The investigation by the state’ Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) into the circumstances of the last Malibu City Council election took a sudden and unexpected turn with the introduction of the name of megastar Barbra Streisand into the controversy.
Gil Segel, a principal behind the group “Malibu Citizens for Less Traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway ,” which is under investigation by both the FPPC and the City Attorney’s Office for alleged campaign violations, is a friend and former business associate of Streisand. Segel obtained a $1,000 contribution from the star before the last election.
The moneys contributed by Streisand and others were used in part to purchase five full-page, anonymous ads in the Malibu Surfside News that ran in March and April, 1998, just before the Malibu City Council elections.
Recently the FPPC, the state agency charged with investigating campaign violations of state law, has attempted to subpoena the bank records of the “Malibu Citizens” group. The group is resisting the subpoenas, claiming it was an educational “issue advocacy” group and therefore not subject to the campaign laws. The matter is set for court hearing April 23 in Superior Court, Department 85, before Judge Robert O’Brien (downtown in the central district courthouse).
In advance of the court hearing, the city filed documents outlining its position as to why the bank records of the group should be subpoenaed. The documents include a declaration by Malibu architect Ron Goldman, one of many whose testimony was taken under oath in the case. In his declaration under oath, Goldman stated Barbra Streisand, who was then his client on a home she was planning to build, asked him about the election. According to the declaration, she wanted to know whom he supported. He told her he supported Jeff Jennings and explained why. She then asked him whether she had made a mistake by giving $1,000 to support Tom Hasse’s candidacy.
On a second occasion, she and Goldman made a conference call to Gil Segel. She listened while he and Segel debated the two candidates and the Civic Center buildout.
Several months later, the news of the campaign investigation broke in the local newspapers and accusations were made that the campaign laws might have been violated and the $100 contribution limits to candidates might have been exceeded by some. At that point, Streisand’s then business manager, Page Jenkins, called Goldman and said Streisand wanted him to know that “she had given her check to a political committee and not a candidate.”
According to the city’s court filings, the Segel committee maintains it was just an educational group and therefore entitled to remain anonymous and did not have to disclose its contributors. It argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has supported the use of anonymous issue advocacy political ads in the past. The city disagrees and argues that the ads that ran in the Malibu Surfside News were really political ads and that the entire so-called educational foundation was a charade, an attempt to disguise the large, illegal campaign contributions and circumvent the campaign laws, and also to keep the donors’ identities anonymous.
The city also charged that another group, the “Road Worriers,” a political action group whose stated purpose was to defeat Jeff Jennings and elect Tom Hasse, and which was led by Remy O’Neill (a former campaign manager for Carolyn Van Horn), who worked in concert with the “Malibu Citizens” group to place ads in the Malibu Surfside News in a coordinated campaign to defeat Jennings and elect Hasse. The groups also shared the same polling firm, the same lawyer and some of the same principals (O’Neill, Joanne Segel and Gil Segel )
In support of its position, the city filed another declaration, by Richard McSherry, an investigator for the FPPC. He testifies under penalty of perjury he was investigating the allegations of violations of the Political Reform Act by the Road Worriers and/or Malibu Citizens and/or individuals directing these organizations in connection with the Malibu municipal election of 1998.
His declaration reads, “In the course of my investigation, I discovered from Ann Soble, publisher of the Surfside News, that the Malibu Citizens and Road Worriers combined their resources to obtain a multiple ad discount — which they shared,” referring to the lowered cost of ads placed in the Surfside News by both groups.
Within the next few days, the FPPC is required to file its brief, accompanied by declarations under oath from witnesses outlining their position. Segel and “Malibu Citizens” will then file their response to the state’s and city’s briefs.
The judge will have the opportunity to read and study all the documents. On April 23, Judge O’Brien is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter. If he agrees with the state and the city, he will let the subpoenas issue, and they will be entitled to see bank records of “Malibu Citizens” group, which will disclose who gave money and how much. If he agrees with “Malibu Citizens,” he will quash the subpoenas and let them keep the names of their donors secret.
In either event, this court date is probably just one of several legal skirmishes in this investigation. Whatever the judge decides, the state’s case against the “Malibu Citizens” and the city’s potential case against others for violating city campaign laws will most certainly continue on.