Wednesday, November 26, 2003

PL says it backed DA recall effort [North Coast Journal]

PL says it backed DA recall effort [North Coast Journal]

by Hank Sims, North Coast Journal

The Pacific Lumber Company has recently contributed "significant" time and money to the drive to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos, according to an internal company letter obtained by the Journal.

The letter, which is printed on Pacific Lumber letterhead, is signed by CEO Robert E. Manne and addressed to company employees.

If the letter is authentic, the move represents a switch in position for the company, which is the subject of a multimillion dollar fraud suit brought by the DA shortly after Gallegos took office. Previously, PL had stated that it would not take a stand in the recall effort.

"As a company, we had not participated in the recall effort until recent weeks when our employees, community members and the recall committee sought our support," read the letter, dated Oct. 24. "We decided to contribute time and money to the effort to give the voters of Humboldt County an opportunity to decide the question of recalling the DA for themselves.

"In that spirit, PALCO and other businesses and individuals, who are concerned about the DA’s actions, contributed significant funds to ensure that the voters would have their say. To date, our support has totaled more than $40,000 in `in-kind’ support of the signature gathering effort."

The Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos’ most recent campaign finance disclosure forms, which cover a three-month period ending Sept. 30, make no mention of any Pacific Lumber donations to the campaign. Instead, they show only $500 in donations from three employees of the company and Britt Lumber, a PL subsidiary.

Committee spokesman Rick Brazeau said that he was not certain what, or how much, the company had given to the campaign, but said that the information "will be filed at the appropriate time."

Manne’s letter was sent the day after the committee handed in more than 16,900 signatures gathered in support of the recall. During the previous week, the campaign hired an out-of-town signature-gathering firm, US Petitions, to orchestrate a last-minute push for signatures. During the push, signature gatherers were paid a fee of $8 per signature, which led some to believe that the campaign had received a large infusion of cash in its final days.

In the letter, Manne calls the county’s lawsuit against the company "baseless and politically motivated," and asks, rhetorically, whether the company should simply "sit back and allow [it] to happen." He also charges that the Gallegos administration undermines the moral fabric of the county.

"[A]re the citizens to sit back and allow the family values of Humboldt County to be deteriorated on a weekly basis by our new DA?" the letter asks. "If we had known this, would we have voted for him? I think not."

Repeated calls to Manne and other PL officials were not returned Tuesday.

Richard Salzman, coordinator of the pro-Gallegos Alliance for Ethical Business, said on Tuesday that the letter confirms what Gallegos supporters had long suspected — that PL was behind the recall drive.

"In PALCO’s world, this is how you fight a lawsuit," he said. "You remove the prosecutor."

The Oct. 24 letter, together with an earlier Manne letter to PL employees on Sept. 11, also provides insight into how the CEO views critics of the company’s logging practices.

In the earlier letter, Manne discusses "character and integrity," and argues that the DA’s office, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Environmental Protection Information Center and residents of the Freshwater area are all lacking in those qualities.

"The only conclusion I can reach as to why they continue their attacks against us is that they lead empty lives and need to put blame on everything around them in order to negatively impact those that are happier than them," Manne writes. "This gives them power with their constituents and importance in the eyes of their friends and other PALCO haters."

Mark Lovelace, president of the Humboldt Watershed Council, said that Manne’s characterization of the company’s critics was wide of the mark.

"I know that there are people in the community who believe that the environmentalists just want to shut down the timber industry," he said. "That is simply not the case, and I would expect a more nuanced view from the CEO of the company.

"I don’t know which is worse — if he believes this stuff or if he doesn’t believe it, and just puts it out there to divide the community."

Reached at his office Tuesday, Gallegos said that he was not a "PALCO hater" and did not have a "get PALCO attitude."

"Pacific Lumber is a defendant, one of the thousands of defendants we have here," Gallegos said. "They are entitled to a presumption of innocence, they are entitled to a day in court. Let’s settle this case in court."

Friday, November 7, 2003

Pacific Lumber Aids Effort to Recall D.A. [L.A. Times]

Pacific Lumber Aids Effort to Recall D.A. [L.A. Times]

Man who sued the timber firm will face an ouster vote in March
by Rone Tempest, L.A. Times Staff Writer

After an upstart district attorney charged Pacific Lumber Co. with fraud early this year, the Northern California timber giant was not content to just fight it out in the courts.

When a local campaign to recall Humboldt County Dist. Atty. Paul V. Gallegos began to flag last month, Scotia-based Pacific Lumber came to the rescue, providing an infusion of cash, sending out thousands of pro-recall mailers, granting employees paid leave to work on the campaign and paying professional circulators as much as $8 for every signature they could add to the recall petition.

At that point, the campaign organizers had less than a month to garner enough signatures to make the recall effort qualify for the March 2004 ballot.

It appears the company's efforts have paid off. On Thursday, the county elections office ruled that, by a narrow margin, enough signatures had been gathered to force a March recall vote.

Pacific Lumber spokesman Jim Branham estimated the company had spent $40,000 in the closing days of the recall campaign. "The recall campaign had hit a wall," he said. "The organizers had asked for our help. We felt a last push was needed."

Pacific Lumber's involvement in the recall appears to fall outside the scope of any state law, including those administered by the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state agency that regulates campaign finance.

"I've never heard of a situation like this before, where a defendant uses an election to go after the person bringing the lawsuit," said Bob Stern, former general counsel of the commission and now president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies. "But there is clearly no prohibition. In a state that elects D.A.'s and judges, it would be very difficult, and probably unconstitutional, to regulate this."

The lawsuit filed by Gallegos last spring contends that Pacific Lumber deceived state agencies about its timber-cutting plans, resulting in massive landslide and flooding damage to local streams and farms. The company is accused of sidestepping environmental restrictions established under the historic 1999 Headwaters agreement, which set aside 7,500 acres of ancient redwoods in a public trust.

Pacific Lumber spokesman Branham calls the suit's allegations "bogus."

Company lawyers argue that the case has no merit and have sought its dismissal.

The lawsuit is so sensitive that two Humboldt Superior Court judges recused themselves from hearing the case. Another judge, Richard Wilson, agreed to hear dismissal motions, which are still pending. But the overall case was recently transferred to a retired judge in Lake County.

The effort to oust Gallegos was launched shortly after the district attorney filed his lawsuit. However, the main claims initially voiced by recall proponents, who included Fortuna Mayor Mel Berti and conservative former timber executive Robin Arkley Sr., were that Gallegos was soft on crime.

Gallegos, a 42-year-old USC graduate who moved to Eureka from Southern California nine years ago, characterized the recall as a battle between "small-mindedness, exclusion and good-old-boyism" and equality under the law.

"We cannot have two levels of justice in Humboldt County," Gallegos said. "That is how simple it is."

The recall campaign is the latest chapter in the redwood country timber wars, which pit the North Coast's largest private employer against local environmentalists, retirees and professionals who have settled there in recent years ? many of whom support Gallegos.

Despite the general shrinking of the California timber industry, Pacific Lumber, with its workforce of 900, remains a potent force in the region. According to Branham, the company does business with 400 local companies, generating $54 million in spending on goods and services.

Early in the recall push, Pacific Lumber remained out of the fray.

But for Gallegos supporters, the recall was always about the lawsuit, which marked the first time a senior elected official had dared to confront the timber giant, a subsidiary of Houston-based Maxxam Corp. and a dominating force in Humboldt politics for more than 100 years.

Pacific Lumber's last-minute actions to save the recall campaign were revealed this week in a letter to employees from company President Robert Manne. The letter was first reported Wednesday by the Eureka Times-Standard.

In a Thursday editorial, the Times-Standard scolded Pacific Lumber.

"Dealing with the allegation ? whether founded or not ? eliminating the accuser," the Times-Standard editorial argued, "is a doubtful way of proving one's case. It's a downright poor way to win a public relations contest."

Also on Thursday, the Eureka newspaper published an article showing that, under Gallegos, criminal prosecutions have actually increased from previous levels.

Gallegos' supporters were delighted by the developments.

"Now that it is public record that the recall effort is being funded by Pacific Lumber," said Richard Salzman, who heads the pro-Gallegos Alliance for Ethical Business, "we can move forward with an election dealing with the one and only real issue: whether the district attorney has the right to file a lawsuit against Maxxam's Pacific Lumber Co."

As of Thursday, no candidate had surfaced to oppose Gallegos in the recall vote.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Last-minute push yields avalanche of DA recall signatures [Arcata Eye]

Last-minute push yields avalanche of DA recall signatures [Arcata Eye]

by Kevin L. Hoover, Eye Editor

A last-minute drive by the Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos (CRPB) helped garner a total of about 16,700 signatures on the petition calling for removal of Humboldt County’s embattled district attorney.

Recall organizer Rick Brazeau delivered stacks of completed petitions to county Elections Manager Lindsey McWilliams on the last possible day to file, Wednesday, Oct. 22.

McWilliams and his staff spent the rest of the week, including Saturday, on the methodical process of determining the validity of the signatures. For the recall to proceed, at least 11,138 of the signatures must be validated as coming from registered Humboldt County voters.

First, McWilliams said, the petitions are numbered and a total obtained. That process involves stamping each signature with a number - a labor-intensive procedure which must be done in shifts to spare election workers repetitive stress injuries. "If you do that 3,000 or 4,000 at a time, your arm falls off," McWilliams said.

Next, a random list of numbers is generated to create a representative sampling of signatures. That sample will number five percent of the total, or about 835 signatures. Each signature is then compared to the county’s database of registered voters. Complicating the validation is the inherently sloppy nature of petitions circulated in the field Many signatories have moved since last registering to vote or use an abbreviation of their registered name. Other times the signatures are difficult to read. "People are in a hurry," McWilliams observed. Nonetheless, elections staff make a thorough effort to ascertain the validity of each signature.

McWilliams expected to have the sample count verification completed early this week. Each signature in the sampled 835 is considered the equivalent of 20 signatures in the total 16,700 submitted. If valid signatures in the sample, multiplied by 20, amount to 110 percent of the required 11,138, the recall petitions will be found sufficient to proceed with an election. If the valid signatures in the sample multiply out to 90 percent of 11,138, the petition is presumed to have failed.

But if the sample yields between 90 and 110 percent of the required number, McWilliams and his staff will have to validate every signature. That, he said, would require the legally allowed 30 days to determine the sufficiency of the recall petitions.

McWilliams said he would likely have to bring in additional workers if all the signatures are to be verified, since his office is already swamped with work closing out the Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election and preparing for the Nov. 4 school and special district elections.

McWilliams hopes to avoid a signature-by-signature count. "I hope they win clearly or lose clearly," he said.

The county elections office has 30 days, or until Nov. 21, to verify the signatures and the sufficiency of the petitions. The results would next be certified to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 2. The supervisors then have two weeks, until Dec. 16, to issue an order for a recall election. Should they not do so, it falls to the elections official to schedule the election on Dec. 21. That would mean a special D.A. recall election would be held sometime between March 16 and April 13, well after the possible March 2 primary election.

Timeline information is available on the Humboldt County website, .

Regardless, McWilliams said he expected that any recall election could be processed in time to be added to March 2 election. That would save the county an estimated $150,000 in special election costs.

Tactics questioned

The intense, 11th hour push by recall backers included aggressive signature gathering by an out-of-town company called US Petitions, a fact first revealed last week by investigative reporter Hank Sims in the North Coast Journal .

US Petitions uses compensated petitioners who are paid $8 per signature. That incentive resulted in extremely aggressive, even deceptive signature-gathering tactics, according to several citizens.

The county elections official made no effort to mask his disgust with the petitioners’ no-holds-barred tactics and the mountain of paper his office is now tasked to sort out. "I am unhappy with US Petitions and the people Brazeau contracted with," McWilliams said.

Characterizing US Petitions as "sleazebags," he noted that most of the hired petitioners had registered to vote in Humboldt County just before they were deployed in the field. That to satisfy the legal requirement that signature collectors be registered in the county they petition in. McWilliams said the petitioners’ address of record was listed as a motel on Broadway in Eureka, where the US Petitions manager did the hiring for the effort.

Eureka resident Nate Lombda said he answered a knock on his door Tuesday afternoon to find a man with a petition there. "He broke into this spiel, ‘You know about the 12-year-old who was raped and they plea bargained it out?’ I asked if this was about the Paul Gallegos recall and he said, ‘Yes.’ My ears started to burn and I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I closed the door."

Lombda said he plans to file a complaint with the Secretary of State. "I thought it was very deceptive and misleading," he said.

Richard Salzman of the Alliance for Ethical Business, a pro-Gallegos group, said that on Tuesday morning he encountered a petitioner in front of the McKinleyville Safeway store who first asked him to sign a petition "repealing the car tax." He declined, and said she then offered him a clipboard with the top part of the petition form obscured by a folded-back piece of paper so that only the portion with signature lines showed. Salzman said the woman said, "This is a personal one of mine against rapists." In fact, he said, it was a Gallegos recall petition.

An Eye employee encountered the same tactic Tuesday morning at the McKinleyville Kmart, with the explanatory portion of the Gallegos recall petition obscured by a piece of paper while the petitioner exposed only the bottom signature area and described it as an anti-rape petition. Tuesday afternoon, however, an Eye reporter who approached petitioners at both locations was clearly told that the petitions were "to recall our D.A., who’s soft on crime."

McWilliams said he’s received about 20 written complaints alleging unfair tactics, which he’s passed along to investigators with the California Secretary of State.

He takes the complaints seriously. "They misrepresented the petition," McWilliams said. "They did a bait-and-switch. Some of them told people it was a pro-Gallegos petition."

A September complaint by Shelter Cove resident Jim Ferguson, also passed along to the Secretary of State, alleged that petitions were not properly circulated. He said petitions were left unattended and signatures not witnessed as required by law.

In analyzing the sufficiency of the material submitted by CRPG, McWilliams and his staff are on the lookout for petition-padding. "We’re looking for obvious signs of corruption," he said. "Signatures in the same ink, the same handwriting."

Salzman said recall organizers and those who fund them are responsible for any abuses. "I fault less the workers," he said. "The District Attorney’s lawsuit against Maxxam’s Pacific Lumber accuses them of fraud. That is to say they got caught lying and cheating, so it is no surprise that their supporters, the self-described ‘good old boys’ would lie and cheat in their campaign against the District Attorney."

McWilliams said those who experienced questionable petitioning tactics and wish to complain may call the Secretary of State’s complaint line at 1 (800) 345-VOTE. Salzman said the AEB would like to hear from anyone who encountered deceptive tactics by the McKinleyville petitioners. Salzman may be reached at (707) 845-3700

Costs questioned

Salzman wondered where the money for the high-buck campaign comes from. "Between their recent direct mail to all registered Republicans - some 20,000 voters - and the eight dollar per signature paid to the petition circulators, the recall proponents have spent approximately $25,000 over the last two weeks."

A financial disclosure report by CRPG is due this Friday, Oct. 31. It will cover expenditures through Sept. 30. The Friends of Paul Gallegos will also file a disclosure report that day.

CRPG donations through June were revealed in a previous disclosure. Most of the donors at that time were affiliated with timber and trucking interests.

PL lawsuit

A ruling on the demurrer, or dismissal of the D.A.’s fraud lawsuit against Pacific Lumber had been expected by Oct. 27. But two weeks ago, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson deferred the case without elaboration to Lake County Judge Richard L. Freeborn.

A Minor misunderstanding

Owners of a local theater chain announced Sunday that their business had mistakenly been associated with Brazeau. In a letter, Minor Theatre Corporation owners David Phillips, Michael Thomas and LouAnna Phillips said in a letter that, "Apparently due to the high-profile nature of the campaign to recall District Attorney Gallegos, there has been confusion about Rick Brazeau’s MTC Associates and the Minor Theatre Corporation. We thought it was very old news, but the two companies are not related and have not been related for 17 years. Furthermore, Mr. Brazeau has no ownership or position of influence in the Minor Theatre Corporation."

The proprietors condemned the Gallegos recall effort. "We think the recall is a waste of county resources at a time when the county needs every dime it can get," their letter said.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Out-of-towners recruited for Gallegos recall bid [North Coast Journal]

Out-of-towners recruited for Gallegos recall bid [North Coast Journal]

Petitioners getting a whopping $8 per signature
by Hank Sims, North Coast Journal

The campaign practices of the Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos were again called into question this week after it was learned that out-of-town petitioners were getting paid a whopping $8 per signature in a last-minute effort to qualify the recall for the ballot.

After learning from the Journal on Monday that out-of-towners were being recruited to gather signatures, county elections chief Lindsey McWilliams notified the California Secretary of State’s office, which enforces most election laws. The law requires that signature gatherers be registered to vote in the county in which they solicit signatures.

"If there’s anecdotal support that people from out of the area are [involved], that’s something that should be forwarded to the Secretary of State," he said. "They can sort it out."

This is the second complaint related to the Gallegos recall effort that McWilliams has forwarded to state election officials. Earlier this year, Shelter Cove resident Jim Ferguson wrote to the county Elections Office, alleging that pro-recall petitions were being "posted" at local businesses for anyone to sign, a violation of elections law. McWilliams notified the Secretary of State’s office, which has not yet weighed in on the claim.

Richard Salzman, coordinator of the pro-Gallegos Alliance for Ethical Business, said that the exceptionally high $8 per signature rate being paid to gatherers — most causes pay closer to $1 — shows that recall proponents are "desperate."

MTC Associates, the Arcata-based consulting firm that is managing the recall campaign, hired professional signature-gathering company US Petitions to conduct the recent drive. MTC Associates owner Rick Brazeau said that the goal was to gather around 1,500 additional signatures between Saturday and Wednesday, the campaign’s deadline. US Petitions also worked on the recall campaign earlier this summer.

"We were so close that we just really, really wanted to put the full-court press on it," Brazeau said.

A message left on US Petitions’ answering machine last weekend asked for recruits to come to the county to help in the drive. The message, which seemed to be addressed to employees gathering signatures on different projects in the state of Washington, was left by company manager Brian Schrier.

"We have a new issue going on in California," the message said. "It is a temporary issue — we only have until Tuesday to do this — but it pays $8 a signature. It’s a recall for the district attorney of Humboldt County, Paul Gallegos. If you’re interested in doing this job, please contact me personally. Please only contact me if you are very serious about this job and you have a way to get here, and you understand that it’s only until Tuesday."

The message did not mention that signature gatherers were required to be registered to vote in Humboldt County. Visiting citizens may immediately register themselves as local voters by giving their motel as an address, apparently even if they only intend to stay a few days.

According to McWilliams, that could mean that even if US Petitions has re-registered all its workers in the county, they still may have violated the intent, if not the literal interpretation, of the law.

Schrier said on Monday that his signature gatherers, which he put at 17 individuals, were all registered Humboldt County voters, though he said he didn’t know if all of them were registered here a week ago. Schrier, who has a San Diego cell phone number, said that he registered to vote in Humboldt County during the summer, but re-registered himself last week just to be certain.

"We just want to go by the book on this thing," Schrier said.

Those leading the drive to recall Gallegos need to gather 11,138 valid signatures to put a recall on the ballot. All petitions to recall Gallegos were due to be turned into the county elections office by 5 p.m. Wednesday. At press time late Tuesday, it was not known how many signatures recall proponents had gathered.

If the signature drive proves successful, it is expected that the question of whether to recall the district attorney will come before Humboldt voters in coming months — although it will not under any circumstances be on the ballot for next month’s local elections.

Antoinette Erwin, who was gathering signatures in front of Safeway in McKinleyville Monday morning, said she was the only full-time local resident currently working on the US Petitions drive. She said that most of the other gatherers have come from Washington and Alaska.

One of Erwin’s colleagues, stationed outside the McKinleyville K-Mart, said that he was a Humboldt County voter, though he first named McKinleyville and then Eureka as his city of residence. He declined to give his name.

Erwin — who said she wasn’t in it for the money — was also gathering signatures for a petition to repeal the recent increase in vehicle licensing fees, which she was not being paid for. The gatherer at K-Mart put up several posters around his table, soliciting help in repealing the "car tax." No mention was made of the Gallegos recall petition on his posters.

According to the Voter Education Project, a nonprofit group critical of the signature gathering industry, the vehicle license fee petition was probably being used as a "stopper" — a petition that’s "easy to pitch and popular."

"`Mercs’ [mercenary signature gatherers] use them to draw people to their clipboards in the hope of getting their signatures on the other petitions they are carrying," the project’s Web site states, adding that "mercs" sometimes simply throw the "stopper" in the trash when they finish the job.

Salzman, who worked on Gallegos’ political campaign, wondered who was putting up the money for the petitions — which would presumably cost $12,000, plus administrative costs, if all 1,500 signatures were gathered.

That question may not be answered until January. The recall committee is required to submit its third quarter financial statements later this month, but they will cover only income and expenditures from July through September. In its last statement, the committee showed a June cash balance of $18,000, but it has since had other expenses, including a direct-mail drive.

Brazeau said that he was not aware of any large donations recently received by the committee.