Two weeks ago I received several inquiries from school district constituents about a political ad flyer that was mailed to homes supporting three candidates for school board. The flyer did not include the legally required contact information for the group identified as the sponsor of the mailing. There also was no disclaimer as to who had paid for the mailing as required by law, and there wasn’t any indication as to whether or not the candidates had approved the mailing. After learning there were similar inquiries at school and district offices AND that there was confusion as to whether this was a district mailing or a mailing sponsored by an affiliated group, I felt it necessary to look into the matter further.
My first step was to research the group listed on the mailing. I was unable to find any evidence of an organized group, and the group was not registered as a political action committee with the state. I then discovered a district employee observed the flyers being mailed by the former superintendent and his niece and that the same employee later had a conversation with them at the post office. The district employee learned that the flyers were mailed by the former superintendent using his niece’s business bulk mail permit. Later, I was able to confirm with post office staff members that former superintendent Gil Mendoza wrote a personal check for $6315.00 to pay for the postage to send 24,288 flyers to registered voters in the district.
There was conflicting information about whether the candidates approved the mailing, but at least one reported he had been told by the former superintendent that he planned to pay for political mailings and ads to support the candidate's run for office.
As a previous chair of the district’s election committee, it was obvious to me there were several violations of state laws regulating elections. I was compelled to contact the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) with the information I had learned. In doing so, the PDC staff asked me to file a formal complaint. The complaint I filed addressed the failure of the former superintendent to clearly state on the flyers who paid for them, the failure of the group named on the flyer’s return address label to register with the PDC, and the failure of the group or individual responsible for the flyer to properly report expenditures with the PDC. The PDC is currently conducting an initial review and has contacted the former superintendent.
In response to the PDC, Mendoza now reports total expenditures of $7,809.81 associated with the flyer. Based on my own experience and knowledge about the level of involvement superintendents have in elections, I don't accept that a former superintendent would not be aware of the fundamental requirements of the PDC.
After filing the complaint, I wanted to know why the former superintendent who’d been released from the district would try to directly influence the election. The only logical conclusion I could make was that Mendoza was retaliating against an incumbent board member who is up for re-election.
The former superintendent deliberately did not place his own name on the mailer. Mendoza deceptively fabricated a group that exists in name only to hide his involvement. He is organizing and funding an effort to elect a new board member who he had reportedly recruited to run for office. The former superintendent and the new board candidate have known each other for at least 3 1/2 years as fellow members of the Sumner High School Band Parents Association.
All voters have a right to know vital information about individuals and groups who are supporting issues and candidates, particularly when the intent is to influence the outcome of an election. It would appear that Mendoza was taking a very clandestine approach when he spent almost eight thousand dollars to send his flyer to every voter in the Sumner School District. Many of those who worked most closely with Gil Mendoza during the four years he was employed by the District are not surprised at yet another display of manipulation and deception. It is something to which we have become accustomed.
It is my hope that this complaint and the review will provide voters with clear and accurate information on the sponsor of the mailing as well as the candidates’ involvement in preparing the materials. It’s every voter’s right to know.
Sumner School District Board of Directors
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