Sunday, November 02, 2008

Group controlled by Michigan casino interests launches dishonest robo-calls to influence Barstow elections

A so-called local grassroots campaign committee managed and funded by Michigan casino interests has launched dishonest robocalls into Barstow in an attempt to influence the outcome of Tuesday's local election for Mayor. These are the same kinds of sleazy underhanded tactics that have been used to spread lies and half-truths suggesting that Barrack Obama is really a terrorist or affiliated with Osama Bin Laden.

The pre-recorded robocall messages attempt to blame Barstow Councilman Joe Gomez for the failure by BarWest, a Detroit casino syndicator, to get a casino approved in Barstow. The caller says Gomez told legislators in Sacramento that Barstow didn’t want a casino and is responsible for losing 2,000 jobs in Barstow. That’s simply not true. Gomez’s testimony in Sacramento included no such statement. (See Transcripts). Rather, Gomez is the only candidate for Mayor of Barstow who has supported multiple competing proposals for casino development in Barstow -- not just the schemes by BarWest.

However, Gomez is challenging two-time incumbent Mayor Lawrence Dale, a politician who, since first elected in 2000, has worked tirelessly to guarantee BarWest the exclusive rights to any future casino development in Barstow. In fact, informed observers believe Dale is one of those to be held accountable for the failure to bring a casino to Barstow. Dale has repeatedly taken action to block proposals by other casino developers at all costs. Among other things, he's been called out for violating residents' first-ammendment rights, using his title and City letterhead to represent his personal interests and holding secretive meetings. The transcripts from the Legislative Hearing in question suggest that Mayor Dale's testimony may have been the most damaging to the plans for a casino.

Reports and court documents indicate the political campaign committee responsible for the robocalls, Barstow Citizens for Real Economic Development, is a front group for BarWest.

In 2006, the Committee reported spending close to $200,000 in an unprecedented attempt to influence elections in Barstow; yet it reported raising less than $48,000. Of the money it raised, $40,000 (83%) came in checks from two BarWest principals Michael Malik & Marian Ilitch.

Since the June 2006 Election Primary, the Committee hasn’t reported raising any additional funds and has continued to show a debt of close to $150,000. The debt is the result of close to $150,000 paid in 2006 to vendors and consultants on behalf of the Committee by BarWest operative Tom Shields and his Lansing-based firm Marketing Resources Group (MRG).

Nearly 2.5 years later the Committees’ debt to Shields (MRG) has gone un-reimbursed. And now the Committee is engaging in new expenses.

Was Shields "reimbursed” by unreported sources and if so, who's paying the bills? Is Shields acting as creditor/lender to the Committee? Is the Committee really a "controlled committee" and if so did it fail to appropriately disclose that fromthe beginning?It's naive to think Shields (MRG), an experienced nationally recognized GOP operative, spent $150,000 on behalf of some grassroots committee in Barstow and won't get "paid back."

This isn't the first time those affiliated with BarWest have engaged in sleazy and even unlawful campaign activity. For more than a year and half, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has been investigating the lobbying and campaign finance practices of BarWest and its principal Michael Malik. BarWest was previously fined by the FPPC for failing to disclose a $26,600 contribution it made to a GOP Committee in San Joaquin.

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