Back in February, I wrote a few posts (here, here and here) trying resolve the mystery surrounding an independent expenditure committee -- Orange County Healthcare, Education and Neighborhood Leaders PAC -- that sent out this mailer attacking Santa Ana Councilman Carlos Bustamante in the final days of the 1st Supervisor District special election.
I put the issue in my mental tickle file until the latest campaign reports became available and I could try to answer some unanswered questions.
But first some back story:
That the mailer attacked Bustamante for a city council vote that took place before he was elected to the Santa Ana City Council wasn't the source of controversy that attached itself to the mailer -- it was the provenance of the IE committee that paid for it.
The committee started life as the Irvine City, School & Neighborhood Leaders PAC and was formed to help John Duong's campaign for mayor of Irvine in 2006. The Lincoln Club of Orange County provided the bulk of the funding for the committee.
About a week before the 1st Supervisor District special election, the committee's name was changed to Orange County Healthcare, Education and Neighborhood Leaders PAC and the treasurer was switched from OC's Betty Presley to Mrs. Kelly Lawler of Willows, CA. The person who OK'd turning treasurer duties to Mrs. Lawler bound Betty to secrecy.
Funding for the anti-Bustamante mailer (and phone banks) came from donations of $2,000 Garden Grove businessman Mr. Charles Kim and $4,000 from Mr. Tam Lecong aka Nick Lecong, a former Garden grove Planning Commissioner who was active in Janet Nguyen's campaign and is currently a member of her supervisor staff. Mr. Kim told me in February that Lecong asked him to donate to the PAC.
I called Nick Lecong at that same time to ask if he was the person behind the mailer/phone banks, and if not, then who asked him to donate $4,000. He literally began coughing into the phone, then hung up and refused to answer my subsequent phone calls.
Now, this creates an interesting situation vis-a-vis county government. Supervisor Janet Nguyen is now Carlos Bustamante's boss (Carlos is Assistant Director, Planning & Development Services for the County of Orange), but one of Janet's executive assistants (Lecong) helped fund a dishonest hit piece on Carlos. Politics can create some strange situations.
Back to the whole business with this IE, which was hinky on several levels. For one thing, the only contributions were the $6,000 from Lecong and Kim, yet the committee spent twice that much on mail and phone banks. But treasurer Kelly Lawler -- who also refused to return several phone calls -- wasn't required to file a comprehensive report until June 30, so my investigation was temporarily at a dead end.
Well, I got a hold of that report on Friday.
I assumed the report would show additional donors making up the large gap between the committee's expenditures and contributions.
No such luck. The report just raises more questions.
Nick Lecong and Charles Kim are still the only donors. Their $6,000 -- combined with the $2,690.47 left from its previous incarnation -- paid for 1749.04 in phone banking, $10,966 for the mailer, plus payments to the treasurer, etc.
But the strangest thing about the report is Schedule F: unpaid bills. The report states that as of June 30, printer -- United Press Works of Riverside -- is owed $5,894.99.
The committee also reports an ending cash balance of ZERO. That means the committee no longer has a bank account, since banks don't let you maintain bank accounts with no money.
Translation: the Orange County Healthcare, Education and Neighborhood Leaders PAC is going to stiff United press Works fro nearly $6,000.
I wondered if United Press Works knew that, so I called owner Tracy Carrell at the end of the day on Friday. I introduced myself, explained why I was calling and asked her if the committee did indeed owe her almost $6,000. Carrell said she didn't recall being owed any money. Ms. Carrell then said she was at dinner with her family and that I should fax her any material I wanted to talk to her about and follow up with a phone call.
On Monday evening, I faxed her the mailer and the pertinent pages from the campaign report, along with a note asking if who asked her company to print and mail the mail piece, and whether it was true the committee owed her company nearly $6,000?
I spoke to Tracy Carrell earlier this afternoon. She refused to answer any of my questions or to discuss the mailer or her business with the IE committee with me.
Now, it's possible Ms. Carrell doesn't care if the IE committee is going to stiff her $6,000 -- which would be unlike any printer I know, since it's a low-margin business.
Then again, Tracy Carrell's initial response was she wasn't owed any money, which tells me that $6,000 debt was paid -- just not by the Orange County Healthcare, Education and Neighborhood Leaders PAC. Which would be a campaign violation.
Either way, this IE committee's involvement in the 1st Supervisor District has been hinky from beginning to end.