Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Measure G media battle heats up as pro and con forces hit the airwaves

The Measure G media battle is heating up.

Backers of the ballot measure, which seeks Fresno voter approval to privatize the city’s residential trash pickup, began airing television and radio ads Wednesday featuring Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer, who casts the issue as one of public safety.

“There’s a lot of good reasons to support Measure G, but for me the most important is the funding Measure G provides to keep police officers and firefighters on the job,” Dyer says in a 30-second television ad.

In the radio spot, which is a minute long, Dyer adds: “The funding is essential to our police department, and without it, we could lose an additional 20 to 30 police officers.”

Yes on G consultant Tim Clark said another ad featuring Fresno businessman and Republican activist Michael Der Manouel Jr. will debut Thursday.

As the Yes on G campaign ramps up, Common Sense Information — an independent political committee formed by local Republican businessman Tal Cloud — is doing the same.

Actually, the Common Sense Information radio advertisement that also started Wednesday never mentions Measure G, though it’s clear that’s the target since a special election on the proposal is fast approaching.

On June 4, Fresno city voters will be asked to approve privatization of residential trash pickup.

“Now the City of Fresno has decided to give a contract to one company to privatize over 100,000 residential accounts with claim that rates will be lower once the contract is approved,” the radio ad says. “Can you really trust the mayor and City Hall to do what’s in the best interest for the people of Fresno or to do what’s best for their political future?”

In fact, the ad feels more like a broad-based attack on Fresno City Hall, which currently is occupied by Mayor Ashley Swearengin. The minute-long spot does eventually get around to the trash issue.

Already, Yes on G supporters are crying foul.

Clark, the Yes on G consultant, said he will file a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is the state’s political watchdog.

Clark said Cloud’s organization “is acting as a political committee for the defeat of Measure G, even though they haven’t filed as such.”

He pointed out a $4,000 contribution to Common Sense Information from the City of Fresno Professional Employees Association, which was reported to the Fresno city clerk as being against Measure G.

“The law states that if you are an organization that receives funding for the purpose of making political expenditures, then you must register as (a political action committee) and file campaign finance disclosure reports,” Clark said.

Common Sense Information is no stranger to controversy.

Last year, George Whitman, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the Fresno Unified School Board Area 6 seat, complained about a CSI ad that talked about a foreclosure and a bankruptcy.

And in 2010, Rep. Jeff Denham — who was making his initial run for Congress — complained about a Common Sense Information attack ad. But he never filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

Cloud welcomed the complaint.

“That’s good,” Cloud said. “I’m perfectly legal doing what I’ve done. That shows their incompetency.”

Cloud said the City of Fresno Professional Employees Association did give money to Common Sense Information, but it was wrong in filing a report because his ad does no advocate for or against Measure G.

As the forces for and against Measure G battle on the airwaves and behind the scene, a political mailer from the Fresno Police Officers Association landed in the mailboxes of “high-propensity voters” in the City Council districts of Lee Brand, Steve Brandau and Paul Caprioglio.

The mailer highlights what the FPOA says are millions of dollars in contract concessions to help the city’s finances.

But the timing — and who received the mailers — makes it appear like the FPOA is weighing in indirectly on Measure G, some political watchers said. The FPOA opposes Measure G and has given money to fight it.

FPOA President Jacky Parks said that isn’t true.

He said the mailer — which features quotes from Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, and former Mayor Alan Autry — is a direct appeal to council members and city residents because City Manager Mark Scott and other members of the Swearengin administration have stopped talking to the police union.

“We’ve lost confidence in the administration,” Parks said. “So we’re taking it to the council.”

Water at heart of heated email exchanges between Borba, others

West-side grower Mark Borba was forced to step down as Community Medical Centers’ board chair after he sent an email with a racially insensitive comment about President Barack Obama.

The story appeared in Tuesday’s Bee.

But Borba’s statement was just one small part of a long-running series of email exchanges on March 1 that exposed a seamier side of politics not often seen by the general public.

Mark Borba

The emails went on for hours and primarily involved Borba, Johnny Amaral, who is chief of staff for Rep. Devin Nunes, a Tulare Republican, and Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham.

Several others, including Westlands board members and staffers for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, were copied in some of the emails.

The f-word was often used, as were other expletives.

It all started with Borba thanking Rep. Jim Costa, a Fresno Democrat, for writing a letter to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor.

In the letter, Costa urged the Bureau to increase water pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is restricted because of protections in place to protect the delta smelt.

Borba then added: “This is total insanity. Where the Hell is Feinstein & the Administration?” He then goes on to detail the economic losses to the Valley’s west side before concluding: “The Senator’s silence is deafening.”

One of those copied on the email was Birmingham, who responded with a defense of Feinstein. He wrote to Borba that “Senator Feinstein and her staff have been pushing Interior and Reclamation behind the scenes.”

It is at that point that Borba explodes with multiple expletives and calls Obama “Blackie.” He wrote: “I’m tired of these (expletive) politicians waltzing thru here… telling us how tough things are… picking our pockets for campaign $$$$… and they returning to DC and doing nothing! Put their (expletive) careers on the line… or step down.”

Birmingham then lashed out in response, telling Borba to “give me a (expletive) break.” He then brings the Valley’s Republican congressional delegation — Nunes, Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy, Hanford’s David Valadao and Turlock’s Jeff Denham — into the increasingly heated email conversation.

Tom Birmingham

“The question you should be asking,” Birmingham wrote to Borba, “is where in the (expletive) were Denham, Nunes, Valadao and McCarthy, all of whom were asked to sign the (Costa) letter.”

Birmingham tells Borba that all of Costa’s Valley Republican congressional colleagues refused to sign the letter.

Borba then responds with an email to Nunes. He copied both Amaral and Birmingham. In the email, Borba tells Nunes that “standing on the sidelines… is not helpful. We’re dying out here… and you’re playing politics? What’s your excuse? If we ran our businesses like you guys run Congress… we’d be broke. Come to think of it… we’re getting there… with your ‘help.’”

Amaral responds, telling Borba he is “pathetic.”

“How quickly (Westlands) forgets what we did… and how they allowed (Feinstein) to do nothing at all. Its no wonder you guys continue to lose. Sending (expletive) letters meant to cover someones (expletive) does nothing to advance the effort,” Amaral wrote.

Borba then, in essence, asks both Amaral and Nunes — what have you done for west-side agriculture lately? Amaral replies that Nunes and his fellow Republicans did do something for the west side last year, “and you guys completely (expletive) it up and threw it away.”

At one point, Amaral writes “blah blah blah. The moment you (expletive) get your lord and savior difi (Feinstein) to do something… ANYTHING at all, the House will move a bill again.”

In an interview Tuesday, Amaral explained this part of his exchange with Borba. He said it was about H.R. 1837, legislation that would have would restored about 1.4 million acre-feet of water annually to Valley farmers who have lost water to environmental causes.

Amaral said considerable work went into the bill, which eventually passed the Republican-controlled House with the support of 10 Democrats, including Costa. But then the Senate — or Feinstein — did nothing.

“It was a gift teed up do something relevant on water and it was squandered,” Amaral said in the interview.

Instead, Amaral said, west-side ranchers and growers held a fundraiser for Feinstein.

As the emails between Amaral and Borba grow uglier and more personal, Amaral adds a new element, telling Borba he didn’t appreciate him “calling Devin a (expletive) to (Republican businessman) Tal Cloud.”

Borba responds: “Sometimes the truth hurts.”

During the exchanges, Nunes, Cloud and Fresno County Lincoln Club Chairman Michael Der Manouel Jr. weigh in. Both Nunes and Der Manouel write to Borba saying that letters are useless — Der Manouel saying they “don’t mean (expletive).”

Cloud’s contribution: “I can’t wait to hear the other side of the story on this. Most likely (Nunes) is tired of you everyone (sic) kissing Feinstein’s (expletive) when she never comes through on issues that matter.”

Amaral said Tuesday he regretted his use of profanity — but not the content of the emails.

“I will defend to my last dying breath the work Devin has done to improve the water situation in California and in the Valley,” he said. “I am proud of the work we’ve done.”

Nunes pointed out in an interview that several Westlands growers support and have donated to Democrats such as Feinstein and Gov. Jerry Brown. He said those Democrats “laugh at these guys over drinks, and they’re playing them for money.”

“This is no different than what we’ve been telling these guys,” Nunes added. “They have a flawed strategy that is doomed to failure.”

Borba and Birmingham both declined to comment on the emails. Feinstein also declined to comment.