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By Brian Park
The polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday, but it appears San Juan Capistrano residents might have to wait a little while longer for a reprieve from what’s become a hotly contested and often contentious race for City Council.
An email and an automated phone message sent to an unknown number of residents last week rallying against candidates Roy Byrnes and Kim McCarthy have sparked the pair’s ire over what they call fraudulent accusations of money laundering, forcing the two to seek legal action and an investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, according to a statement released Sunday.
“We won’t be bullied,” McCarthy said. “People in this town need to be able to feel they can run for local office without being treated like this. We’re going to fight just like we’re going to fight when we get elected.”
The email in question was sent by the Newport Beach Private Dock Owners Association and includes the subject heading, “State Investigating SJC city council candidates.” The body of the email includes the seal of the city of San Juan Capistrano and a November 1 article from The Orange County Register about the FPPC’s investigation into alleged campaign violations committed by Capistrano Common Sense, the local watchdog group supporting Byrnes and McCarthy.
However, above the article’s headline and an image of The Register’s banner is an additional headline that seems to mislead recipients: “State will investigate money laundering charges against Burns (sic) & McCarthy.”
“Money laundering charges are serious. To suggest in a mass public email that a criminal felony has been committed is over the top,” Byrnes said in a statement.
The email’s footer indicates that the message was paid for by the Residents for Reform, a Newport Beach-based committee, and includes a disclaimer that it was sent without authorization by any candidate or candidate committee.
Neither the NBPDOA nor the Residents for Reform are listed on the Secretary of State’s database of committees, but both have filed campaign statements with the city of Newport Beach and the Orange County Registrar of Voters, respectively.
The NBPDOA’s most recent statement of organization lists Lysa Ray, owner of Santa Ana-based Lysa Ray Campaign Services, as its treasurer. A list of former and current clients available on Ray’s website includes the OC Taxpayers Association, which sponsors the Lake Forest-based political action committee OCTaxPAC. According to a recent expenditure report filed with the Secretary of State’s office, the OC Taxpayers Association now lists Sacramento-based accountant J. Richard Eichman–not Rays–as its treasurer. Several calls placed by The Dispatch to Ray’s office went unanswered.
Campaign finance statements filed with the county registrar October 23 show that OCTaxPAC spent $4,765.54 for mailers supporting candidates Sam Allevato, an incumbent Councilman, and Ginny Kerr, a Planning Commissioner.
Allevato and Kerr said neither supported the email or the mailers.
“We don’t know who these people are,” Kerr said. “I’m aware of independent groups out and about, but we have no control over them.”
“It was an independent expenditure. My campaign has nothing to do with it,” Allevato added.
Both candidates say they were unaware of and did not approve the automated “robocall” sent to residents. The call includes a recording of former San Juan Capistrano city councilman Wyatt Hart speaking out against Byrnes and McCarthy and highlighting the FPPC’s investigation.
Hart confirmed he recorded the message on behalf of the Residents for Reform and said he acted without consent from either Allevato or Kerr.
“I just felt the voters needed to know there’s an investigation,” Hart said. “I just think whenever there’s a question of illegal activity, the residents should know.”
Hart and his wife, Susan, each contributed $250 to Allevato’s and Kerr’s campaign, respectively, according to the candidates’ financial statements.
“These people are so desperate to retain control and power, they’ll do anything,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think anyone has stood up to these ‘good ol’ boys’ or come this close.”
Updated: November 5, 2012, 4:42 p.m.