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East County Supervisor Race Has Become A Battle Royale Of Attack Mailers

Campaign mailers sent about former state Assemblyman Joel Anderson and Poway ...

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: Campaign mailers sent about former state Assemblyman Joel Anderson and Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, who are running for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 2 seat, Oct. 27, 2020.

It might not be the most high-profile race on the ballot, but in terms of attack ads few can beat the race between Republicans Steve Vaus and Joel Anderson to represent District 2 on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

The attacks run the gamut from claims of unpaid taxes and campaign finance shenanigans to barroom expletives and accusations of stealing money meant for sick children.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

KPBS checked out some of the claims and found the following:

Photo by Claire Trageser

A campaign mailer sent about former state Assemblyman Joel Anderson, who is running for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 2 seat, Oct. 27, 2020.

Claim that Anderson 'shouted insults' at a lobbyist

Vaus, who is the mayor of Poway, is sending a mailer claiming that "after an evening of drinking with Sacramento lobbyists," Anderson, a state assemblyman, "shouted insults at a Black woman."

It goes on to say that restaurant staff "physically intervened to protect the woman" and that Anderson was disciplined by the legislature for "threatening violence against a woman."

These claims refer to a 2018 incident that resulted in Stephanie Roberson, a lobbyist with the California Nurses Association, filing a complaint with the Senate Rules Committee. A legislative investigation found Anderson got upset with Roberson and likely said "I oughta bitch slap you," or something similar.

A staff member at the restaurant, the Diplomat Steakhouse, confirmed to The Los Angeles Times that restaurant staff removed Anderson from the bar.

"I did not do that," Anderson told KPBS last week. "There were people that said I didn't do it, but they were discounted. I swore in a bar, I shouldn't have swore in a bar, she took offense to it, because she applied it to herself which it wasn't meant to be, and I apologize for that."

Photo by Claire Trageser

A campaign mailer sent about former state Assemblyman Joel Anderson, who is running for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 2 seat, Oct. 27, 2020.

Claim that Anderson failed to pay $50,000 in taxes

Another Vaus mailer says Anderson "failed to pay over $50,000 in taxes resulting in numerous state and federal tax liens."

This claim goes back to 1998, when The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Anderson at the time had "$50,000 in unpaid state and federal business taxes." Anderson acknowledged the debt to the newspaper and said it was due to a two-year illness.

Claim that Anderson 'laundered $150,000'

The mailer also says Anderson "laundered $150,000 into his campaign bank account. He was fined $20,000 and forced to return $150,000 in illegal contributions."

In 2008, Anderson was fined $20,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission for taking campaign contributions above the legal limit and returned $150,000 in disputed contributions.

Anderson told KPBS last week that the fine wasn't for "money laundering" as the mailer claims.

"As far as money laundering, that's a felony and you go to jail," he said. "So saying that I money laundered is false. Patently false."

Photo by Claire Trageser

A campaign mailer sent about Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, who is running for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 2 seat, Oct. 27, 2020.

Claim that Vaus 'took money donated to help children'

Anderson's campaign has sent several mailers claiming Vaus used "a shell non-profit to generate over $100,000 in income for himself that was meant for Rady Children's Hospital even after the IRS revoked its non-profit status."

This claim refers to an annual benefit concert for Rady’s Vaus puts on called Carols by Candlelight. In order for donations to the event to be tax deductible, Vaus partnered with a 501(c)3 nonprofit that acts as a "fiscal agent." Such arrangements are common, according to the National Council of Nonprofits.

For years, Vaus used the nonprofit 4Community Solutions as the fiscal agent for the concert. The IRS did indeed revoke the organization’s nonprofit status in 2019 after it failed to file tax returns for the years 2016-2018, meaning there are no public records of its involvement with the concerts during those years.

However, there is also no evidence that Vaus took the money that was meant to go to Rady's. Every year, Vaus presents a giant novelty check to Rady's with amounts above $50,000, and a spokesman for the hospital confirmed Vaus has donated $271,000 in the last five years.

4Community Solutions's tax returns from 2015 show it spent $48,046 on Carols by Candlelight and do not show any payments to Vaus or his company, Steve Vaus Productions.

Photo by Claire Trageser

A campaign mailer sent about Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, who is running for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 2 seat, Oct. 27, 2020.

Claim that Vaus gave himself a raise

Another Anderson mailer claims Vaus "voted to give himself a pay raise."

In 2016, the Poway City Council voted to increase their salaries, in the mayor's case from $1,467 a month to $1,871 a month. They noted the pay for the part-time job had not been increased in eight years. Vaus put the item on a council agenda and supported the idea in a non-voting council workshop, but then recused himself from the actual vote.

Claim that Vaus voted against veterans' housing project

Another mailer claims Vaus "cast the deciding vote against a Habitat for Humanity project that would have helped veterans."

In 2016, Vaus along with two other councilmen voted against a 22-unit project that was meant to provide affordable housing to veterans. At the time, Vaus said he was voting against the project because the California Department of Veterans Affairs was no longer funding it.

He said the lack of state funding meant there was no guarantee that the project would be for veterans housing and it would cost too much for too little housing, requiring the city to give Habitat for Humanity the $1 million property and spend an additional $800,000.

Vaus explained his vote to KPBS last week.

"When (the state) withdrew, that took away the opportunity for it to be veterans' housing," Vaus said. "Nobody in Sacramento did anything to help to get them back in. We tried hard. But it was not veterans' housing at the point that we voted against it, and I would vote the same way today."

In response to the vote, Habitat for Humanity sent a letter saying the funding gap always existed and the council never intended to vote for the project.

Election 2020 news coverage

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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