Former Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh took exception last week to campaign mailers sent out by his chief opponent in the 48th Congressional District race, incumbent Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa).
"They are just making stuff up and throwing it out to see what sticks," Baugh said of the accusations made about him in the fliers.
Rohrabacher's campaign hasn't responded to my questions about the assertions.
But Baugh isn't letting this go.
On April 23, he wrote to OC GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker, requesting "an ethics investigation into the false, misleading, defamatory and distorted information used by Dana Rohrabacher's campaign committee and Congressman Rohrabacher himself."
The letter explains Baugh's complaints about Rohrabacher's mailers, which accuse him of being pro-amnesty and supported by "Never Trumpers." Neither claim is true.
"If the lies in Rohrabacher's mail were sent out against a favored Republican, the OCGOP would issue swift rebuke and condemn the liars," Baugh says. "The OCGOP cannot have a double standard when applying ethics by applying a harsh standard to challengers and ignoring the lies of incumbents. Otherwise the party would lose credibility.
"At a minimum, I expect that Chairman Whitaker make certain the lies are stopped. As far as punishment, the OCGOP has options of admonition, reprimand, censure and even withdrawing an endorsement."
Also on April 23, Baugh signed another letter to Whitaker along with over a dozen OC Republican Central Committee members, including state Sens. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), school choice advocate Mark Bucher and Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Will O'Neill.
Newport council members Diane Dixon and Kevin Muldoon and Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer also signed.
"We write to request that you take immediate action to stop the Rohrabacher (for) Congress campaign from distributing false information about Scott Baugh, chairman emeritus the Republican Party of Orange County," their letter stated.
The group defended Baugh as a Republican leader, saying he served the party "faithfully for decades," walking precincts on behalf of candidates, volunteering and raising "more money (exceeding $20 million) for Republican candidates throughout Orange County and the entire country" — more than any other volunteer in OCGOP history.
In closing, they acknowledged that the party endorsed Rohrabacher before Baugh entered the race, but that "endorsement cannot be used as an umbrella to allow incumbents to engage in false and negative campaigning," they wrote.
"These false accusations and negative campaigning tactics reflect poorly on each of us — especially when done by one of our endorsed candidates," the letter stated.
I asked Dixon why she signed.
"I do not support a race to the bottom (or) campaign mudslinging," she said.
And though she hasn't endorsed anyone in this race, she does support "Baugh's effort to run a campaign based on facts and important issues."
Seeing signatures from the likes of Muldoon, O'Neill and Dixon seemed a bit hypocritical of them. They've all used Newport political consultant Dave Ellis, a guy not known for pulling punches in campaigns. And I should know: When I ran for Newport Beach City Council in 2006 one of my opponents used Ellis, who sent out fact-bending mailers about me. I asked Ellis to comment for this column, but he declined.
I asked Dixon about her Ellis connection; she wasn't ready to talk about it.
"We are all big boys and know that campaigns can get nasty," Baugh says. "That has gone on since before the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Candidates often distort and stretch the truth, but there is a bright line that cannot be sanctioned when the candidate is lying about his opponent."
But isn't that splitting hairs? Truth isn't meant to be distorted or stretched.
Now, I agree with Baugh that this practice needs to end. And I'm glad notable elected officials are taking a stand.
But you can't complain about these tactics one minute and belly up to the bar with those who've perpetrated the practice the next.
Baugh recently added former Anaheim blogger Matthew Cunningham to his PR team. Cunningham's had his own go-around with controversy.
In 2013 he published a photo of a defaced teddy bear next to a Virgin of Guadalupe candle, which he says was misrepresented by the media as mimicking a "memorial shrine Latino families place at the locations where their sons and brothers have been shot by police." It sparked outrage.
Cunningham says that wasn't the intent of his blog post and tried to correct the story with reporters, telling them it was a satirical moment gone wrong, one which he regretted, and that he never intended to offend Latinos — his wife is Mexican — and would never do that.
He feels his political enemies helped perpetuate the damaging narrative, which cost him dearly financially and personally and remains a painful chapter.
Whatever side of the mudslinging you're on, this negative political culture has been allowed to fester for decades, not only within the O.C. Republican Party but the Democratic Party as well.
Can Baugh be the instrument of change within his party, forcing the establishment to re-evaluate its definition of the "truth" and ethical behavior?
If he succeeds, it's a game-changer.