Once in a while, a journalist gets a scoop by being in the right place at the right time.
California Watch senior editor Bob Salladay just happened to be sitting near Assembly candidate and Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez on a train Thursday morning headed to the Bay Area.
Ten minutes before his stop, he overheard Michele Martinez, candidate for the 69th Assembly District, talking about independent expenditure committees.
“I’m working with Chairman Robert Smith from Pala. Yeah, they are going to come in real big with some IEs,” Salladay quoted Martinez as saying.
Smith is the chairman of the Tribal Council for Pala Band of Mission Indians.
It’s illegal for any candidate to coordinate independent expenditure campaigns, which are supposed to be controlled and funded without the candidate’s influence.
Martinez released a statement today saying that Salladay didn’t tweet the truth about her phone conversation.
“I don’t know what’s worse; someone secretly listening to a private conversation without consent or misrepresenting that conversation publicly,” she asserted. “It’s disrespectful, dishonest and downright creepy. Now, I’m even more motivated to bring INTEGRITY, civility and honor back to public service in Sacramento.”
In an interview with Voice of OC, Salladay said the quote he tweeted was “solid.”
“I didn’t put any words in her mouth. That’s what she said,” Salladay said.
It’s extremely difficult to prove that a candidate is behind an independent expenditure committee, said officials with the Fair Political Practices Commission.
“Usually when people are coordinating, they both have an interest in people not finding out they’re coordinating,” said Gary Winuk, chief of the commission’s enforcement division.
Along with circumstantial evidence, it usually takes a witness to come forward and lay out the plan, Wynuk said.
Even Salladay isn’t confident that he heard Martinez say she’s coordinating an independent expenditure committee for herself. Salladay said that in the quotation he tweeted she didn’t say the committee was for her.
County watchdog Shirely Grindle is not convinced.
“I don’t think she’s working on that with other candidates. It’s got to be for herself,” Grindle said.
“She got caught doing what we suspect a lot of candidates do with independent expenditures. It’s very, very difficult to prove coordination, but boy, she put her foot in her mouth when she made that statement.”
Correction: A previous vesion of this post misspelled the name of FPPC Enforcement Division Chief Gary Winuk. We regret the error.
— ADAM ELMAHREK