A staffer for San Diego city councilwoman Lorie Zapf has been stirring the troubled waters of a bitter Northern California battle for a state assembly seat, which became vacant in January when the incumbent was elected to the state senate. Twenty-three-year-old Matthew Donnellan is listed on Zapf’s official webpage as “communications advisor.” He served as Zapf’s campaign manager last year and was subsequently hired as one of her city council representatives at an annual salary of $40,000, according to records released by the City in December.
Last month, the Sacramento Bee reported that Donnellan was helping wage an independent campaign being conducted by a San Diego–based organization calling itself Responsible Voters for Lower Taxes. The group had issued press releases attacking John Allard, one of eight candidates for the assembly seat. Allard is a Republican city councilman in Roseville and an ex–legislative employee. The Responsible Voters hit highlighted expenses that Allard had charged to Roseville for a 2007 trip to Washington, D.C. One of Allard’s opponents, Beth Gaines, is the wife of the former incumbent, Ted Gaines. Allard’s consultant Matt Rexroad charged that Responsible Taxpayers was “a front group for Beth Gaines’ campaign.”
In a follow-up statement, Allard characterized the hit as “a desperate attempt to shred my character from a no-name organization based in San Diego, as far away from the 4th Assembly District as you can get in California.” Donnellan, identified as vice president of Responsible Taxpayers, fired back in a Loomis News story, saying, “Allard’s record on the city council overseeing taxpayer dollars is frightening.” The story added that Donnellan was “a city of San Diego employee and isn’t connected to or paid by the Beth Gaines campaign.”
But who else is behind Responsible Taxpayers? Describing the committee as “largely dormant in recent years,” the Bee identified its president as Peter J. Kanelos, president of Hermes Strategy Group, a La Mesa–based political consultancy.
Of late, state campaign-finance-disclosure records show that Kanelos has been no stranger to the Gaines family. Last year, the Ted Gaines for Senate 2012 committee paid Hermes Strategies a total of $8000.
The election was held Tuesday. Donnellan didn’t respond to phone messages left at his office.