on June 9, 2011, the day of the hearing. The site — at the time of this writing – points to the Pedroza & Associates website. We consulted web experts and outlined the scenario of AmezcuaFacts website asking for an explanation of how this might occur from a technical perspective. The AmezcuaFacts site is still active and, rather than being deleted, is now pointing to what appears to be a default website owned by Art Pedroza. We have checked this situation multiple times since June 10 and in each case, all attempts to connect to Amezcuafacts.com take a Web user to Pedroza & Associates.
A cached version of AmezcuaFacts shows the page was still active as late as June 1, 2011. And, at the time of this writing, if you go to the AmezcuaFacts Twitter page, all the TinyURLs linking to Tweeted stories also take you to Pedroza & Associates website. Of course, we anticipate this forwarding issue will be addressed once this post is live.
Not the only example of coordination
The Good Government of Orange County Committee is not the only IE that it appears to have coordinated with the Pulido campaign in 2010. It appears that Pulido and the Santa Ana Fire Fighters Association coordinated a photo opportunity using Santa Ana Fire Department resources and employees in uniform. As you can see by the pictures from the mailers below, the images were clearly taken at the same time and at the same photo shoot. Neither committee posted their images on their websites, so they could not have been copied from the other. The only way both committees could have these photos is if they coordinated the photo shoot.
Government Code §85500 is pretty clear that “an expenditure may not be considered independent, and shall be treated as a contribution from the person making the expenditure to the candidate on whose behalf, or for whose benefit, the expenditure is made, if the expenditure is made under any arrangement, coordination, or direction with respect to the candidate or the candidate’s agent and the person making the expenditure.”
We contacted Alfredo Amezcua for a statement and he said: “I am considering the possibility of filing an FFPC complaint on this matter to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen to any candidate for any office in Santa Ana in the future. I certainly respect the wishes of the electorate. Anyone elected to office must follow the rules. The FFPC should be aware of this situation and it’s up to them to decide if this is a violation of their rules.”
The Pulido campaign was not available for comment.
Until the relief of stay against Mr. Pedroza and the Orange Juice blog is lifted (and such a motion was filed on June 24 with a court hearing scheduled for July 19), we are prohibited from contacting him directly, but he is invited to submit a statement here on this post in comments or he may draft a post addressing these charges on his own blog.
So, did the Pulido campaign coordinate attacks on Amezcua through an IE website that appears to have been under Pedroza’s control? Did Pedroza do so under instruction from Pulido’s campaign or did Mr. Pedroza act solely on his own? Was the AmezcuaFacts website the reason for the disproportionate size of the payment to Art Pedroza for “Web Services?”
We wonder if Pedroza will be thrown under the bus or if Pedroza’s ego will permit him to fall on his own sword.
Time will tell.