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By Brian Park

A San Juan Capistrano resident is asking the California Fair Political Practices Commission to look into what he alleges are campaign violations committed by Capistrano Common Sense, a local watchdog group that has entered into the political fray as supporters of City Council candidates Roy Byrnes and Kim McCarthy.

Edmond Connor, a 30-year resident and an attorney with Irvine-based Connor, Fletcher and Williams, said he had filed the complaint Monday with the state commission as well as the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the city of San Juan Capistrano.

The complaint states that Capistrano Common Sense and the Committee for Common Sense Solutions, an offshoot of the group that has established a website supporting Byrnes and McCarthy, are in violation of the Political Reform Act and a city ordinance because of their open advocacy for the two candidates as well as their solicitation of campaign donations despite neither being registered as political action committees, according to a state database.

“These were clear-cut violations that someone needs to address because they’re somewhat outstanding,” Connor said Tuesday.

Connor said he was prompted to act after receiving several complaints from neighbors about one of Capistrano Common Sense’s monthly newsletters. Connor, who received the newsletter himself in September, cited two articles in his complaint, including one written by Byrnes titled “Why I am running for San Juan City Council” and another denouncing candidates Sam Allevato, an incumbent, and Ginny Kerr.

“I received that newsletter in my house, and I was struck by what a political hit piece it was,” Connor said. “They crossed the line into political advocacy.”

State code prohibits candidates or committees from sending mass mailings unless their names and addresses are included. Another part of the code identifies mass mailings as “two hundred substantially similar pieces of mail,” not including form letters or responses to unsolicited requests. According to the Capistrano Common Sense website, their newsletter is delivered to “approximately 10,000 homes City-wide.”

Connor is also seeking an investigation into the Committee for Common Sense Solutions’ website, which asks for contributions of no more than $250 per person—a limit set by city code. According to the Political Reform Act, committees that raise or spend at least $1,000 must be registered with the Secretary of State.

(Update Wednesday, September 26): Gary Winuk, chief of the enforcement division of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, and Farrah Emami, spokeswoman for the county D.A.’s office, both confirmed that they have received the complaint. City Attorney Hans Van Ligten was unable to be reached for comment.

Capistrano Common Sense editorial board member Kim Lefner said of Connor’s complaint, “I think this is absolutely bogus. In my opinion, Ed Connor is trying to bully us into silence. We have been publishing for three years.”

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