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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Cast of Characters Behind Mysterious Pro-Das Anti-Laura Committee

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

Three veteran political consultants -- two Democrats and one recovering Republican – are operating the independent expenditure committee on behalf of Das Williams that is now attacking Laura Capps in the mail and on radio, Newsmakers has learned.

Democrats Mollie Culver and Tyler Gibson, and GOP strategist Cory Bantilan, who works for the county as chief of staff to Supervisor Steve Lavignino, are raising the money and producing anti-Capps campaign materials and on-air messages that have appeared this week.

Capps, president of the SB school board, is challenging Williams, the incumbent supervisor in the First District. A key issue in the race has been Das's central role in crafting the county's controversial cannabis ordinance, and his past acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from those involved in the industry.

As first reported in this space, a mysterious new campaign committee called “Central Coast Residents Supporting Das Williams for Supervisor,” was registered with election officials late last month. The group is legally required to operate independently of Williams’s campaign.

The three consultants, each of whom confirmed their participation in the committee's operations, say that they believe Capp's repeated attacks on Williams's integrity to be unfounded and unfair, and decided to come together "organically," to hit back on his behalf.

Among other charges they make against Capps is that she is a "hypocrite" because her own fundraising in the current campaign does not conform with the limits and standards she has set forth in a campaign finance reform plan as the centerpiece of her challenge to Das.

"As expected, this PAC is doing Das’ dirty work," Lindsay Bubar, senior strategist for the Capps campaign, said in a statement emailed to Newsmakers. "Their first hit piece is full of lies, which, as he did at the debate last week, Das will try to distance himself from.  Except, he can’t."

Responded Das: "It is unfortunate that my opponent has felt that she needs to concentrate on attacking me and running a negative campaign," he said. "Our local politics was once civil and respectful and we should do all we can to promote and revive that ethic."

For those keeping score at home. Full statements from Bantilan, on behalf of the committee and from the Capps and Williams campaigns are below.

The trio of consultants behind the independent expenditure committee form an intriguing, three degrees of separation alliance steeped in several decades of local politics and campaigns. They are:

  • Mollie Culver, a longtime Democratic strategist, has worked for countless local party politicians, including former legislator Jack O’Connell, Mayor Cathy Murillo, Rep. Salud Carbajal and Supervisor Gregg Hart (not to mention two stints with former Rep. Lois Capps, mother of Laura), and is a favored strategist for those who win the endorsement of the local central committee. She also was a key figure in passage of the disputed cannabis ordinance, meeting at various times with Williams and other county officials, testifying at public meetings and writing letters in her former role as an advocate for the Santa Barbara Cannabis Business Council.

  • Tyler Gibson, a business associate of Culver’s, who works with her on campaigns and also served as the Organizing Director of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party. He is listed as the treasurer on filings of the “Central Coast Residents” independent expenditure committee, although he used his given name on committee documents, where he is identified as “William Gibson.”

  • Cory Bantilan, chief of staff to Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who worked closely with Williams in drafting the cannabis ordinance, during a time when the two elected officials were jokingly referred to around the county building as “the Doobie Brothers.” Bantilan has worked on a host of campaigns for Republicans, including the 2017 mayoral bid of ex-council member Frank Hotchkiss and is former executive director of the Santa Barbara Republican Central Committee.

Calling all Republicans. Much of the committee's messaging so far has aimed at the relatively small number of Republicans in the district.

The radio ad is running on a local station that features conservative talk show programming and one brochure has appeared in the mailboxes of GOP-registered voters. Both portray Capps as an opportunist and an extreme left liberal, more risky for conservatives than Williams, who is described as "bipartisan," in contrast to the full-throated "progressive" label which he often affixes to himself.

On the air. Here is the text of the radio ad, narrated by Bantalin:

Hi, this is Cory Bantilan, former Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Republican Party. This election my friends and I are supporting Das Williams for Supervisor.

I know what you’re thinking…Das Williams? Really? 4 years ago I said the same thing. But since then Das has impressed me with his ability to work across the aisle with our two conservative supervisors from north county. Das is a man of deep faith who not only listens to conservatives, but he respects the rights of small business owners and focuses on local issues, not national politics.

Maybe that’s why he’s been endorsed by the California Republican Taxpayer’s Association, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, and a host of other local conservatives.

The only other person on the ballot is Liberal Laura Capps who is trying to take over the Democrat family dynasty created by her parents.

This election, Das Williams is the clear choice for Supervisor.

Ad paid for by Central Coast Residents Supporting Das Williams for Supervisor 2020. This advertisement was not authorized by a candidate or a candidate controlled committee.

Through sleet and snow, etc... And here is the mailer aimed at Republican voters:

Ironically, both Lavagnino and Bantilin changed their voter registration from Republican to No Party Preference independents following the election of Donald Trump.

A "committee" of consultants. In an interview, Cory said he and Mollie had "a meeting of the minds" about using the committee to answer charges against Das.

"I've gotten to know Das pretty well," Bantalin said. "I've gotten tired of hearing unfounded accusastions against him. He's a honorable guy."

In the campaign, Laura has hammered Das for accepting $62,000 in campaign contributions from cannabis industry interests before, during and after he was writing the disputed ordinance.

Under fire, Williams said last summer he would no longer accept cannabis contributions. In a debate last week, Capps alleged that the "Central Coast Residents" committee was set up to funnel pot money into the campaign indirectly.

To date, no such contributions have been reported; the sole contribution made so far is a $10,000 donation from environmental and animal rights advocate Lee Heller, a longtime strong supporter of Williams.

"That (Lee Heller) contribution is the furthest thing from cannabis money," Bantlian said. "But no matter how little cannabis money we end up collecting, that will be their narrative which has alread been debunked."


Laura speaks. Here is a statement from Capps senior strategist Bubar in response to the committee's attacks.

Today, the first hit piece from the PAC supporting Das Williams hit voter’s mailboxes.  As expected, this PAC is doing Das’ dirty work – their first hit piece is full of lies, which, as he did at the debate last week, Das will try to distance himself from.  Except, he can’t. 

The PAC is intrinsically linked to him – it is a blatant vehicle for him to accept the very same corporate special interest funding he pledged he wouldn’t and allows him to claim he isn’t involved in any negative campaigning against Laura.

Follow the facts:

· The treasurer of this special interest PAC supporting Das is Tyler Gibson of Mollie Culver and Associates and formerly of the Santa Barbara Democratic Central Committee.  Culver and Gibson were the lead lobbyists who literally wrote much of the cannabis ordinance for Santa Barbara. In particular Culver, as representative of the “Cannabis Business Council” strongly lobbied for the most damaging features of the policy, including allowing growers to obtain unlimited State licenses prior to obtaining County permits; 90% of the growers in Carpinteria STILL have failed to obtain County permits, and are thus unregulated

· The PAC’s first known donor is Lee Heller, who is practically family to Das. In addition to the PAC donation, Heller has donated several thousand dollars to Williams’ campaign in the past few months.

· Shawnda Deane is listed as Assistant Treasurer of the PAC.  Deane has been listed as Treasurer of Williams campaigns going back over a decade, and as recently as early 2019.

“Das won’t denounce the PAC because it is run by the very special interest lobbyists who influenced the botched cannabis ordinance he wrote. This PAC has given him a way to continue to benefit from cannabis money while trying to claim otherwise.

Time and time again, we’ve seen with our own eyes how far Das is willing to go to cater to his special interest donors – including deceiving the public - rather than make this community the priority. Enough,” said Lindsay Bubar, General Consultant to the Capps Campaign.

Bubar continued, “This special interest PAC started to support Das does the Capps campaign a huge favor. It makes even more relevant and necessary Laura’s bold Make Government Accountable Plan, which establishes campaign finance limits and transparency in an effort to restore public trust in our local government,”

Fact: Laura has put forward a bold plan to establish donation limits, curb candidate spending, increase transparency, and create an ethics commission.  By raising the bar on ethics and demanding more from our county leaders, she has set the agenda and priorities for this race.  She is the first candidate in recent history to run on a good government platform and was clear from the onset that she wouldn’t unilaterally impose it upon herself, but will work to pass it once in office.  Sadly, Das has dismissed even the notion of a campaign finance plan.  Meanwhile, Laura’s average donation is $350 compared to Das’ average, which is over $2100.

Fact: Laura has given a voice to the widespread opposition to cannabis near schools – a vote that Das took on December 17, 2017 allowed all growers to continue operating without permits just three days after accepting donations from those pot operators with farms next to schools and throughout Carpinteria.  In 2017, on the SB Unified School Board, Laura followed Monique Limón’s lead in voting against an ineffective  (and racially problematic) school district plan to employ drug dogs in schools. The vote was unanimous.

Fact:  Laura has a long record of combatting poverty and supporting low income families through free, nutritious meals.  Under her leadership, 33% more meals were served to kids during the summer, a time when hunger spikes.  She has championed the Santa Barbara Unified School Districts lauded food service program and is now providing oversight to it as it becomes more financially solvent.

The consultants speak. Here is the full statement sent by Bantilan on behalf of the operators of the independent expenditure committee:

I got involved because I am tired of hearing Laura misrepresent the facts about Das and his record.

He can be accurately described in different ways but unethical is certainly not one of them.

One of the behaviors I dislike most is hypocrisy and her campaign is displaying it on a regular basis.

Laura desperately wants to focus on cannabis and ignore the real issues in the first district, but if you want to talk about pot, talk about the pot calling the kettle black which describes her campaign.

She claims to have created a so called "ethics plan" as though it is some big achievement. The fact is it doesn't actually exist and if it did, she would currently be violating every aspect of it herself.Contrary to what Laura preaches as good ethics, her campaign has accepted at least 41 contributions over $1,000, including more than $30,000 from a single wealthy donor.

She has accepted thousands from donors with land use appeals before the Board of Supervisors, and she will also violate her own expenditure limit.

Beyond that, Laura has set a new record for collecting the most out of state contributions in a Board of Supervisors race. In total there have been at least 135 donations to her campaign from outside California for $39,190, and 278 donations outside of Santa Barbara County to the tune of $96,309.From the DC area alone,

Laura has accepted 86 contributions for $25,500. What gives her the right to try and limit the voice of local businesses while accepting thousands from Washington DC insiders?

Furthermore, Laura is making false claims about not only Das but others as well. Her website touts an endorsement from Planned Parenthood which is absolutely false but happens to fit the pattern since she has also listed the support of several other individuals who hadn't endorsed her either.

The list goes on and is almost too much to print in one space, but the fact that Laura is throwing stones from a glass house should not be lost on voters in the first district. Make no mistake, Laura Capps is just a typical politician who says one thing and does another.

Das speaks. The last few weeks of a heated election can be stressful. It is unfortunate that my opponent has felt that she needs to concentrate on attacking me and running a negative campaign.

I am proud of my record of helping pass laws that have protected our coast from oil drilling, expanded renewable energy, strengthened our gun laws, and worked to make real tangible progress on issues like homelessness and emergency preparedness. I ask all my supporters and the community that we keep a focus on the issues and do not engage in toxic attacks.

Our local politics was once civil and respectful and we should do all we can to promote and revive that ethic.

Images: Mollie Culver; Tyler Gibson; Mailer sent to 1st District Republican voters; Laura Capps; Cory Bantilan.

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