By Karen Billing
Campaign reform was discussed at the Rancho Santa Fe Association board’s July 3 meeting, the result of a turbulent election that the board members agreed they would like to put far behind them.
Former RSF Association board candidate Dom Addario originally made the pitch for campaign conduct guidelines at last month’s RSF Association board meeting, proposing a cap on candidate spending and disclosure of campaign donations.
“I think some kind of guidelines would be a benefit. It doesn’t tie to the dollars, it ties to the civility issue,” said RSF Association Director Jerry Yahr, noting that once an election gets muddied to include the boycotting of local businesses like the recent RSF Association board election did, it’s harmful for the community as a whole. “I think we would be remiss if we didn’t take the opportunity to refresh our guidelines and talk about civility, and put the onus on the candidates to talk to their surrogates and let them know the guidelines they’re following and that the tactics used in 2014 won’t be tolerated.”
The RSF Association board members agreed that they would work on crafting some refreshed campaign guidelines during their upcoming board retreat.
RSF Association Director Rochelle Putnam said one of the concerns about campaign contributions is the issue of transparency — a lot of money was spent on behalf of candidates running for election and there’s a concern that the seat can be bought for a certain amount of money.
“It’s very intimidating for candidates considering running, thinking they will have to spend a lot of money to get elected,” Putnam said.
Addario pointed out that someone who contributed a large sum to a candidate’s campaign might come before the board with vested interests regarding a request and there should be some way to know who those people are.
RSF Association Acting Manager Ivan Holler said the RSF Association staff conducted a review of legal decisions regarding campaign spending limits and disclosure, which do not appear to be enforceable. In particular, he cited the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision that prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures.
Holler said as the Association is not a government entity it may be able to adopt some regulations for campaign spending, but it does leave them open to the risk of First Amendment challenges.
“I don’t want to spend money to set some kind of HOA case law,” said RSF Association Director Heather Slosar.
Despite being a target of some of the nasty campaign strategies, new board member Kim Eggleston agreed that they shouldn’t waste too much time or money on the issue.
“I don’t think we should overreact over one anomalous election cycle,” Eggleston said. “I hope this was an anomaly and that it doesn’t repeat itself.”
RSF Resident Terry Peay said it wasn’t the financial contributions that drove the election, but rather the tactics used. He said the moral low point came when documents related to candidate Kim Eggleston’s 15-year-old divorce were sent out.
“That’s what galvanized people and got people out to vote,” Peay said. “It wasn’t the money spent.”
The personal attacks were “unbelievable,” said Eggleston. “Had I known I would be subjected to the stuff pulled on me I never would have done this (run for a board seat).”
Eggleston said his social security number was published in an e-mail blast. He said he does not know why it was done and that it caused a great deal of damage.
“That ignited a prairie fire of anger against the Public Interest Committee that dominated everything,” Eggleston said. “The money flowed as a direct response to the actions taken by those individual members that were abhorrent and put me at financial risk.”
Addario said that he did not support any derogatory information that came out regarding Eggleston. He said he experienced a great deal of consternation during the election, including seeing a mailer with a picture of himself, his wife Marie and candidate Susan Callahan in a “Wanted” poster with their hands in the cookie jar, accused of stealing.
“This was a terrible election, we all suffered,” Addario said. “Every board leaves behind a legacy and your legacy will be that you did something about it or you didn’t.”
Board members agreed that they could adjust the guidelines to find a way to have the candidates behave in a professional, respectful manner, but they have to go beyond just the candidates.
“As I see it, the bulk of the excessive spending and repugnant mudslinging being discussed was done by surrogates or third parties,” said RSF Association Board Vice President Craig McAllister. “I find it hard to understand how any regulations on individual candidates are going to affect how third parties spend their money or sling their mud.”
All of the board members said they wish to put the election behind them and hoped that, as Eggleston said, this particularly ugly election was an anomaly.
“The nasty tactics did backfire in a way,” Slosar said. “I’m hopeful that the community learned a lesson.”