Shots fired

Doug LaMalfa’s congressional campaign makes serious allegations against challenger Joe Montes

Joe Montes is fired up about his opponet’s negative campaigning.

Joe Montes is fired up about his opponet’s negative campaigning.

CN&R file photo

The image is a silhouette of a man’s head and shoulders. The font is reminiscent of warning labels on packs of cigarettes. At the bottom, in big yellow letters, the flier reads: “Who is Joe Montes?”

Many North State voters recently found such dramatic reading material in their mailboxes courtesy of District 1 Rep. Doug LaMalfa. Inside the glossy, four-page pamphlet, readers are told that Montes is an outsider from Washington who’s backed by a “dark money super PAC,” spreads lies about LaMalfa on TV and radio and has a history of working for fraudulent employers. “Don’t be a victim of a Candidate Con!” it says on the back page.

For Montes personally, it was quite a nastygram to receive at his home in Chico. “I got one, too,” he said by phone. “They weren’t smart enough to remove me from the mailing list.”

If nothing else, the mailer is a sign that the race to represent the 1st Congressional District is heating up heading into the June 7 primary election. The top two vote-getters will run against each other in the general election in November. Montes intends to unseat LaMalfa, a fellow Republican.

There’s big money involved, too According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), LaMalfa’s campaign has raised $422,698, compared with $125,790 raised by Montes.

In his ads, Montes criticizes the incumbent congressman’s policies and voting record—including sending North State water resources south and approving federal farm subsidies. Conversely, Montes says that LaMalfa’s camp is attacking his personal integrity with misleading and fabricated claims.

“What do you do when you have a record you can’t defend? You attack the character of the person who’s beating you,” Montes said. “He’s lying to the public in an attempt to salvage his failing campaign.”

Take the assertion that Montes is a “Washington transplant,” which suggests that Montes is an establishment insider from Washington, D.C. Not so. Montes, 61, was born, raised and went to college in Northern California. He served as an administrative law judge in Washington (state) before moving to Chico a few years ago. And he’s never held political office.

Then there are the claims of fraud. The flier says that Montes worked for the “office of a Washington lawyer suspended by the Washington Bar Association for committing fraud on two occasions.”

“I never worked for a law office other than my own,” said Montes, adding that the law firm in question happened to share the same building as his. “It had nothing to do with me.”

Indeed, a search of Montes’ record with the Washington State Bar Association reveals no disciplinary history whatsoever.

LaMalfa points to something more substantial regarding the political action committee running ads critical of the incumbent congressman and supportive of Montes. To date, voters have been in the dark on money the Restore America Super PAC is spending. A call to the FEC’s press office in Washington, D.C., confirmed that Restore America hasn’t filed any expenditure reports since forming on April 25.

But, again, that’s not directly associated with Montes. Federal law requires that political campaigns and PACs are run independently and don’t collude on strategy. Any wrongdoing on the part of Restore America, therefore, doesn’t fall at his feet.

“I have not worked with the super PAC,” Montes said. “We’ve drawn clear lines about having discussions of how I’m organizing my campaign. I refuse to go down that road.”

Who is, as LaMalfa’s flier put it, the “dark money donor” behind Restore America? Turns out it’s Wayne Cook, the 73-year-old real estate mogul who owns the Hotel Diamond and AAA Properties in downtown Chico. He’s been a friend and mentor to Montes since coaching him in wrestling in the early 1970s at Truckee High School. When Montes moved to Chico about three years ago, Cook hired him as general manager of AAA Properties. He currently rents a house to Montes and his wife, Cindy.

Cook is running the Restore America Super PAC with local businessmen Tim Tittle, owner of tax preparation service Tittle and Co. LLP, and attorney and realtor Michael McCrady. Cook and Thomas Dauterman, owner of Thomas Manufacturing Co., have poured a total of $110,000 into Restore America, Cook said.

“There is nothing dark about us or our money,” he said. “We’re not these mysterious figures working in the background. When we put money in this PAC, we were very aware it was going to be recorded publicly.”

This is the first time Cook has been directly involved with a political campaign, and he’s shocked by the “sleazy crap” coming out of LaMalfa’s camp.

“Call me naïve, call me ignorant, but I am stunned at the degree of dishonesty and misrepresentation that LaMalfa and his advisers would dare put forth,” he said. The flier, he added, “is the ugliest piece of propaganda I have ever seen in the United States.”

In a separate, similar flier, LaMalfa’s camp says that Montes’ campaign has an illegal working relationship with Restore America based on the claim that the super PAC’s headquarters are in the same building as Montes’ office with AAA Properties.

“This is circumstantial evidence suggesting they’re in close coordination with each other,” said David Gilliard, a campaign consultant for LaMalfa. “It’s all very suspicious.”

However, the FEC’s website lists Restore America’s headquarters under the address of Tittle’s office on The Esplanade—not AAA Properties at 331 Wall St., where the Montes for Congress Committee is headquartered.

Regarding LaMalfa’s accusations of the super PAC withholding campaign spending reports, Cook admits no wrongdoing beyond being a political neophyte. The FEC doesn’t have expense reports on file because Cook and company missed the first deadline to do so. “It was a gaffe, but nothing intentional,” he said. “We’ll make every deadline from now on.”