Cast of Characters Behind Mysterious Pro-Das Anti-Laura Committee
By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers
Three veteran political consultants -- two Democrats and one recovering Republican – are operating the independent expenditure committee on behalf of Das Williams that is now attacking Laura Capps in the mail and on radio, Newsmakers has learned.
Democrats Mollie Culver and Tyler Gibson, and GOP strategist Cory Bantilan, who works for the county as chief of staff to Supervisor Steve Lavignino, are raising the money and producing anti-Capps campaign materials and on-air messages that have appeared this week.
Capps, president of the SB school board, is challenging Williams, the incumbent supervisor in the First District. A key issue in the race has been Das's central role in crafting the county's controversial cannabis ordinance, and his past acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from those involved in the industry.
As first reported in this space, a mysterious new campaign committee called “Central Coast Residents Supporting Das Williams for Supervisor,” was registered with election officials late last month. The group is legally required to operate independently of Williams’s campaign.
Among other charges they make against Capps is that she is a "hypocrite" because her own fundraising in the current campaign does not conform with the limits and standards she has set forth in a campaign finance reform plan as the centerpiece of her challenge to Das.
"As expected, this PAC is doing Das’ dirty work," Lindsay Bubar, senior strategist for the Capps campaign, said in a statement emailed to Newsmakers. "Their first hit piece is full of lies, which, as he did at the debate last week, Das will try to distance himself from. Except, he can’t."
Responded Das: "It is unfortunate that my opponent has felt that she needs to concentrate on attacking me and running a negative campaign," he said. "Our local politics was once civil and respectful and we should do all we can to promote and revive that ethic."
For those keeping score at home
Full statements from Bantilan, on behalf of the committee and from the Capps and Williams campaigns are below.
The trio of consultants behind the independent expenditure committee form an intriguing, three degrees of separation alliance steeped in several decades of local politics and campaigns. They are:
Mollie Culver, a longtime Democratic strategist, has worked for countless local party politicians, including former legislator Jack O’Connell, Mayor Cathy Murillo, Rep. Salud Carbajal and Supervisor Gregg Hart (not to mention two stints with former Rep. Lois Capps, mother of Laura), and is a favored strategist for those who win the endorsement of the local central committee. She also was a key figure in passage of the disputed cannabis ordinance, meeting at various times with Williams and other county officials, testifying at public meetings and writing letters in her former role as an advocate for the Santa Barbara Cannabis Business Council.
Tyler Gibson, a business associate of Culver’s, who works with her on campaigns and also served as the Organizing Director of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party. He is listed as the treasurer on filings of the “Central Coast Residents” independent expenditure committee, although he used his given name on committee documents, where he is identified as “William Gibson.”
Cory Bantilan, chief of staff to Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who worked closely with Williams in drafting the cannabis ordinance, during a time when the two elected officials were jokingly referred to around the county building as “the Doobie Brothers.” Bantilan has worked on a host of campaigns for Republicans, including the 2017 mayoral bid of ex-council member Frank Hotchkiss and is former executive director of the Santa Barbara Republican Central Committee.
Calling all Republicans
Much of the committee's messaging so far has aimed at the relatively small number of Republicans in the district.
The radio ad is running on a local station that features conservative talk show programming and one brochure has appeared in the mailboxes of GOP-registered voters. Both portray Capps as an opportunist and an extreme left liberal, more risky for conservatives than Williams, who is described as "bipartisan," in contrast to the full-throated "progressive" label which he often affixes to himself.
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