Web of deceit

Race for congressional seat gets dirty

Congressional candidate Sam Aanestad, pictured on this website, claims the campaign of his rival, Sen. Doug LaMalfa (pictured below), is responsible for the website that severely criticizes Aanestad.

Congressional candidate Sam Aanestad, pictured on this website, claims the campaign of his rival, Sen. Doug LaMalfa (pictured below), is responsible for the website that severely criticizes Aanestad.

Congressional candidate Sam Aanestad has charged that the campaign of his opponent for the 1st District seat and fellow Republican, state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, has violated federal disclosure laws and maybe even committed libel.

Aanestad, an oral surgeon from Grass Valley, says a website posted about a month ago questioning his professional background fails to disclose who is behind it. In a press release Tuesday (May 15) Aanestad said the site, Sam4Congress.com, which heavily criticized his record as a state assemblyman and senator, was paid for by LaMalfa’s campaign without proper disclosure. (The site has been taken down in recent days.)

“In a clear violation of federal campaign finance disclosure laws, and verified yesterday by release of official Internet registry documents, Doug LaMalfa’s congressional campaign registered and built a negative website about Sam Aanestad, then posted the site on the Internet while disclaiming its contents to link with another candidate in the race, Republican Michael Dacquisto,” the release says. “The website, www.Sam4Congress.com, violates a number of campaign finance laws, including several illegal independent expenditures and conspiracy to improperly disclaim a federal campaign website.”

When first posted the site, which includes less-than-flattering photos of Aanestad, carried a disclaimer that said it was from a group called “Free Thinkers for D’Acquisto.”

Dacquisto, an attorney in Redding, is another Republican candidate in the eight-member race for retiring Rep. Wally Herger’s seat. He said he had nothing to do with the website.

“Yeah, Sam Aanestad called me several weeks ago and said somebody had a website up, and he basically said he was not happy,” Dacquisto said in a phone interview the day of the press release. “I told him I don’t do that, and he said, ‘I believe you.’ They didn’t even spell my name right.”

The Aanestad campaign filed a lawsuit to try to determine who was behind the site and subpoenaed records from its host, Wix.com. On Monday (May 14) the campaign released the records, which show the site was registered on April 18 by Mark Spannagel, LaMalfa’s chief of staff and campaign manager.

The next day LaMalfa consultant Dave Gilliard released this statement via email: “Neither Doug LaMalfa, nor the LaMalfa campaign, had any knowledge or involvement in the construction or posting of the website in question, which just came to our attention this morning.”

It also added this disclaimer about the role of humor in politics: “Political satire has a long history in American politics, something that thin-skinned candidates, or those trying to hide their record, sometimes have trouble fully appreciating.”

Gilliard did not return a call asking about Spannagel’s role in matter, but told The Sacramento Bee that Spannagel is working for LaMalfa’s campaign “on a part-time basis.”

Dacquisto said Aanestad originally brought up the subject durng a candidates’ debate in Chester on May 4. At the time, he said, Aanestad asked about it and Dacquisto assured him he wasn’t behind it. LaMalfa’s only comment on the matter, Dacquisto said, was that he was not in favor of dirty politics.

“This means either he’s lying or he has no idea what his chief of staff is doing, and I don’t know which is worse,” Dacquisto said. “And who’s paying the chief of staff to do this? The taxpayers?”

At a press conference held outside of LaMalfa’s vacant Redding office, Aanestad pointed to the information his Grass Valley attorney, Barry Pruett, had received via the subpoena, according to a story in the Redding Record Searchlight.

“That shows a direct link to the LaMalfa campaign and the kind of deceitful, dishonest tactics they will go to win this election,” he said. “If they’re going to be deceitful and dishonest now, you wait until he’s entrenched as a congressman when no one can touch him.”

Dacquisto echoed those words.

“It is worse than disappointing,” he said. “It is despicable. I would never use someone’s name without their permission, and these kinds of hardball activities are an example of politics as usual, and it’s not what the voters want. Doug LaMalfa should fire anyone who was involved in this in any way, shape or form.”

He questioned LaMalfa’s claims of ignorance about the matter.

“If Doug LaMalfa didn’t say to his chief of staff, ‘Get Dacquisto’s name off of there,’ wouldn’t you think he would at least ask the guy, ‘What are they talking about? Why is this out there?’ And then the chief of staff would either say, ‘Oh it’s nothing,’ or he would tell him the truth.”

At some point the disclaimer on the website changed from “Free Thinkers for D’Acquisto” to “100% TRUE, 100% VERIFIABLE, 100 % POLITICAL SATIRE.”

An early posting questioned Aanestad’s professional background.

“FYI Sam Aanestad is not an ‘Oral Surgeon’ or ‘Doctor’ as he claims,” it says. “He is only licensed as a dentist, did not to go medical school and does not have an MD. How important is this? Not very except as evidence of a long and deliberate habit of misleading voters of the district.”

A later posting includes this message: “From opposing keeping hardened murders [sic] and gang members behind bar [sic] for life to granting taxpayer financed financial aid to illegal immigrants, Sam Aanestad isn’t the Principled Conservative he claims.”

Spannagel and David Reade, LaMalfa’s chief of staff when he was an assemblyman, have both run afoul of the California Republican Assembly for their campaign tactics.

Last July the CRA Board of Directors kicked Spannagel and Reade out of the conservative group after they were accused of manipulating the assembly to get its endorsement of Mitt Romney in the 2008 presidential primary. Reade is currently Assemblyman Jim Nielsen’s chief of staff.

Reade was expelled from the CRA for 10 years and Spannagel for five.

Aanestad backer Jim Ledgerwood, a local long-time activist in the Republican Party, said he too was disappointed by the news.

“I’ve been around for a while, and I’ve never seen anything this dirty,” he said.