Autour de la Vallée: The band with many names | New

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There is yet another incarnation of a political action committee that has plagued Livermore for at least a decade.

Friends of Livermore, a PAC since at least 2011, morphed into Citizens for a Livermore Central Park in 2019. Later in 2019, Protect the Central Park Vote, No on P, was formed. Earlier this year, Move Eden Housing saw the light of day. This month, a group called Take Back Livermore began running advertisements supporting Livermore mayoral and council candidates and opposing others.

An “apolitical” coalition, Save Livermore Downtown (SLD), has existed for several years, running advertisements opposing council-approved and voter-backed plans for downtown. SLD is one of two groups currently involved in lawsuits against the city, the other being Move Eden Housing (MEH).

All of these groups share many of the same people, agents and major contributors and employ the same tactics to hide who is really funding them whenever possible.

The common goal of all these groups is to thwart the city council’s actions to complete the downtown plan through lawsuits, referendums and misinformation, while trying to stuff the council with candidates who will bid for the main actors.

Although there are small contributions made by many to give the appearance of broad support for the groups, in reality it is a handful of people – and two wealthy individuals in particular – who contribute 90% or more of the contributions that each entity receives.

Fair Political Practices Committee (FPPC) 460 filings show that hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to Friends of Livermore (FOL), Citizens for a Livermore Central Park (CFALCP) and Protect the Central Park Vote, No on P (PTCP) were made by Joan Seppala (publisher of the Livermore Independent), Seppala’s relatives – including her husband Lynn Seppala – and Jean King.

Seppala and his relatives donated $205,000 and King $241,000 to the 2018 FOL committee, or about 93% of the $480,473 total. Seppala and his relatives donated $203,198 and King $49,000 to CFALC, or about 94% of the $266,783 total. Seppala and his relatives donated $503,253 and King $49,900 to the PTCP, or about 91% of the total $605,733.

Based on the models established for the FOL, CFALCP, and PTCP committees, it is reasonable to assume that Seppala and King will cover the remaining balance of MEH expenses once a full account of MEH contributions is made public.

The new committee, Take Back Livermore (TBL), appears to have been formed to support a slate of candidates who will match the wishes of those behind SLD and MEH. The committee has already spent more than $170,400 supporting its slate and opposing alternate candidates as of Oct. 17.

In an atypical, revealing and puzzling movement, Joan and Lynn Seppala and King contributed $49,500 each at TBL on October 18. Unsurprisingly, the contribution amounts were below the $50,000 “top contributor” threshold, which requires disclosure of top contributors on campaign advertising.

Keeping names out of advertisements, especially those published in a Seppala diary, raises the question of what is going on to force them into making such an unprecedented move.

MEH reported contributions declared on October 10which cover January 1 to June 30, 2022, of $49,070 currently covers only about 25% of the unpaid expenses of $191,884 – expenses that are guaranteed to increase over the coming months as MEH filed a complaint against the city and the city clerk for failing to hold a referendum to delay the Eden Housing project downtown.

A decision Alameda Superior Court Judge Michael Markman’s decision on Tuesday in response to MEH’s motion ordered MEH to post $500,000 bond for the action “brought in bad faith, vexatious, for the purpose of delaying, (and) thwarting the low- or moderate-profit nature of the housing development project.”

This is the second such order for groups for the same reason of delaying housing construction. In November, SLD was ordered to post a Bond of $500,000. Although the so-called apolitical group SLD is not required to file a dossier with the FPPC and has kept its top leaders and members secret, King and Seppala are known to be part of SLD through court records.

In a statement submitted before the hearing in the MEH case, Seppala attempted to separate SLD and MEH and preempt the ordering of another surety because it would cause “financial hardship”. She also insisted, “MEH strongly supports the development of new affordable housing opportunities in Livermore…”

The court saw through the ruse, however, and noted in the interim decision that “Save Livermore Downtown and Move Eden Housing share a common developer, Joan Seppala, and a common litigator. In light of the entire case , Seppala’s conclusive denials of opposition to affordable housing have very little bearing on whether bail is imposed.”

The allegation of “financial hardship” was dismissed. “Move Eden Housing has received considerable financial support from its funders and reasonably concludes that these supporters can afford the cost of a bond or recognizance to a maximum allowable amount of 500,000, $00 if they wish to proceed with the petition,” the document reads.

Seppala is not named as a petitioner in any of the lawsuits, and she and King do their best to fly under the radar through confluence and convolution. Yet, in addition to court documents and FPPC filings, there are also too many recognizable committee similarities and maneuvers with FPPC filing deadlines to completely erase their fingerprints.

The obfuscation begins with a well-oiled and oft-used political machine made up of the same people, key agents and suppliers shared by the groups.

The same names appear in positions for various entities. Richard Ryon is appointed treasurer of FOL Committee 2018 and PTCP, and is now the petition promoter for MEH. Michael Fredrich acted as Treasurer for FOL and Assistant Treasurer for CFALCP. Patricia Mar was Assistant Treasurer for CFALCP and PTCP.

For MEH, Stacy Owens of SE Owens & Company is listed as Treasurer, Peter Sullivan of the same accounting firm is listed as Assistant Treasurer, and Maryann Brent is listed as Principal Officer. It is the same for TBL.

The same suppliers are used by several committees.

Stearns Consulting and Rough House Productions have been involved with each group since at least 2018, and Jim Stearns is the common denominator. Stearns is the President and Chief Creative Officer of Stearns Consulting and is listed as CEO of Rough House Productions on the December 2021 filing with the Secretary of State.

David Binder Research is often used for campaign intelligence and his investigations are frequently referenced in advertisements and other campaign materials, most recently for SLD efforts. Bagatelos Law Firm and Fadem & Associates are long-standing law firms now engaged by MEH.

For their lawsuits, SLD and MEH use the same law firm as PTCP, Latham & Watkins. SLD and MEH also ran similar ads in the Independent calling for the current city council to be replaced with one more in line with Seppala and King’s demands to move housing.

The political machine is complemented by shrewd manipulation of the FPPC timeline and a complex way of paying vendors that would rival any money laundering operation.

It appears that some agents grant more or less credit to the groups, remunerate the sub-sellers, then collect their payments through contributions paid after the date of the election. This could be why the same vendors appear on FPPC reports.

One example is Stearns Consulting and Rough House Productions, who have acted as agents for every Seppala/King band created since 2018. It’s a lucrative business for agents and has likely earned them hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. years.

Under state law, contributors to a political committee of $50,000 or more are considered “top contributors” and their names must be disclosed on campaign advertising. So, to prevent contributors of large sums of money from being exposed, agents such as Stearns and Rough House are paid after the fact.

When major donors are required to contribute before an election, contributions are carefully allocated so as not to exceed $50,000.

PTCP contributions by Joan Seppala, his relatives and King before the election were kept at $49,900 or less. The same applies to CFALCPJoan and Lynn Seppala, King and Jane Woodward (apparently a relative of Joan Seppala) each kept their contributions at $49,000 or less.

Seppala and King’s even smaller donations are usually avoided at first to hide the extent of their involvement.

Additionally, major contributions are usually timed to take advantage of FPPC reporting deadlines, so the full extent of Seppala and King’s involvement in each committee is concealed until after the relevant election.

For example, Lynn Seppala and Jean King contributed to the FOL Committee 2018 totaling more than $100,000 per person which was not publicly released until January 30, 2019, after the relevant November 2018 election.

Another example of this time shift is that of Lynn Seppala PTCP contributions of $267,000 on March 27, 2020 and an additional $27,000 on April 28, 2020, both well after the Measure P referendum on the March 3, 2020 ballot. None of the contributions were made public prior to the filing of the 22 July 2020, more than four months after the election.

Advice packaging, misinformation and outright dishonesty are topics for another day – one day very soon.

This cabal has caused irreparable harm to potential stakeholders and beneficiaries.

Residents said loud and clear in a referendum organized by this group that they want the downtown plan approved by the city, but still waiting. Ongoing litigation prevented Eden Housing from starting construction and in 2021 forced the organization to return $68 million prize tax credits for state social housing.

And let’s not forget the people who won’t benefit from affordable housing that should be under construction now, if not for the stalling tactics of a small group of people who want their way and don’t care who gets hurt .

Seppala and King were asked by email to comment on why so many groups made up of the same people with what appears to be the same goal have been created, and why the greatest contributions to these groups have been consistently made after the relevant election. .

King responded, “All of our campaign finance materials are public information. We care deeply about the future of Livermore and are working to preserve our town’s unique charm.”

Seppala opened the email twice but ignored the request.

Someone hacked the Take Back Livermore URL before the band could claim it. Now, when you visit TakeBackLivermore.com, you will receive this message: “Joan Seppala, please stop trying to buy our elections. – Citizens of Livermore”

Hope she gets the hint.

The “Around the Valley” column is written by Gina Channell Wilcox, president and publisher of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Media Group since 2006.

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