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By Brian Park
In response to a San Juan Capistrano resident’s formal complaint, the California Fair Political Practices Commission will look into alleged campaign violations committed by Capistrano Common Sense, the local watchdog group and publishers of a monthly newsletter, who are also supporters of City Council candidates Roy Byrnes and Kim McCarthy.
On Wednesday, the state commission’s enforcement division notified Edmond Connor, who filed the complaint on September 24, via letter that they would begin an investigation to determine if Capistrano Common Sense and the Committee for Common Sense Solutions—an offshoot of the group that has established a campaign website for Byrnes and McCarthy—are in violation of the Political Reform Act.
In his complaint, Connor states that the two groups have broken state laws 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.
Gary Winuk, chief of the enforcement division, wrote, “please be advised that at this time we have not made any determination about the validity of the allegation(s) you have made or about the culpability, if any, of the person(s) you identify in your complaint.”
The Committee for Common Sense Solutions’ website accepts campaign donations up to $250, a limit set by a city ordinance. Capistrano Common Sense’s editorial website also solicits donations, but editorial board members say that money does not go toward either Byrnes’ or McCarthy’s campaigns and is only used to “offset our out-of-pocket costs” to produce their monthly newsletter.
“I think this is absolutely bogus,” editorial board member Kim Lefner said in September. “In my opinion, Ed Connor is trying to bully us into silence. We have been publishing for three years.”
Connor said he was prompted to issue the complaint after speaking with several 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 Planning Commissioner 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 also sent his complaint to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the city of San Juan Capistrano.
The D.A.’s office is currently reviewing the complaint, according to Jaime Coulter, the head of the special prosecutions unit. City Attorney Hans Van Ligten was out of town and unable to be reached for comment.