San Juan Capistrano

Dirty Politics in San Juan
By Kim Lefner

A recent article in the OC Register entitled “The Fixer” by Meghann Cuniff, describes political consultant David Ellis’ often unethical tactics to get his candidates elected.

This article and others written about Ellis and SJC Councilman Sam Allevato’s campaign consultant Eileen Padberg predict a down-and-dirty fight by Allevato against residents running the recall against him.

One of the functions of these out-of-town political consultants is to marginalize the opposition by conducting “smear” campaigns. They target the average voter with glossy mailers attacking the opposition, often on a personal level. SJC residents received such a mailer last week, smearing those who support the recall of Sam Allevato.

Despite Allevato’s repeated denials about ties to Ellis, a recent Public Records Act request reveals that Allevato is indeed involved with Ellis, as he is with Padberg.

A Daily Pilot article from Nov. 24, 2002 about Ellis entitled “The Campaigner”, by reporter Paul Clinton reveals Ellis’ tactics;

As a political consultant…Ellis has long been a hot commodity in City Council elections...known as a freewheeling bomb thrower... his opponents often dread his aggressive tactics. ‘He pushes the envelope until it tears,’ said one source who requested anonymity.”
According to the article, the Newport Beach-based Ellis has “…perfected a... no-holds-barred campaigning style...for two decades…[and] promotes his candidates... using bulk mailers, phone blitzes, voter surveys and...other tools of the trade. With about $20,000 and the right candidate, Ellis can take you to the top.

"Politics is definitely a combat sport. I happen to be on the gridiron," Ellis said.

Allevato’s political consultant Eileen Padberg was quoted in the article, stating; “You get hired to do a job, you get hired to win for your candidate. It's a very tough business and you only get one shot [to win] ... It's not a business for the faint of heart."

A response to a recent SJC Public Records Act request offers a glimpse into the political tactics employed by Ellis, Padberg and Sam Allevato.

On July 2, 2013, Ellis sent a City Of Newport Beach "newsletter" to both Allevato and Padberg with the following email;

Hi Sam & Eileen-

San Juan should be mailing something like the attached newsletter the City of Newport Beach sends to all city residents… Nobody complains about tax dollars paying for it…It's very much an advocacy piece masked in the facade of an official City mailer.” [emphasis added].

Within weeks of Ellis’ suggestion, the City mailed out its first “newsletter” entitled, “The Value of Water.” According to a PRA request, the PR mailer cost the taxpayers between $6,000 to $8,000 to design and distribute.

Allevato has repeatedly denied campaign ties to Ellis. He has not denied ties to Padberg but has not mentioned her by name, only stating that he has “a political consultant”.

Padberg and Allevato’s political strategy becomes clear however, in the following email exchange on July 22, 2013 when Allevato emailed Brad Gates (who is copied on a surprisingly large volume of emails), Padberg and Ellis, stating;

"Councilmembers Byrnes & Reeve vote "No" on placing American Flag in city park! FYI - matter of public record." (Note: The record reflects that Reeve stated his support for the flag and flag pole, but objected to a permanent sign advertising Brad Gates’ private “Open Space Foundation” at the entrance to publicly owned Reata Park. Byrnes agreed with Reeve, but the sign promoting Gates’ foundation was approved anyway in a 3-2 vote).

Padberg responded: "Great - keep this in your tickler file - we'll use it at a later date...We should take some shots now; letters to the editor from outraged citizens (just so we can reprint articles/columns in direct mail)" [emphasis added].

Brad Gates responded: “Got it.

In what appears to be a follow up to Padberg’s advice, former Council member Laura Freese then wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Capistrano Dispatch. In it, she attacks the Community Common Sense (CCS) and individuals critical of Allevato. Prior to submitting her letter however, she asked Sam Allevato and Jonathan Volzke for their opinion about it in a September 18 email:

"Both of you did such a great job last night with your speeches! [at the city council meeting in which Allevato was served with recall papers.] God I just hate those people! Please see the attached Letter to the Editor...I want to send it out right away, but being as I am a bit emotional about this whole thing I want your opinion first. I don't want to come off as whiney."

Allevato responded: “Laura, your letter is wonderful and I can’t express enough my heartfelt gratitude for you stepping to the plate to support me...’Bullying’ is what they are about...”

Freese replied to Allevato, asking, "Do you think the comparison to the Nazis is over the top?"

Allevato responded: “Why not refer back to the true purpose of recalls i.e. immoral, unethical behavior, etc. Not one’s voting record. Thanks.”

Shortly after that, Freese’s letter was printed in the Dispatch, stating that recalls should only be used for immoral or unethical behavior. She also attacked the CCS, stating that we filed the recall against Allevato [NOT TRUE], calling us “...the deceitful group which operates under the alias Community Common Sense” [it’s our name, not an alias] and accused the CCS of making “personal attacks with lies and half-truths...” [while offering no documentation for her claims]. Freese evidently reconsidered comparing us to Nazis.

The lies, misinformation and vitriolic personal attacks outlined in the emails above reflect a disturbing trend in increasingly divisive politics in San Juan. We will put these emails in a “tickler file” as a reminder of who these people really are, during what promises to be a very ugly campaign. We recommend that you do the same. The next time you receive a mailer making outrageous claims and personal attacks, ask yourself “where’s the proof?” before accepting what’s being offered as fact.

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