On election night 2014, when Janet Nguyen captured the state Senate seat she now holds, standing by her side was Andrew Do, who had been a steadfast political ally dating back to her first campaign for county supervisor in 2007.
Do was integral to the Republican Nguyen’s successful campaign for supervisor in 2007, served as her chief of staff at the end of her tenure as supervisor, and assisted in her landslide victory over Democrat Jose Solorio in the Senate race in 2014.
Through the years Nguyen repaid Do for his loyalty: first by helping him win her vacated seat on the Garden Grove City Council in 2007, then by backing him in the 2015 special election to replace her on the Board of Supervisors, an election he won by just 43 votes over former state Sen. Lou Correa.
But in recent months the two had a falling out, which went public in a dramatic fashion last week when Nguyen publicly denounced Do’s re-election bid for the First District supervisor seat in a recorded phone call to district residents, just weeks before the June 7 primary election.
Republican Garden Grove Councilman Phat Bui, who along with Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez, are Do’s chief challengers, capitalized on Nguyen’s call, distributing a recording of the call to media outlets. Bui has waged an aggressive campaign, his most recent salvo coming last Friday when he filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), his second this year.
Publicly, Nguyen has made it a point not to endorse anyone in the race, and said as much in the recorded call, which was paid for by her campaign committee. She made it abundantly clear, however, that if she were to endorse a candidate, it would not be Do.
“I am deeply hurt that this election has caused division in the community, and supervisor Andrew Do has made false accusations that are disrespectful toward me. Supervisor Andrew Do has accused me of supporting the other candidate, even though I have not announced my support for any candidate,” Nguyen said in Vietnamese, according to a recording distributed by Bui’s campaign, and several Vietnamese language newspapers which reported on the call.
Do later addressed Nguyen’s statements during a radio show on Vietlink Radio, which is owned by his deputy chief of staff, Nick Tam Lecong, who also served as chief of staff to Nguyen when she was supervisor.
Speaking with host Bich Ha Bui, Do criticized Nguyen for creating division that could hurt the Vietnamese community; said she has failed to give examples of times when he made false statements about her; and described the senator as immature and arrogant, often attempting to assert control over his office.
“If you look at her position at the time, she was a young person of 28, 30 years old, without work or experience outside of schooling, yet she could become what she is today…a county supervisor and then a state senator, in the largest state in one of the most powerful countries in the world,” Do said of Nguyen. “If you can’t see your own fortune and show gratitude to the people that helped you, that’s a sad story.”
Nguyen did not return a reporter’s call for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Bui’s complaint focuses on $60,490 in donations made at Do’s request to fund statues of Ronald Reagan and a 13th century Vietnamese general in Fountain Valley’s Mile Square Park. The payments were made to Lecong and organizations registered under his name and business address, but do not have tax-exempt nonprofit status.
Most of the funds came from the Lien Hoa Buddhist Temple, as well as Minh T. Nguyen, Dalat Supermarket, Family Choice Medical Group and United Care Medical Group.
State law allows officials to accept unlimited donations, called behested payments, for work outside of their government duties toward nonprofit or charitable groups. Any donation above $5,000 must be disclosed.
Bui claims that the donations should be reported as campaign contributions, pointing to the lack of accounting of how the money for the statues was spent and the payment of the funds to Lecong, who also works for Do’s campaign.
“This raises the question of whether the money solicited by Supervisor Do was actually used for charitable purposes or for political purposes. It is possible therefore that these payments could be considered unreported campaign contributions to Supervisor Do in excess of the $1,900 maximum contribution allowed under the Orange County “Tin Cup” Campaign Contribution Limitation Ordinance,” the complaint states.
Although Do did not return a call for comment, in the past he dismissed Bui’s first FPPC complaint as an election season political stunt.
Do is facing a tough re-election battle. Martinez, a Democrat, is expected to draw Latino voters, who have stronger turnout during presidential election years, and Bui is expected to split Vietnamese voters.
A candidate can win the seat in the June 7 primary by garnering more than 50 percent of the vote. Otherwise, the top two vote getters in primary will face off in the November general election.
Bui, who has pitched himself as a corruption fighter, also filed a complaint earlier this year alleging that Do’s office violated state guidelines for taxpayer-funded mass mailings, a complaint which is being investigated by the ethics agency. Although an investigation is underway, it’s not necessarily an indicator of any wrongdoing.
Do’s campaign has hit back, painting Bui as a liar with issues of his own. In an eight-page mailer resembling a Vietnamese newspaper called “Voice of the Community,” interspersed among articles highlighting Do’s accomplishments are detailed pieces attacking Bui.
The mailer accuses Bui of lying about graduating from the University of Minnesota with degrees in Physics, Mathematics and Electrical Engineering; questions his relationship with former Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater; and suggests he used his relationships to push forward the construction of a 3,057 square foot home.
“[Do] made a lot of allegations [in] that newspaper; they are all incorrect,” Bui said Tuesday evening.
Bui acknowledged, however, that he does not have a diploma from the University of Minnesota – noting that he attended the school with a triple major until the second semester of his senior year, when he dropped out to accept a job offer as a software engineer.
“I was never awarded a degree officially, but I had enough credits to get the degree. But I did not get a diploma,” Bui said.
Bui’s campaign manager, Stu Mollrich of the company Forde & Mollrich, said that Bui’s campaign has not received any contributions from Nguyen or her campaign committee and there was no coordination between their campaigns regarding Nguyen’s robocall.
“I know Phat recently went to Sacramento to testify about a bill that she [proposed]…but I don’t know about any other private conversations they may have had,” Mollrich said.
Below is the full text of the robo-call funded by Nguyen’s campaign in Vietnamese and English.
“Kính thưa quý đồng hương. Đây là Thượng Nghị Sĩ Janet Nguyễn, cám ơn quý đồng hương đã tin tưởng, ủng hộ và thương yêu tôi trong nhiều năm qua. Tôi vừa phải lên tiếng về cuộc bầu cử Giám Sát Viên Địa Hạt 1. Tôi rất đau lòng về cuộc bầu cử này đã gây ra sự chia rẽ cộng đồng, và GSV Andrew Đỗ đã có những lời vu khống, thiếu tôn trọng và khiếm nhã với tôi. GSV Andrew Đỗ đã cáo buộc tôi ủng hộ ứng cử viên kia trong khi tôi chưa tuyên bố ủng hộ cho bất cứ ứng cử viên nào. Tôi lúc nào cũng mong muốn cư dân Địa Hạt 1 có được một người đại diện có tinh thần đoàn kết cộng đồng và có thực tâm phục vụ cộng đồng. Vì vậy tôi không thể ủng hộ Giám Sát Viên Andrew Đỗ tái ứng cử, và tôi cũng chưa ủng hộ cho một ứng cử viên nào khác. Xin cám ơn quý đồng hương một lần nữa. Đây là Thượng Nghị Sĩ Janet Nguyễn.”
“Dear fellow citizens, this is Senator Janet Nguyen. Thank you for having trusted, supported and loved me for the past several years. I just have to speak out about the election for District 1 Supervisor. I am deeply hurt that this election has caused division in the community, and supervisor Andrew Do has made false accusations that are disrespectful toward me. Supervisor Andrew Do has accused me of supporting the other candidate, even though I have not announced my support for any candidate. I always want the residents of District 1 to have a representative that can unify the community and truly want to serve the community. Therefore I cannot support Supervisor Andrew Do in his reelection. I also have not supported any other candidate. Thank you once again, this is Senator Janet Nguyen.”
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.