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Adams says he welcomes review of campaign

June Casagrande

Councilman Gary Adams said he welcomes a review by the district

attorney’s office and hopes the scrutiny will clear him of wrongdoing

in an incident of phony campaign telephone messages.

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Adams also said he will propose tightening the city’s campaign

rules to require all scripts for recorded campaign messages to be

submitted to the city clerk’s office.

“I think that could go a long way toward preventing something like

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this from happening again the future,” Adams said.

Adams, along with former campaign manager Dave Ellis, is the

subject of a complaint filed with the district attorney’s office

alleging misleading and possibly fraudulent campaigning in the 2002

council election.

In the District 4 race, some Newport Beach households received a

phone message containing wrong information about candidates. The

message purported to be on behalf of candidate Ron Winship and

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described Winship as a Greenlight candidate.

Ellis later admitted having created the phone message, but said he

never authorized distributing it. Adams has contended he did not know

about the message and he has denounced the tactic.

“I say, come on and investigate to the fullest. I knew nothing

about it. I have nothing to hide,” Adams said. “I told Dave from the

first day to run a clean campaign and that there would be no

exceptions. Why he would think I would approve of or even consider

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approving of anything like this is beyond my imagination.”

Greenlight leaders think the message was designed by the Adams

camp to confuse Greenlight supporters, thereby diverting votes from

their real candidate, Rick Taylor.

Ellis did not respond to phone and e-mail messages left Friday and

Monday.

Adams said he would welcome the district attorney’s office to look

through any documents, computer drives or other property relevant to

the matter.

It remains unclear, though, what the legal ramifications of the

review could be. A representative of the district attorney’s office

said she could not comment on the case or even on broader legal

issues surrounding the complaint.

Mark Petracca, political science chair at UC Irvine, said that the

phony message likely didn’t break any election laws. Though it’s

possible that it could fall under regulations of the Federal

Communications Commission, Petracca said that there is little in

criminal or even civil law that could serve as legal recourse for the

Greenlight Committee.

“What you’ve stumbled into here is the corruption that is Orange

County politics -- no one’s going to go after [Ellis],” said

Petracca, who described Ellis as a “mercenary who works for the

highest bidder.”

Courts have a long history of being reluctant to allow candidates

to sue each other over campaign falsehoods, Petracca said.

Even if a judge did hear the case, the plaintiff’s task would be a

hard one. Among other things, they would have to prove they were

substantially damaged by the falsehoods. Voting outcomes show that

even if all of Winship’s votes had gone to Taylor, Adams would still

have won the election.

“This is the kind of stuff which, in and of itself, isn’t all that

consequential., Did this make or break the outcome of the election?”

Petracca said. “But taken cumulatively, it shows a profound disregard

for the integrity of the electoral process.”

* JUNE CASAGRANDE covers Newport Beach and John Wayne Airport.

She may be reached at (949) 574-4232 or by e-mail at

june.casagrande@latimes.com.


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