Campaign law violations alleged in county supervisor’s race

Kosmicki requests FPPC investigation into rival’s advertisements

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As political campaigns throughout the nation race down the final stretch before the Nov. 3 election, a candidate for a San Benito County Supervisor’s seat has accused his rival of violations of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission guidelines.

Kollin Kosmicki, candidate for Supervisor District 2, sent a request on Oct. 23 to the FPPC to investigate two types of political advertisements recently posted by his rival, Wayne Norton.

One of the complaints has to do with an ad on Facebook that features a video of Anthony Botelho—the current supervisor in District 2—endorsing Norton. The video background behind Botelho displays the county logo in numerous locations. The video also shows up as an Oct. 23 post on Norton’s campaign page on the social media site.

Kosmicki’s second complaint is related to a number of billboards in the Hollister area that depict advertisements supporting Norton for the District 2 seat. Kosmicki alleged that Norton has not listed the billboard ads as an expense or in-kind contribution in his required campaign financial disclosure forms.

“It’s upsetting that Anthony Botelho is using the county logo while campaigning for Wayne,” Kosmicki told the Free Lance, regarding the Facebook ad. “I think it’s inappropriate and I just wanted to inform the FPPC.”

Norton said he was not aware of the FPPC complaint, which as of Oct. 29 does not show up in a search of the “Complaint and Case Information Portal” section of the commission’s website. Norton said Botelho decided on his own to make the endorsement video, and Norton did not participate in the production of the piece.

Botelho said he filmed the endorsement video at the county office in downtown Hollister. He said he is “not aware of any rule or law that I broke.” He added it is “not uncommon” for elected officials at all levels to conduct political activities at their public workplaces. 

Regarding the billboards bearing ads supporting him, Norton said the signs were posted on the structures by local developer Hugh Bikle, at his own expense. Norton said he didn’t think he had to report the billboard ads because they resulted from Bikle’s personal decision to display the ads on property he controls.

Shortly after the Free Lance asked him about the billboard ads on Oct. 29, Norton said he plans to report them on an FPPC 460 form—where candidates list individual campaign contributions and expenses—before election day. 

Kosmicki added that the Botelho video ad is particularly troubling in light of the fact that, also on Oct. 23, county staff sent out a press release notifying residents of recent complaints about campaign phone calls. The press release, sent by county spokesman David Westrick, said some callers to local homes had identified themselves as “county employees” and asked the complainants to vote a certain way in the Nov. 3 election.

The county press release said staff has found no evidence that the callers were in fact county employees. But, Kosmicki said, “It’s very disturbing to me that there’s even a potential for that sort of activity. County employees shouldn’t be doing that. They should know better.”

The county’s Oct. 23 press release also included a memo sent to county staff reiterating what the state laws are about public employees participating in campaign activity. In short, county employees are prohibited from engaging in political activities while in the workplace or using county resources.

It is unclear if those laws would prohibit Botelho or any elected official from using a county logo to support a candidate or political cause.

The only section of the FPPC laws that regulates the use of government or public resources in campaign related communications applies specifically to mass mailings or newsletters, according to FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga.

Even if Botelho’s video is not a clear FPPC violation, Kosmicki said it is “misleading.”

“The county logo (in Botelho’s video) can give the impression that the county itself is endorsing a candidate. But that’s just not true.”

Botelho decided last year that he would not seek re-election after his current term, which is his fourth four-year term on the board of supervisors. He did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment about the video in which he endorsed Norton.

Norton said he was “disappointed” to hear about the recent FPPC complaints because they distract from the important issues in the current election. “I’m proud of the campaign I’ve been running. I think I’ve run a clean campaign,” Norton said.

The race for the District 2 seat has been largely characterized by the candidates’ differing views on growth and development in San Benito County.

Kosmicki has campaigned on slowing down the recent pace and types of growth and “taking on the pro-development community,” he said.

Norton has been a vocal supporter of Measure N—which would create zoning for the massive Strada Verde development in northern San Benito County—and has accepted endorsements and campaign contributions from area labor unions.

Kosmicki filed an earlier FPPC complaint, on Oct. 20, in relation to a recent mailer that discussed recent local development events, but did not identify who paid for the literature. The mailer was sent by the developer of the Betabel property and the Coalition to Protect San Benito, according to the FPPC site.

That complaint, however, was rejected, according to the FPPC. 

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