Two local businessmen are complaining that contributions they made to a local political action committee funded an attack ad against Kern County District 4 Supervisor David Couch without their knowledge.
Both John Haddad, owner of Haddad Kia, and Majid Mojibi, president of San Joaquin Refining Company Inc., said they regretted their contributions to the Council for Tri-Partisan Politics, a so-called independent expenditure committee that produced an online video claiming Couch was “more Trump than Trump.”
“I wish I could take it back,” said Haddad, who contributed $5,000 to the PAC. “I’m a businessman and I should have studied (the PAC) more.”
He added that he actually supported Couch and did not have a complete idea of where the money was going when he made the contribution.
Mojibi, who contributed $25,000 to the PAC, said Supervisor Leticia Perez recruited him to make the contribution, claiming the money would go toward educating young politicians on how to be bipartisan.
He said he had no idea that the PAC would fund an ad against a political candidate, especially one he supports.
“David Couch is my friend. I value my friendship with all the people I know,” he said. “This has really hurt me deeply to be involved in a shenanigan like this.”
The attack ad
The video, which has since been scrubbed from the internet, depicts two Latina women in a nail salon discussing the local election while Couch speaks on a television in the background.
One of the women makes the claim that Couch is “more Trump than Trump,” but the specific accusation is based a board vote that tok place before Couch became a supervisor.
In the video, a superimposed, cartoon Trump wig appears over Couch’s head.
The Council for Tri-Partisan Politics posted the video on YouTube and paid for its creation, according to a political disclaimer at the end of the video.
Campaign filings reveal the PAC received $55,000 in contributions from three people.
In addition to Haddad and Mojibi, local attorney Daniel Rodriguez gave $25,000 to the PAC, according to campaign filings.
“I didn’t see the video until about two weeks ago. But when I saw it, I thought it was pretty good and pretty accurate,” Rodriguez said.
What the PAC funded
According to campaign filings, the PAC does not appear to have funded any education programs for young politicians.
It did contribute $1,291.25 in independent expenditures to the Grace Vallejo campaign, according to the filings, and paid Blue Sky Media, a local marketing firm, $31,300 for online ads.
Couch and Vallejo are locked in a race for District 4 supervisor, along with Jose Gonzalez.
The race has pitted Couch, who is white, against two Latino candidates. Couch was compelled to run for reelection two years early because of a successful lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund that forced the county to redraw district lines to add an additional Latino-majority district.
The PAC paid Facebook $11,000 in online ads and a Wyoming polling group $17,000 for surveying and research.
In an email, Diane Clayton-Alejandro, who is listed as the treasurer of the PAC, said Mojibi’s contribution did not pay for the advertisement, and no local vendor created it, although she would not provide any additional details.
T.J. Esposito, who owns Blue Sky Media, denied his company made the ad. But no media company outside of Blue Sky Media was listed in the campaign filings.
Perez did not respond to requests for comment.
Perez sent apologetic texts
Mojibi said Perez apologized in texts to him for what had happened, saying she said she would work to get the PAC shut down.
As of Wednesday evening, the PAC was still registered as active with the California Secretary of State.
According to Mojibi, Perez went on to say in the text messages that all but around $1,000 of all contributions had been spent, and the remaining funds would be used to close down the PAC.
“I still cannot believe that Ms. Perez would do that on purpose,” Mojibi said of the alleged misuse of funds. “There must have been some other factors involved.”
He said his contribution to the PAC was one of the largest, if not the largest, he has ever given to a single cause.
He said he would never communicate with Perez again following his experience with the PAC.
The most current campaign finance disclosures show Couch with $12,249 in recent monetary contributions and an ending cash balance of $49,583 for the July 1-Sept. 22 reporting period. Vallejo has $70,950 in recent monetary contributions and an ending cash balance of $44,997 in the same reporting period. Gonzalez has $2,235 in recent monetary contributions, plus a $5,000 loan to himself, and an ending cash balance of $2,109 in that reporting period.