A Shaggy Dog Tale: The SB Schools Race, a Faraway Right-Wing Blogger and the Oppo Dump that Fizzled
Atop the home page of Aaron F. Park's blog, "Right On Daily," a red-white-and-blue cartoon elephant wields a sledge hammer against little critters popping out of holes, adjoining the words, "Liberal Whack-a-Mole."
Last month, Park's hammer swung all the way to Santa Barbara, more than 400 miles south of his home in Roseville, Placer County, to whack school board president and re-election candidate Laura Capps, in the form of a complaint he filed against her with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
The complaint, which Capps has vigorously denounced as politically motivated, alleges she failed to make required disclosures, on her mandated Statement of Economic Interests, about clients of her non-profit consulting firm, Mission Partners.
Inquiring minds may wonder how Park, a far-off, far-right, hardcore Trump, hardball attack artist, who generally writes about statewide affairs or matters closer to home, came to focus on the low-profile local school board election campaign here in our little burg.
Therein lies a tale.
The Gandrud connection. It starts with Greg Gandrud, a longtime Santa Barbara County Republican activist, and a man who wears many political hats.
Among other activities, he was elected Treasurer of the California Republican Party last year.
Shortly before the election at the state GOP convention, Park endorsed Greg on "Right On Daily" for the party post, albeit in a bit of a backhanded way:
"My Choice for CAGOP Treasurer may surprise some people. I have never publicly endorsed a Gay Man for any office before. As an outspoken Evangelical Christian, I have strongly held beliefs.
"In the case of Greg Gandrud, I have a long time personal relationship and friendship with him. I’ve had a lot of discussions with him off-line. I know him to be solid on fiscal issues, solid on the Gun issue and he is also Pro-Life. This means then, that aside from his choice of spouse, he is a full-portfolio conservative.
Locally, Gandrud also is a founder of Fair Education Santa Barbara, the conservative, back to-basics non-profit group that opposes many liberal policies of the liberal SB school board.
He and other leaders and members of the group are backing two of Capps' rivals in the seven-candidate campaign for the SB Unified School District's board of education.
On Sept. 18, Fair Education dropped a long-running lawsuit against the district that had challenged the approval by Capps and four other school members of contracts with a controversial non-profit called Just Communities to provide implicit bias training to district staff.
Five days later, Park filed his FPPC complaint.
State filings and "smears." In announcing withdrawal of Fair Education's claims, their attorney Eric Early offered some snarky innuendo for public consumption, claiming to a reporter that settlement had been initiated by the district because SBUSD feared his upcoming deposition of Capps in the case, in which he planned to question her about her non-profit clients.
“We served the district several depositions, including one for Laura Capps that was the most substantial,” Early told Delaney Smith, who reported the comment in her Independent story about the lawsuit ending. “And once they were served with that information, the district was more than happy to discuss a settlement with us.”
Capps and SBUSD's attorneys hit the roof about Early's remarks, which district lawyer Craig Price called "a total fabrication."
“The falsehood about this outcome being connected to Laura Capps is reprehensible and defamatory," he said, "and is nothing more than an attempt to smear her in the school board election.”
On Sept. 23, however, Park's FPPC complaint upsurged Early's insinuation that there was something fishy about Capps' s clients.
Park contends in the complaint that Capps should have listed any local clients for Mission Partners on Schedule A-2 of her Form 700, the statement of economic interests required to be filed by most elected officials in California.
When we reached out to him, he forwarded the text of his complaint, which alleges that Capps "failed to disclose whether or not there are sources of income equal to $10,000 or more that reside in and/or do business in the district."
How the deal went down. Not long after Park's filing, it became an open secret among those closely following the SB school board race that Fair Education was shopping the complaint to several reporters covering the race (though not to Newsmakers, oddly), a common campaign tactic known to political hacks as an "oppo dump."
After several journalists declined the Fair Education information, the FPPC complaint finally surfaced on Oct. 23, in a small story published in the morning paper, under the byline of one Annelise Hanshaw, the first and, until now, only report on the matter.
Far from the kind of blockbuster "Capps Faces Investigation" headline and story that might have been proven useful in a campaign attack mailer or ad, however, the piece was more of the Colonel Mustard-with-the-Candlestick-in-the-Conservatory genre.
Its most palpable feature, in fact, was a series of Capps quotes, which characterized the complaint as "a weak political smear by Fair Education in the wake of their failed lawsuit against the school district and days before the election.”
Via Messenger, we asked Park how he came to file against Capps, and specifically if Gandrud, Fair Education leader and his candidate for state party Treasurer, was behind it.
He wrote back:
"LOL. Everybody's blaming Greg.
"But I generally tend to look for stuff like this as I filed complaints all over the damn state.
"And by the way I have a lot of friends everywhere, I'd have to double check my file to understand who alerted me to it but the complaint was written by me and I did the research on it.
"I have seven outstanding complaints all over the state."
When we asked Gandrud if he was the source for the complaint, he had a somewhat clearer recollection.
"He and I discussed the matter," Greg said of Park, "and we both thought that it looked like she was trying to hide something."
What Capps says. The Fair Political Practices Commission receives thousands of complaints each year and is required to open a file and look into each one so that, in most cases, being "under investigation by the FPPC" is considerably less sensational or dramatic than a candidate looking to attack a rival might try to make it sound.
As a political matter, it seems unlikely to make much impact in the school board race, in which Capps is expected to finish first; as a practical matter, however, she will be required to front the time and expense of responding to any FPPC inquiries that may arise from the complaint.
Park told us that of the complaints he has filed, "the average response time has 2-3 years to complete a case," so there's that.
Saying "there's nothing there," Capps categorically rejects the implication of the Fair Education/Park allegation, i.e. that she somehow has used her position on the school board to benefit business clients. In a statement she said her clients don't do business with the district.
"I am proud of the state and national nonprofit organizations I work with, which are listed on my website www.LauraCapps.com, and filed accordingly," she said.. "Unlike the candidates backed by Fair Education/Impact Education (an independent expenditure committee supporting the conservative candidates), I have been transparent about who supports my candidacy and submitted all financial reporting documents."
At the time, Park was writing under the pseudonym "Sgt, York" for the now-defunct right-wing site called "Red State."
A number of Sgt. York's pieces were brutal attacks on Meg Whitman, a Silicon Valley zillionaire and founder of eBay, then seeking the 2010 GOP nomination for governor, on behalf of her more conservative rival, Steve Poizner.
Amid fierce intra-party feuding over the primary, Sgt. York was banished from Red State, a move Park blames on eMeg and her vast retinue of high-priced political consultants, whom Park says got him canned in exchange for the Whitman campaign buying advertising on the site.
These days, Park seems to relish using his venom and provocative attacks against Never Trump and California establishment Republicans and operatives as much, if not more than, Democrats (a current prime target of his ire is state party chair Jessica Patterson), assailing them as "the squish cartel" and worse.
"The Meg people tried to kill me," Park told us, "and only launched a career for me."
Images: Masthead of "Right On Daily"; Greg Gandrud; Eric Early (outlooknewspapers.com); Aaron Park (courtesy) Laura Capps; Home page of "Right On Daily";