Accusations fly at ethics session

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A candidate’s consultant accuses Malibu CAN activist of sending illegal mailers. Most candidates say they agree dirty politicking comes from people making independent expenditures in support of campaigns.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

The 2004 City Council campaign has just begun, and accusations are already starting to fly. The six candidates met in the same room for the first time on Friday for a session with the city’s campaign ethics consultant, Xandra Kayden. At the meeting, which several times turned into a chaotic shouting match, Councilmember Jeff Jennings’ campaign consultant, Mike Osborn, accused Malibu Community Action Network activist Ozzie Silna of having sent out an illegal mass mailer. Silna, who was not at the meeting, said in a telephone interview that he did nothing wrong.

The mailer in question encouraged residents to vote for the three candidates endorsed by Malibu CAN-Jay Liebig, Walt Keller and Bill Winokur. Osborn said the mailer was illegal because it violated the $100 contribution limitation for City Council elections. He said Silna could not claim the mailer was part of an independent expenditure outside of the three candidates’ campaigns, which would allow him to avoid the $100 rule, because he said Silna has already had a direct association with Winokur’s campaign by representing him at two candidate informational sessions last month.

“Ozzie [Silna] is not part of any formal structure of my campaign,” said Winokur, who said he was unaware that Silna would be attending the informational sessions.

Silna said he attended those functions not as Winokur’s representative, but rather to collect any data for Winokur that might be distributed, because the candidate was in Europe at the time. Silna said before Winokur left he had requested him to collect any data that might come out while he was gone. The CAN activist said at the time, Winokur did not know about the informational sessions. When Silna heard about them, he said he decided to go in case anything was distributed. Silna added that he would do the same thing for Mayor Ken Kearsley if he had made the request. Silna also said he has not given anything to Winokur that he received at the sessions. Lastly, he said his attorney has advised him that nothing he has done has made him directly connected with Winokur’s campaign.

In a Tuesday telephone interview, Kayden said she is uncertain how Silna’s actions would qualify him regarding Winokur’s campaign. She added that his presence at the informational sessions was questionable.

On Friday, most of the candidates said they agreed the dirtiest tactics of a campaign come not from the candidates, but from people making independent expenditures. Keller said a newspaper advertisement put out against him by property-rights activist Anne Hoffman during his 2000 re-election bid hurt him enormously. As a solution, Osborn suggested everybody make a list of who his or her likeliest supporters would be. Those people could then become officially part of the candidate’s campaign committee and therefore no longer eligible to make independent expenditures. Kearsley said he supported the idea, and challenged Keller to do the same.

“Walt, what do you say?” Kearsley asked. “I’ll put my people, what I consider my potential supporters, on a list if you’re willing to do it.”

Keller lashed back, “I don’t trust you and your people.”

Kearsley then suggested that he and Keller should make each other’s lists. Winokur said the spirit of the idea was a good one, but, like a contractual agreement, it would not be a good idea to approve a concept without thinking it through.

Keller said listing names would not counter what he called the most powerful weapon in a campaign, a whisper campaign. Keller said people making up rumors about him being anti-children also were harmful in 2000. He accused Kearsley of further spreading that idea.

“This is the man [Kearsley] who had a lady stand up at a council meeting claiming I was defiling her children,” Keller said. “And then he gave her a big hug and a thank you.”

Keller said the woman who spoke at the meeting said a videotape in support of his campaign offended her, and that she was glad she had gotten rid of it before her children could see it. He said Kearsley had encouraged her to make the remarks.

Kearsley formed an awkward face in reaction to the comment, and then asked, “Is this the start of your whisper campaign?”

“I don’t whisper, buddy, you just heard it,” Keller struck back.

The candidates also discussed how to deal with last-minute mailers and videotapes that usually come out on the final weekend before Election Day, preventing a person from having adequate time to respond. Candidate Pamela Conley Ulich suggested that all the candidates put money into a fund that would be used to send out response mailers, if a so-called hit-piece mailer is sent out the final weekend. Only Kearsley said he supported that idea. Another suggestion was to have a Web site on which candidates could respond to accusations.

Kayden said she would meet with the candidates individually to discuss the topics raised at the session. She said from there they could create an ethics code for the campaign.

On Sunday, the first forum that included all the candidates took place at the Point Dume Club mobile home park. The candidates continued the debate on what the facts were that led to the city’s current Local Coastal Program debacle. Liebig, Winokur and Keller said the current council withdrew an LCP that was written by a committee headed by Keller’s wife, Lucile, before the California Coastal Commission could look at it. Kearsley and Jennings said the document was presented to the Coastal Commission staff, which said it was so unacceptable, it would be too time consuming to even try to revise it. Conley Ulich said she was not concerned with what occurred in the past, and said the city should instead worry about solving the problem.