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Late Spending Surge for 2 Candidates in Costa Mesa Race Denounced by 6 Others

Times Staff Writer

A last-minute surge in campaign spending for two Costa Mesa City Council candidates was attacked Sunday by six other hopefuls in Tuesday’s election race as a deceptive effort being waged by “shell” organizations.

The candidates also assailed what they called the injection of partisan politics into a nonpartisan race, including the endorsement of one candidate who is a registered Democrat by an Orange County Republican leader.

The major issue in the fiercely fought campaign, which has drawn 13 candidates for two seats available on the council, has been development. On one side are those who want to see the city’s growth slowed. On the other are those who see it as essential to community’s continued economic health.

During Sunday’s press conference at the Mesa Verde Country Club, it was mainly the efforts of development interests on behalf of council candidates Peter Buffa and Orville Amburgey that drew fire from the six candidates, who complained that their campaigns were being overshadowed in the battle between the major growth-issue opponents.

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Council candidate Michael Nutter displayed nine pieces of campaign mail that had been sent over the previous three days, a majority of them supporting Buffa and Amburgey. It is part of a blitz, he said, that will see as much as $100,000 spent in an 11th-hour effort to sway voters.

Candidates Charlene Johnson, Chris Steel, Michael Szkaradek, Marie Maples and Nicholas Bartlett also appeared at the joint news conference Sunday.

Just as important as the amount of money being injected into the campaign, the six candidates said, is the fact much of it is coming from what they termed “shell” organizations, which they charged Sunday have been created solely for this election.

Szkaradek pointed to a letter sent out by a group calling itself the Costa Mesa Apartment Owners Committee, which supports Buffa and Amburgey as opponents of rent control and requests donations to their campaigns. The committee’s bulk mailing permit number is the same as Amburgey’s, he said.

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Johnson singled out Citizens for a Better Costa Mesa, which had been active in the 1984 council elections, then remained dormant until being resurrected last August. The group, which has endorsed Buffa and Amburgey, uses the mailing address of a member of the Newport Harbor-Costa Mesa Board of Realtors, Johnson said.

Nutter charged that both organizations are “just a brand new source by which to funnel funds” to Buffa and Amburgey. Because the source of the campaign funds won’t be reported until after Tuesday’s election, Nutter said, the “public won’t know anything about it until the election is over and it’s too late.”

Bartlett said he wasn’t so much “opposed to the money that is being spent as to how it is being spent.”

Steel, meanwhile, focused on the part being played in the campaign by Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach). Steel claimed that Ferguson, who is not a resident of Costa Mesa and who represents only a small portion of the city, had earlier promised him he would not become involved.

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Both Buffa and Amburgey were endorsed by the Costa Mesa Republican Elections News, a publication paid for by the Free Market Political Action Committee, which lists Ferguson as its chairman. Another mailer sent out under Ferguson’s name also endorsed Buffa.

Ferguson, Steel said, is a conservative Republican like himself, while Buffa is a registered Democrat.

“To me that’s flat out deception,” Steel said. “Gil knows it. But he’s just letting himself be used. . . . I don’t like to be lied to. . . . Gil has no business getting involved in this.”

Neither Buffa nor Amburgey could be reached Sunday for comment.

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