After five long years of investigation, the Fair Political Practices Commission eventually named the alleged sources of several robocalls made during the 2008 Turlock City Council campaign.
But internal Fair Political Practices Commission documents track a convoluted investigation during those five years, which saw fingers pointed erroneously at many different individuals.
The FPPC documents indicate that Carl Fogliani, a political consultant, was the mastermind behind the robocalls. His clients during the 2008 election, Turlock City Councilmember Amy Bublak and former Councilmember Kurt Vander Weide, are believed to have funded the robocalls attacking then-Turlock City Councilmember Mary Jackson. Bublak, Vander Weide, and Jackson were the three front-runners for two available Turlock City Council seats.
Bublak, a Modesto Police Officer, commented to FPPC investigators that “it takes less time to investigate a homicide.”
Howze Initial Target of Investigation
At the start, then-Turlock City Councilmember Ted Howze was the primary target of the investigation.
Howze and then-Councilmember Kurt Spycher were political enemies of Jackson, and allies of Bublak and Vander Weide.
Linda Taylor, a Turlock political activist, said in a deposition that Howze “knew too much about (the robocalls) not to be involved.” She claimed Howze told her that Mark Hall, the developer of Monte Vista Crossings, paid for the robocalls, that he paid via credit card, and that the calls were routed through Florida; two of the calls were, in fact, routed through Florida.
Howze denied the claims to FPPC investigators.
But Taylor called Howze a “liar” who “used people” and “would have done anything to get Jackson out of office after she was elected.” She said Howze had Spycher “wrapped around his finger,” and threw Vander Weide “under the bus.”
Taylor alleged Howze set Jackson up by getting her involved in the Vintage Lounge controversy. That controversy came as Jackson then took part in approving the project despite a potential conflict of interest; Axel Gomez, a member of Jackson's campaign team, was the attorney of record for the Vintage Lounge until shortly before Jackson voted to approve the project. Jackson was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Stanislaus County Grand Jury in 2009.
Hall did make large, $10,000 donations directly to both Bublak and Vander Weide's campaigns. He said he “wanted to reduce the 'red tape' and project delays when dealing with Turlock staff members,” and that Bublak and Vander Weide “agreed with his positions.” He denied directly funding the robocalls, however.
Hall noted he did not give money to Howze's 2006 campaign, despite agreeing with Howze's policies. Hall “described Howze's people skills as 'not good,'” per the FPPC report.
Sharon Silva, the CEO of the Turlock Chamber of Commerce, described Howze as a “bully” to the FPPC. She said Howze and Spycher attempted to damage her credibility when she refused to help unseat Mayor John Lazar from office.
FPPC staff attempted to interview Spycher but he refused, calling the investigation “a witch hunt.”
Red Herrings Throughout the Investigation
The investigation appears to have floundered for a period of time after Howze did not pan out as a suspect. As FPPC investigators dealt with phone companies to trace the robocalls, they followed a number of smaller, ultimately false leads.
Even TurlockCityNews.com owner David “DJ” Fransen, a former council candidate, was interviewed as a person of interest in the investigation at one point.
Another odd lead shows that the script for Vander Weide's legal live phone call was penned by Renee Giannini, the assistant treasurer of Bublak's campaign committee. The connection was made when FPPC investigators noted the Word document's properties listed “rgiannini” as the author, and that the document was typed at a California State University, Stanislaus computer; Giannini works for the university.
Giannini denied writing the script or working for Vander Weide's campaign. But seven of eight spreadsheets prepared by Giannini for Bublak's 2006 and 2008 campaigns bore the same “rgiannini” imprint.
Jackson Was Involved in Investigation
Jackson also tried to become involved in the investigation in 2010, obtaining Howze's 2006 campaign statements for FPPC investigators from then-Turlock City Clerk Rhonda Greenlee. Jackson stated she was “ready to rumble” and offered further assistance, but was rebuked by investigators.
“I wanted to make sure it is very clear to anyone (who) might inquire that my request for Howze's 2006 documents pre-dated you asking her, at my request, about the documents while you were at City Hall yesterday,” FPPC investigator Beatrice Moore e-mailed to Jackson. “This investigation must be independent and impartial to find the source of the (four) deceptive robocalls.”
The e-mail between Jackson and Moore was just one of many included in the FPPC documents. Bublak told FPPC investigators at one point that she believed Jackson was too involved in the investigation.
“She did not think it was normal for Moore and Jackson to talk so much about the case,” the report reads.
This article is the third in a three-part series examining the internal FPPC investigation into robocalls made during the 2008 Turlock City Council Elections. For more background on the FPPC's case against Fogliani, Bublak, and Vander Weide, see Internal Documents: Fogliani, Bublak, Vander Weide Behind 2008 Robocalls. For a detailed explanation of the FPPC's case, visit Details Revealed in 2008 Robocall Investigation.