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Democratic Chair Says Ellis Broke Campaign Rules

The chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party alleged today that City Council candidate Ray Ellis violated campaign rules in his high-stakes race to unseat incumbent Sherri Lightner.

City Council District 1 candidate Ray Ellis.
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Above: City Council District 1 candidate Ray Ellis.

In a news conference, Jess Durfee said Ellis' campaign broke state and local campaign ordinances by allegedly conspiring with an independent political committee to create a video for cable television. He said he was preparing to file complaints with the District Attorney's Office, city of San Diego Ethics Commission and the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

If Ellis wins in the Nov. 6 general election, it will give Republicans a majority on the City Council for the first time in many years.

The panel is technically nonpartisan and its members cooperate on the vast majority of issues, but the visions of the mayoral candidates, Councilman Carl DeMaio and Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, could be advanced or impeded depending on the makeup of the group beginning in December.

Durfee said the campaign for Ellis produced seven videos in April that were uploaded to YouTube.

Earlier this month, a political organization called San Diego County Voters for Progress and Reform placed a video on cable television that included the same raw footage from the YouTube productions, according to Durfee.

"This is no small thing,'' Durfee said at a news conference. "It is illegal for a candidate and an independent expenditure committee to coordinate in any way -- that's why they're called independent committees.''

He said he wants the District Attorney's Office to seek a restraining order to keep the committee's production from being broadcast so that the election is not tainted.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ office would not confirm if that would happen, or if an investigation would take place.

She released this statement: "During an election cycle, it is not unusual for campaigns or political parties to make allegations to gain an advantage. While we take our responsibility to thoroughly investigate such allegations very seriously, at the same time we cannot allow the District Attorney's Office to be leveraged for political gain or be used as a political pawn."

The Ethics Commission and FPPC would act more slowly, after voting takes place.

Durfee said the committee also failed to report the source of $50,000 that paid for the cable air time, even though the donor reported it in a separate filing.

However, according to filings with the City Clerk's office, the committee turned in a notice on Tuesday that it received a donation of $25,000 from the California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee of Los Angeles and used it to buy television time.

"This is just a desperate partisan attack to distract voters from Sherri Lightner's abysmal record on the City Council,'' Matt Donnellan, Ellis' campaign spokesman, told City News Service.

The businessman and former San Diego City Employees Retirement System board member came out ahead of Lightner and two other candidates in the June primary election, but failed to win enough votes to avoid a runoff in District 1, in the northwestern part of the city.

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