Photo by Michelle4oside.com
From Michelle Gomez's official campaign website. Michelle's husband Don ended up getting paid $15,000 from the campaign.
Behind the scenes, a labor union connected with the city of Oceanside is spending thousands of dollars to elect a candidate who left a number of unpaid vendors from her last election.
The Oceanside Firefighters Association Local 3736 represents about 100 firefighters employed by the city of Oceanside. The city council decides how much its firefighters pay into their own retirement accounts. It decides how many fire stations are built and how many firefighters are employed in Oceanside.
How can the firefighters afford to pay such lavish fees to political consultants?
The association's political action committee has long been active in Oceanside politics. Even when it gets ugly: It was active in supporting the recalls of councilmembers Melba Bishop in 1991 and Jerry Kern in 2009 (both failed). When the firefighters make an endorsement in support of a candidate, it will typically print and send out its own campaign mailers, pay for yard signs, and then have its members (on their own time) go out and distribute those signs citywide.
But the association's political activity advanced to a whole new level last year when it paid $25,000 to Sextant Strategies and Research of Claremont for public polling. The firemen's PAC also retained Long Beach-based Melahat Rafiei to help them decide who to endorse and then how to promote their endorsed candidates for the 2020 city council race. Records show they pay Rafiei’s Progressive Solutions Consultants $5000 a month.
How can the firefighters afford to pay such lavish fees to political consultants when its members only pay $390 in annual union dues? Last year the Oceanside firefighters bankrolled $30,000 from Integral, the Newport Beach-based developer hoping to build a controversial 585-home project on Oceanside farmland. The group endorsed North River Farms even though a successful referendum petition has forced its ultimate approval to be made by the voters in November.
The Oceanside firefighters are holding interviews for candidates who want to run for mayor and who want to run for councilmember from District 3. The interviews are conducted by firefighters president Dave Overton, their PAC Chairman Hayden Harshman and Long Beach consultant Rafiei. But not only did the they decide to endorse Michelle Gomez for District 4 last October, but gave her $4,500 in campaign donations. And then, in a strange twist, consultant Rafiei gave Gomez an additional $5,000.
Gomez ran as a Democrat in the 2018 election for the 5th district county supervisor, losing to Republican Jim Desmond. Why would the Oceanside firemen endorse Gomez over a year before the November 2020 election without going through the interview process that other candidates go through? Was it true that president Overton selected Gomez, “…Because she will do what we tell her.”
The firefighters’ Overton and Harshman were asked via email: Why would they take $30,000 from a developer?; Why would their consultant give an additional $5,000 to Gomez?; Why do they pay a consultant from Long Beach $5,000 a month to help them decide who to endorse; Why would a labor union endorse someone who will not state a profession?; Are you aware of the vendors who were stiffed by Gomez in her 2018 campaign for supervisor?
Overton and Harshman declined to answer any of those questions.
Campaign organizer Rachel Bartlett filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission outlining specifics on how she was stiffed out of $7,883 based on a written agreement she had with Gomez. Bartlett worked for Gomez from July 2018 until the November election. “I thought she was a solid progressive,” says Bartlett. “She wasn’t who she said she was.”
Bartlett says she worked as a volunteer organizer and field director. “Don [Gomez, Michelle’s husband] was the official campaign manager. But he was not physically present a lot of the time, so I ended up doing a lot of his work. She kept telling me ‘I’m waiting for a check….I’m so sorry, I just don’t have the money.’ But I had no idea at the time that Don ended up getting paid $15,000 from the campaign.
Gomez was asked to comment on Bartlett’s claim. She was asked why she would never state an employment history and about a string of unpaid bills and consultants.
On May 12, Gomez sent an email saying she would not be answering any questions.
Dan Shook Castillo says he was stiffed by Gomez for an invoice of $350 for doing opposition research on Desmond’s developer ties. “I never got a dime,” he says.
Seasoned campaign strategist Gary Gartner recruited Gomez to run for county supervisor and give up her fledgling campaign for state assembly. He worked on her campaign for over two months and ended up receiving a check for $32. He says he was aware that Gomez stiffed union printer Line Printing Company of Chula Vista for thousands of dollars. He adds that he personally was denied agreed-upon pay. “We had a deal that I would get 15 percent of everything we raised.” Gartner says he helped organize a fundraiser for the cannabis industry that would raise money for both Gomez and fellow supervisor candidate Nathan Fletcher. “She cunningly ended the agreement days after the event to avoid paying me my share.” He says he thinks the maneuver deprived him “…fifteen percent of between $7,500 and $10,000.”
Gartner says he has moved on but is unhappy that Bartlett was not paid fairly. “Rachel worked very hard. She was very effective. I understand that Matt DuBerg was another campaign organizer she owes money to. She has this surfer girl, girl-next-door act. But she’s all about lies. Michelle makes a lot of promises but she doesn’t follow through on her commitments, financially or otherwise."
Of the $15,000 Gomez paid to Don: “She paid over 20 percent of the money she raised to her husband while she was screwing vendors and people who work for a living. That’s really despicable.”
By email Long Beach consultant Melahat Rafiei says she was too busy to answer any of the nine questions sent to her, writing “Sorry, on deadline for a city council meeting today and in the middle of homeschooling my kindergartener.”
Jonathan Brown of Sextant Strategies and Research of Claremont declined to say what he did for the Oceanside firefighters for his $25,000.