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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Pot, Chumash Money Flowing to Pro-Das Attack Committee

An independent campaign committee, organized by political operatives associated with the cannabis industry and ordinance, has raised nearly $40,000 in the past few days to finance pro-Das Williams attacks on Laura Capps, records show.

At least $11,000 of the $36,600 in new contributions reported so far this week by the controversial "Central Coast Residents Supporting Das Williams for Supervisor” committee has come from cannabis interests; the total includes $5,000 from Mike Palmer, a founding member of the Carp Growers Association, plus two $3,000 contributions from individuals who have previously used the site of a major grow in Carpinteria as an address.

Additionally, the Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians gave $10,000 to the independent expenditure committee; the Chumash earlier donated $20,000 directly to the campaign committee for Williams, who played a key role in months of secret negotiations that ended with the tribe winning county approval for the 1,400 acre Camp 4 annexation.

As first reported by Newsmakers, the Central Coast Residents committee was organized by Democratic consultant Mollie Culver, a major lobbyist for the pot industry; Tyler Gibson, her business associate; and Cory Bantilan, a consultant who has worked for Republican candidates and is on the public payroll as chief of staff to Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, Williams' partner in writing and defending the county's permissive cannabis ordinance.

As an “independent” entity, the committee has been running negative ads against Capps on behalf of Williams, while the First District supervisor unctuously claims to be running a “positive” race.

“Stay positive!” Williams proclaimed in an email sent out yesterday. “Many of you have noted my opponent has felt that she needs to concentrate on attacks on me. My request to you, my friends and supporters, is that we do not do the same.”

Yes, he apparently does think we’re that stupid.

Laura vs. Das. After we disclosed the political consultants behind the independent committee, Capps held a press conference last week decrying the group's attacks on her -- which also bashed her mother, former Rep. Lois Capps and former Supervisors Janet Wolf and Susan Rose, all of whom support Laura Capps -- and calling on Williams to renounce its activities.

“The only reason to have a PAC is to hide something," she said. "This PAC has given [Williams] a way to continue to benefit from cannabis money while trying to claim otherwise.”

In an interview, Williams later said he couldn’t do that, because it would violate the legal requirement preventing him from “coordinating” with the committee.

“That would defeat the spirit of independent expenditure committees — I’m literally not allowed to talk to them about that," he said.

Excuse us while we build a sports arena big enough to hold our laughter.

The petroleum connection. Amid all the sturm und drang over pot money, comments from former Supervisor Wolf about the committee’s strong connections to the oil industry have largely been overlooked.

Wolf noted that one of the first mailers sent out by the committee, which appealed to Republican voters on Das's behalf, quotes and pictures several strongly pro-industry conservative operatives.

Chris Collier, a longtime Central Coast Republican consultant, is the Santa Barbara-based president of Rincon Strategies, where he has represented pro-oil candidates and causes. He serves as a vice chair of the Western States Petroleum Association, worked for Plains All American Pipeline, the company whose pipeline rupture caused the 2015 Refugio spill, and speaks for the pro-industry Coastal Energy Alliance, which backed coastal oil projects of Venoco, before that company went bankrupt,

Joe Armendariz, a former Carp city council member, serves as spokesperson and “Director of Energy and Special Projects” for the pro-drilling Santa Barbara Technology and Industry Association, according to his LinkedIn page, where he describes himself as a leader in “promoting oil and gas development.”

Bantilan also appears on the mailer and voices a radio ad assailing Capps. In an article last year in E&E, an energy and environment news service, Bantilan spoke strongly in support of restarting the ruptured pipeline that caused the Refugio spiil: "They have the right to pump that resource until it's gone, and you cannot take that away," he said. As to working on the committee while a county employee Bantilan said he had done the former on his own time: "No one is paying me a dime for the time I put into this, including the County. To insinuate otherwise is simply irresponsible," he told us.

“Which Das is the real Das?” Wolf said of the committee's oil industry connections, during last week's press conference.“Why would public figures heavily entrenched in the oil industry be so desperate to keep Das in office?”

Among the industry’s current concerns at the county are several proposed drilling projects at Cat Canyon, plus the lingering controversy over the Plains pipeline, which is currently entangled in litigation from a group of property owners represented by attorney Barry Cappello.

Environmentalist and pro-Das stalwart Lee Heller, who earlier contributed $10,000 to the disputed committee, insisted that Williams would never support the industry.

“Where it’s a matter of legislative policy I am sure that he will vote as he has always voted, pushing back against fossil fuel development,” she told Newsmakers. “Where it’s quasi-judicial, he has always been clear that he reserves judgment until he hears the proposal because that is the only thing that he can appropriately do.”



Images: Sorry we can't accept cash, only checks; Laura Capps and Das Williams; Independent expenditure committee mailer picturing (L-R) Chris Collier, Cory Bantilan and Joe Armendariz; Janet Wolf (center) speaks at press conference last week, flanked by Laura and Lois Capps.


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