House of cards, part II
Congressional candidate Roza Calderon and wannabe political player Paul Smith pile deceit upon denial
While watching Maroon 5 perform at BottleRock, a Napa Valley music festival in late May, Roza Calderon snapped a photo and uploaded it to her Instagram page, @ElectRoza2018. The post urged festivalgoers to “say hello to the future Congresswoman of [California’s Fourth District]” who was “enjoying the sun and the amazing line-up.”
Bank records show that Calderon, a geoscientist whose run for the U.S. House of Representatives marks her entry into politics, paid for her tickets to the festival with money from the treasury of the Placer Women Democrats—a group organizing against the incumbent congressman, Tom McClintock. The $790 that paid for the festival tickets was part of nearly $1,900 in allegedly embezzled funds, which Calderon later returned to the organization, where she had served as volunteer treasurer.
Calderon returned the money after the group’s leaders accused her of repeatedly using the organization’s credit card for her personal use—bank records show that the BottleRock tickets and multiple other unapproved purchases were charged to that card. PWD’s current treasurer Sharleen Finn, a professional accountant, claimed that Calderon disguised 19 purchases, avoided meetings with the group’s board members and failed to provide more than “two or three” receipts for five months’ worth of expenditures.
“We find Ms. Calderon’s actions, denials, and falsehoods a sad betrayal of trust to those she purported to serve,” read a statement provided by the PWD board.
Calderon did not reply to numerous requests for comment until press time, when she emailed a statement calling the PWD’s charges “allegations made up or manipulated to seem serious or truthful.”
She responded directly to several of the allegations. She said the festival tickets “were mistakenly applied to the PWD credit card because of an error in Apple Pay. The charges posted to the wrong account after a lengthy delay. When the error was discovered, there was never any question about payment.
“The bulk of the remaining expenses were for operational costs of the club. It became impossible, however, to deal with the PWD board on these issues because they stopped communicating with me and leveled personal attacks.”
Finn, who said she and Calderon had been friends before any of this, said it is impossible for Calderon’s account to be true. After she left the organization, Calderon asked Finn to be the treasurer for both her campaign and PWD, Finn said. Finn said she didn’t feel politically experienced enough to join Calderon’s campaign and so declined the invitation. But PWD’s board soon approved her as the treasurer. When Finn reviewed the club’s finances, she said she discovered that Calderon had made unapproved purchases, then entered the expenses into the accounting system under false names.
“When a transaction comes into the accounting system, it’s not set up for any sort of category yet,” Finn said. “You have to give it a category. She went in and gave it a category, which means it wasn’t an accident.”
According to bank records, Calderon started using the card on January 17. By the time she left her position as PWD’s treasurer, members say, Calderon had spent nearly half their account at her own discretion on gasoline, movie downloads and other items. She also made out a $409.33 check to herself and entered the charge into the accounting system as payment for “GoDaddy” and “meals and entertainment,” according to PWD.
The organization alleged that after Calderon avoided meetings with board members for weeks, PWD sent her a demand letter with these conditions: send a check for $1,871.81 and remove any mention of PWD from her campaign page—particularly the listing of herself as a co-founder, as the group had been founded before Calderon joined. Calderon eventually refunded the amount to Finn and deleted any connection to PWD from her campaign website.
Calderon said the fact that she paid the money does not prove that she had taken it. “I grew tired and frustrated by the situation and decided to write a check to the club and be done with it.,” she said. “I know it cost me money I shouldn’t have had to pay, but writing a check and getting rid of the negativity and backbiting and hurt feelings was a great personal decision.”
“She was crying as she was giving me the check, crying on my shoulder,” said Finn. “And in my head I was going, ’Oh my god, I’m being played, and I’m falling for it.’ It tears me up. I want to care about her, but she plays you. She’s really good at it.”
Although they’re yet to officially endorse anyone, PWD said they continue to support female candidates who will run against McClintock, whom they believe is vulnerable to losing his seat during the 2018 election, despite winning 63 percent of the vote in 2016.
Since the election, Congressional District 4 has seen an upsurge in activism. Calderon’s primary opponents include national security strategist Jessica Morse and MIT political science professor Regina Bateson, both of whom have raised tens of thousands of dollars, marshaled dozens of campaign volunteers and earned national media coverage.
On October 24, PWD will be hosting a candidate debate in Rocklin. Calderon is not invited.
Placer Women Democrats members say they couldn’t reach Calderon just weeks into her tenure because she had shifted her efforts to co-found another political group, the Indivisible Citizens of California’s Fourth District, along with Paul Smith, a novice activist and former Apple marketer.
In its name, and in statements on its website and social media, ICA-04 continues to present itself as part of the nationwide Indivisible movement. In fact, the Indivisible Guide threw Smith’s group out back in June. (See “The divider,” July 20).
Calderon left ICA-04 when she declared her candidacy because its bylaws state that no candidate for office can be a board member. But in June, Calderon returned to ICA-04 after Smith ignited the controversy that got the group banished by the national Indivisible Guide. The 10 remaining ICA-04 board members resigned and started another group, the CD-4 Indivisible Network, which is backed by the national organization.
Soon after Calderon started working with ICA-04 again, the group began posting links to events, donation pages and positive news coverage of Calderon’s campaign. Smith faced accusations that he was using ICA-04 to further Calderon’s candidacy, in violation of its mandate to remain neutral regarding political races. Responding to the criticism, Smith emailed SN&R that the group’s “equitable” treatment of each candidate was critical to it remaining “viable.”
On the first article SN&R wrote about ICA-04 in July, an anonymous commenter claimed that Smith and Calderon were romantically linked, making it difficult for him to remain impartial. Shortly thereafter, Smith drafted an email for the former board members of ICA-04 to send to SN&R characterizing his and Calderon’s relationship.
Smith offered to repair their fractured relationship if the board members stood behind this statement: “Paul and Roza were, if nothing else, good friends. Whether or not they had a romantic relationship is unknown to everyone on the team. I’ve had my suspicions, as have the others, but we really don’t know. They did, and apparently continue to spend a good amount of time together.”
Also in the preface, Smith called the resigned members of the board “magnificent assholes,” and then issued a threat: “Don’t do it by the end of the day tomorrow, and [SN&R’s] story will get a LOT more interesting.”
Smith directed them to forward any follow-up questions from SN&R to him, so that he could draft their responses. They all declined this arrangement.
Meanwhile, SN&R was contacted by a woman with evidence that Smith and Calderon were romantically linked. The woman, who asked for anonymity, said that she was also involved with Smith. The woman sent screenshots of multiple text conversations with Smith, in which he goes into detail about the relationship.
Calderon sent SN&R an email that opened with two intriguing hypotheticals.
“IF, ICA-04, the group I co-founded and worked very hard to build, was created to elevate my profile as a candidate, what would be wrong with that?” she wrote. “IF, I were dating Paul, a divorced man, what is wrong with that?”
When asked, Calderon didn’t answer her own questions.
On June 17, Calderon held a campaign event explicitly “sponsored by” the San-Francisco-based social media startup company SayBubble, which purports to “power communities of action.” Jerome Naidoo, SayBubble’s CEO, hosted the event and made a pitch to Calderon’s supporters about his company after being introduced as a man who had given a “hefty donation” to her campaign.
“If SayBubble is paying for the cost of a fundraising event for a federal candidate, which is open to the general public, then it would be making a prohibited corporate contribution,” said campaign finance lawyer Carol Laham of Wiley Rein LLP.
According to FEC filings, the CEO gave the maximum individual contribution: $2,700—although, for whatever reason, his name is listed as “Maidoo” on the forms.
Calderon says she refunded Naidoo’s contribution “[b]ecause it was important to me that there was not even a hint of a conflict of interest.” If true, that refund will appear on the FEC report that comes out on October 15.
Back in late June, Smith had emailed SN&R saying he hoped to turn his ICA-04 leadership position into “gainful employment.” A month later, Smith announced the organization would start a partnership with SayBubble.