Mystery PAC weighs in on local race

Sacramento-based committee, linked to casino interests, mails out unsolicited endorsements for Hogg and Mower, slams Hayman

UPDATE: As of Saturday, residents have received as many as five different mailers from the "Honesty PAC." One more endorsing Hogg and Mower and another depicting Councilmember Wallace Martin as Hayman's "puppet master." On the reverse side are excerpts of a Daily Independent article. However, the DI has pointed out several inaccuracies and misattributions in the mailer's version of the story.

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Local candidates and members of the public continue to express concerns over the outside influence on local elections. While these claims originally focused on Scott Hayman’s acceptance of contributions from Bakersfield-based Western Pacific Research (which turned out to be a $4,200 loan for campaign signs and roughly $1,500 in the form of a local fundraiser), recently campaign mailers began filling local mailboxes – purportedly from the Sacramento-based “Honesty Political Action Committee.”

Three separate mailers support Ridgecrest City Council candidates Reese Hogg III and Mike Mower, while criticizing Hayman’s campaign spending.

The Honesty PAC has apparent ties to casino developer Nigel White who is working with the Timbisha Shoshone tribe to bring an Indian casino and entertainment complex to Ridgecrest and Lori Acton, a former city councilmember and advocate for the project. The two reportedly approached Hogg and Mower with the aim of supporting their campaigns.

While both candidates reported that they turned down the prospect of endorsements or contributions, the Honesty PAC went forward with the mailers with a disclaimer that they were neither paid for nor authorized by the candidates.

According to a spokesperson for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, this is an acceptable endorsement practice, and neither candidate is required to declare the contributions.

The first mailer endorsing Hogg, who has said he doesn’t plan on using his prospective position to inhibit or advocate for the casino project, went out last week. According to Hogg, White approached him at a city council meeting offering to pay for his campaign signs.

“I told them I’m not accepting any endorsements,” said Hogg in a video he posted on his campaign Facebook page last week. “I’m not accepting any financial contributions from any political groups, any special-interest groups – nothing like that. There’s nothing particularly bad about the mailer, except it’s not from me and it’s not from my campaign. It’s from a PAC that is somehow connected to the casino developers.”

He added that people are likely to see the unauthorized contribution as an attempt to buy his support of the project.

“This creates a conflict that could affect my ability to even have input on an issue where I would have wanted to be impartial and exercise good judgment,” he said. “If this was an attempt to buy my vote, it may have had the opposite effect of what the developer was trying to get from it.”

According to the California Secretary of State database, the Honesty PAC was established to support Scott Svonkin, who lost the primary election for the District 3 seat on the State Board of Equalization.

Although campaign expenditures are required to be posted within 24 hours, the PAC lists no line item for the Ridgecrest mailers and only shows financial records through July 31. The committee’s filing period also appears to have closed on Oct. 25, causing some to speculate that the mailers may have been fraudulently sent out without the legally required financial accounting and public disclosure.

At press time, neither White nor representatives of the Honesty PAC responded to questions regarding the number and cost of mailers or the committee’s affiliation with the casino development.

Two more mailers have gone out more recently – one jointly endorsing Hogg and Mower, the other criticizing Hayman for accruing $6,915.68 in campaign debt.

Measure K gives candidates 30 days after an election to pay back debts before they are considered contributions.

According to Kern County election statements, it is not uncommon for candidates to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt during a campaign.

The anti-Hayman mailer also uses a News Review file photo without authorization, while the Hogg-Mower mailer uses at least a photo paid for by the city for its promotional material. While none of the mailers directly refer to the casino, they assert that Hogg and Mower support “first class entertainment for a first class all-American city.”

“When they said they wanted to send out a mailer, I said don’t put my authorization on it,” said Mower. He said he was approached by Acton, presumably on behalf of the casino development.

In regard to whether or not he considered subsequent events to be a bribe, Mower said, “I hope they know me better than that. I’m not influenced by outside stuff. I vote what I feel is right after talking to staff … and that’s how I will continue to vote.”

Hogg responded again after the second round of mailers went out, saying the local race was being “hijacked by political PACs interested in influencing this election for their own gain. I refuse to stand by while they attack any of our local candidates. “Regardless of whether we agree or disagree, these attacks on Scott Hayman are ridiculous and uncalled for. Please don’t allow these attacks to impact how you vote. If you were going to vote for Hayman before the mailer came out, don’t allow slander to be the reason why you don’t.”

Story First Published: 2018-11-02