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Wealthy GOP candidate for California lieutenant governor is sued by his campaign advisors

Wealthy GOP candidate for California lieutenant governor is sued by his campaign advisors
A still from a Cole Harris campaign ad. (Cole Harris campaign)

A wealthy Republican businessman from San Marino who finished third in the California lieutenant governor’s race during the June primary is in a legal and financial dispute with a campaign consultant after his failure to make the general election.

Cole Harris, who received attention for social media posts showing him posing on a yacht, in front of a private jet and with exotic cars and expensive French wine, received 17.5% of the vote in the 12-person June 5 primary. He was sued last month in Los Angeles County Superior Court by a Florida-based political consulting company, Majority Strategies, which alleges breach of contract and fraud by Harris and his campaign. The lawsuit accuses Cole of failing to pay $420,000.

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“Harris consistently and deliberately misrepresented his ability to raise and provide Majority Strategies with the necessary funds to run a campaign that would result in success in the California Lt. Governor primary and Harris’ goal of increased name identification statewide,” the lawsuit says.

Harris, the CEO of a private investment firm, said he has retained an attorney to fight the lawsuit.

“At the end of the day, they made promises that they didn’t keep,” Harris said of the campaign consultant firm. “It’s not a matter of me not wanting to pay them. It’s just a matter of I’m standing up for integrity.”

Harris put $2.2 million of his own money into his first campaign for statewide office. But the lawsuit alleges Harris told his campaign consultant that he was prepared to put up $10 million or more for the campaign before he scaled it back, leaving the effort “severely undercapitalized.”

“In an attempt to demonstrate his wealth, Harris boasted about the $10,000 Hermes belt he had recently acquired, and other expensive items he owned, such as his Lamborghini and private aircraft,” the lawsuit says, adding that he assured the consulting firm he could raise $100 million from friends and business associates.

The lawsuit seeks to hold Harris personally liable for the financial obligation, though his attorney has argued the candidate cannot be sued for the campaign’s debts.

“Mr. Harris should never have been named as a defendant in this lawsuit,” said Reed Aljian, his attorney. “The claims against him are baseless. We look forward to litigating these issues, and we anticipate he will be discharged from the lawsuit in due course."

Harris received the endorsement of the California Republican Party but placed third behind two Democrats on June 5. Primary rules allow the top two vote-getters to advance to the November general election.

Democrat Eleni Kounalakis, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary, was elected Nov. 6 as the next lieutenant governor, a job with few duties that pays $146,854 annually but is seen as a potential stepping stone to being governor. She and her father, a Sacramento real estate developer, provided almost $13 million to her campaign.

The lieutenant governor serves as a University of California regent, a trustee of the California State University, a member of the State Lands Commission and as chair of the state Commission for Economic Development. The person holding the post also serves as acting governor when the actual governor is out of the state.

Harris’ most recent campaign finance filing with the state indicates his campaign ended in June with $1.1 million in outstanding debts and $38,000 in the bank after spending $3.5 million on the race.

The lawsuit says Majority Strategies senior national strategist Chris Faulkner was senior advisor to the Harris campaign and that part of the goal was to increase name recognition so Harris could run for office again in the future.

In September, an unknown person changed Harris’ campaign website to post, “Cole Harris owes his campaign vendors and employees at least $1.1 million dollars in unpaid bills,” according to nonprofit news organization CALmatters. The website has since been taken down, as were Instagram photos of him posing with a Rolls-Royce and other exotic cars.

Despite the legal battle, Harris indicated California voters may not have seen the last of him.

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“I am keeping my options open,” Harris told The Times. “I’m still seeing how the lay of the land is, but I am very interested in still running.”

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