Political attack dog or activist?
A conservative Chico political activist has riled some Nevada County people, who claim there are unethical political activities going on in the run up to the November election.
Described as a sort of Republican James Carville by adversaries in Butte County, Chico resident John Gillander has waged war there with environmentalists, development opponents, liberal candidates and other targets.
His ammunition is mailers, fliers passed out at meetings and Internet postings, often containing personal information.
Gillander’s radar has drifted south into Nevada County. He says he’s not working for local candidates, and none will admit to using his services. But he is making an impact.
Gillander’s work surfaced in the county in July when a message from “Bob Finch” popped into a number of e-mail boxes after supporters of 4th District Supervisor Elizabeth Martin tried to contact the sender of an anonymous mailing that upset many of her supporters, especially Michael Funk.
The mailer accused Funk of getting away with polluting the Yuba River view shed while contributing thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Martin and Bruce Conklin. Funk has a house near the South Yuba River valley and founded Mountain People’s Warehouse, an organic food distributor in Auburn.
“Is it any wonder his problems went away while six hundred other property owners were sent bills?” the mailer claimed.
Martin’s supporters wanted to find out who was behind the mailer that said she, Conklin and one other candidate had received $29,000 from Funk.
Campaign finance records show Funk donated $9,000 to Martin from October 2001 through this June, and $13,000 to Conklin during the same period.
Funk said he donated the money because he believes Conklin and Martin are the best choices in the current election to represent the people of this county.
While it didn’t have a return address or a name, the political mailer had an e-mail address, which Funk tried to contact. An investigator’s efforts to locate Finch were unsuccessful.
Funk’s attorney subpoenaed the Internet company in an attempt to learn more about Bob Finch after Funk filed a request for an anti-harassment injunction in Nevada County Superior Court.
Funk learned it was Gillander who was behind the e-mail.
“My attorney found the e-mail address that was on a political mailer was used not by a Bob Finch, but by a John Gillander,” said Funk. “I don’t know Gillander, and don’t know why he would be distributing mailers concerning myself.”
The U.S. Postal Service is also investigating anti-Funk mailings.
A July 19 letter filed with the Grass Valley postmaster by Richard Ellers, Funk’s attorney, asked for an investigation of mailers that depicted Funk in a negative manner.
The mailers violate postal rules and the California Fair Political Practices Act, and lack a return address and registration for bulk mailing, the letter alleges.
“The obvious purpose of these mailings is to intimidate individuals who may otherwise make campaign contributions,” said the letter.
Grass Valley Postmaster Richard Beress said he sent information to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service but declined to comment on the status of the investigation, other than to say it is ongoing.
“At this point, it has not been closed out. It’s still being investigated,” said Beress.
Gillander has fought back, filing a statement with the Fair Political Practice Commission alleging that Funk failed to file the appropriate reports for the donations.
Funk said he has filed the correct paperwork with the county and state.
“If you work hard and make some money in this country, you should be able to donate it to the candidate you support without being harassed,” said Funk.
Gillander’s barbs have also been directed at Rene Antonson, a 4th District write-in candidate.
People who received e-mails under the Finch pseudonym were given Antonson’s address and asked to donate to his campaign.
“We had to wait for the official announcement that will be in The Union tomorrow,” stated the July 15 e-mails – a day before Antonson said he would run.
Antonson said he doesn’t know anything about the e-mails or Gillander.
“I’m not involved with Gillander,” said Antonson. “I have no clue who this man is. I don’t know him personally. He’s called me a racist in the paper.”
At the same time as the e-mail, Gillander wrote letters published in The Union that accused Antonson of being a racist for criticizing 4th District supervisorial candidate Robin Sutherland and Indian gaming. Gillander wrote in the letter that he was responding to an e-mail from Antonson backer Calvin Clark.
“They informed me that I should not support Robin Sutherland because she is a member of the Auburn Indian Community,” wrote Gillander in a letter published July 23. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were telling me I should not support Mrs. Sutherland because she is an Indian. These would-be night riders were telling me that having, in some part, Native American heritage disqualified this lady from running for Nevada County supervisor.”
With the 4th District race in full swing, attention has focused on trying to make Gillander a campaign issue.
Martin has tried to link his mudslinging to Sutherland’s hiring of Chico political consulting firm Pillars and political consultant David Reade.
(Reade could not be reached for comment, and The Union couldn’t locate Pillars or identify any of its principals.)
“I have also heard a great deal of concern about Ms. Sutherland’s connection to Chico political consultants,” said Martin in response to a question directed at Sutherland during the Sept. 16 debate presented by the Penn Valley Community Association.
“We have now heard through the Nevada County media, subpoenaed court documents, that the Chico-based political consultants Pillars, who Sutherland paid thousands of dollars, has been found to send out unethical, illegal, anonymous mailings targeting me and my supporters. This information has been disclosed in the media. I think this is a very serious problem for you, Ms. Sutherland,” said Martin.
Sutherland responded that Reade worked for her campaign for probably six weeks to two months in fall 2001.
“He helped me write my candidate’s statement and helped me back then with fliers, and that’s it,” said Sutherland. Gillander also helped walk her through the FPPC procedures, she added in an interview.
Sutherland said she never hired Gillander. She said she met him in February at a Lincoln Day dinner and talked with him for about 10 minutes.
Sutherland said Gillander offered her words of encouragement, telling her not to get upset when something scathing comes out, and to hang in there.
She said the second time they met was at the Nevada County Fair, when he asked how she was doing.
Sutherland said all she knows about the Funk mailer is what she’s heard through the grapevine.
“Most of what I’ve heard about it, I’ve heard about from Antonson and Martin,” she said.
Sutherland said she didn’t tell Gillander to send the mailer. “I’m glad to say no one in my campaign committee has suggested such a thing. We’re taking the high road,” she said.
While Gillander declined to be interviewed, he did say in an e-mail to The Union that he is not a candidate and is not working on any campaign. “Any campaign statements that say otherwise are forgeries,” he wrote.
Some of Gillander’s targets in Chico say Gillander and Reade sometimes appeared to work together, though the targets are quick to point out there is no documentation connecting them, such as canceled checks.
“We have definitely seen that, definitely seen them work in concert on certain issues, hanging around,” said David Guzzetti, a slow-growth advocate and former Chico city councilman.
This is not the first time that Gillander has ruffled feathers.
His newsletter, Environmental Alert, got Chico residents so riled up in 2000 that some paid for an ad in the Chico Enterprise-Record denouncing his tactics.
Some said Gillander went too far with the newsletters when he showed people’s houses and addresses. Others supported his right to free speech.
Gillander’s Web site said the group he heads, Chico Committee for Environmental and Economic Balance, provides a common-sense perspective that gets buried under false calls for civility.
The site indicates he supports the Wise Use movement and property rights, and is an opponent of “runaway environmentalism.”
Guzzetti said Gillander rolled into Chico, latched on to its building industry, and became a driver for late Assemblyman Bernie Richter.
“He’s appeared in campaigns or agendas of building or conservative groups,” said Guzzetti. “He’s their attack dog. He will shake a little, say these outrageous things. He’s kind of the junior Rush Limbaugh.”
Gillander’s attacks have prompted the creation of an anti-Gillander support group among his victims, said Scott Gruendl, a Chico City Council candidate who has been the target of Gillander’s allegations.
“What’s happening in your neck of the woods is a good representation, which is going too far,” said Gruendl.
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