Who funded a last-minute robo-call slamming Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky?
Two weeks after the election, the person or group behind the calls remains a mystery.
That's because the name of the group that said it paid for the calls, the "Anybody But Wysocky Committee," hasn't filed any documentation required under state or city campaign finance laws.
The episode is the latest example of how the increasing use of automated telephone calls in local political races is creating opportunities for negative messages to be disseminated cheaply, anonymously and perhaps in violation of existing campaign finance laws.
"I think it actually does make a difference and the public deserves to know who is generating those calls," said Stephen Gale, head of the Sonoma County Democratic Party.
State law requires independent expenditure committees raising $1,000 or more for local races to report their donors and activities and to the Santa Rosa City Clerk. City campaign finance laws are even stricter, requiring any committee spending more than $500 to file detailed reports with the clerk, in some cases within 24 hours of the expenditure.
The laws are designed to combat corruption by ensuring transparency in the political process. But Santa Rosa City Clerk Terri Griffin says her office has received no such disclosures from an "Anybody But Wysocky Committee."
That tells Wysocky, who came in fourth and will retain his City Council seat, that whoever paid for the calls not only wanted to hurt him politically, but sought to do so anonymously.
"Someone is violating the law," Wysocky said this week.
The situation is reminiscent of the recent calls against Cotati-Rohnert Park school board member Karyn Pulley.
Veteran Santa Rosa political consultant Herb Williams arranged those calls for a client known only as Parents for Better Schools. Because they cost less than $1,000, Williams said his client has no obligation to report their identity or donors.
Williams was actively involved in using robo-calls in the Santa Rosa City Council race, including calls made for his client Mayor Ernesto Olivares, who came in first in the race for four open seats, and restaurateur Don Taylor, who finished fifth.
But Williams said he wasn't involved in the Anybody But Wysocky Committee calls and has no idea who was. Taylor's political consultant, Rob Muelrath, and Nick Caston, the husband and political consultant for third-place finisher Erin Carlstrom, both said the same thing.
Caston said polls showed Carlstrom "solidly in the top four," so it would make no sense for her to attack Wysocky, with whom she agrees on many issues. The 29-year-old attorney received 296 votes more than Wysocky.
"There was no strategic value for Erin for Gary getting attacked," Caston said.
The calls, which were made to an unknown number of households in the weekend prior to the Nov. 6 election, were critical of Wysocky on several fronts.
One claimed that Wysocky refused to help the city when he rejected Olivares' offer to serve on the Mayor's Economic Competitiveness Task Force.
Wysocky called this a "half truth" and said he had hoped to serve on the Mayor's Pension Reform Task Force, given his interest in the subject and experience as a CPA. But when Olivares would not appoint him to that board, Wysocky declined to join the Economic Competitiveness Task Force, noting that the council already had an economic subcommittee.