The California Apartment Association has filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) alleging that Mountain View resident Gary Wesley illegally coordinated with City Council candidates in distributing an election flyer to renters in the city.
Candidates swiftly denied any involvement in the flyer, and Wesley said he acted on his own and did not violate the law. He believes the complaint is being used to smear candidates supportive of renters and quash efforts to inform them about the upcoming election.
The flyer itself, distributed over the weekend to apartments in Mountain View, encourages people to register to vote and to vote on election day. It adds that four council candidates -- Sally Lieber, John Lashlee, Lenny Siegel and Alex Nunez -- might be better for renters based on their public campaign statements and past actions.
Wesley's flyer also warns that renters can still be evicted during the coronavirus pandemic despite the eviction moratorium, and encourages renters to get free legal assistance from the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.
Joshua Howard, a spokesman for the California Apartment Association, filed the complaint after Mountain View landlords discovered the flyers. He raised concerns that it violates "several provisions" of state law, specifically campaign disclosure laws and advertisement disclaimer rules.
Howard claims that the flyer, which he refers to as an advertisement, failed to state that it was not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate. That means "one can only assume that Wesley coordinated this flyer as an independent expenditure with the four candidates," Howard wrote.
The FPPC has since sent a letter to Wesley, Lieber, Lashlee, Siegel and Nunez, stating that all four are now facing a sworn complaint alleging they all participated in illegal campaign activity. Even the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley is ensnared in the complaint, after Howard claims that the flyer amounts to a "solicitation for services" it offers and may have amounted to political communications to market their own services.
Wesley said that he acted on his own in creating and distributing the flyer, and that he has spent less than $100 on the effort, much lower than the threshold for reporting expenditures to the FPPC. He said his actions are completely legal under the First Amendment rights to free speech, and that he believes the FPPC will reject the complaint.
"Renters have a need and a right to receive that information -- regardless of the wishes of landlords," Wesley said.
Siegel told FPPC officials that he had nothing to do with Wesley's election flyer, only discovering them while distributing his own campaign materials. Siegel said he believes the complaint is an attempt by the California Apartment Association to tamper with the City Council race after failing to pass ballot measures curtailing rent control in Mountain View.
"After losing Measure D and withdrawing their own initiative, the best hope the CAA has to undermine Mountain View's rent control law is to elect and reelect council members who will appoint Rental Housing Committee members hostile to the intent of that law," Siegel wrote.
Lieber said she wasn't involved in Wesley's flyer, and that she isn't surprised to see the apartment association's complaint. The organization has a track record for getting involved in the City Council race, she said, previously advocating for candidates through -- ironically -- its own independent expenditure committee.
"I've kind of been waiting for the snake in the grass with the California Apartment Association, so I can't say I'm surprised." she said.
Wesley is just one person advocating during an election year, and residents are well within the law to put their ideas out there, Lieber said. She said the apartment association is clearly the "Goliath" in this situation, and one Mountain View resident is unlikely to wrestle that power from them.
Nunez, who also said that his campaign had no coordination with Wesley, called it "yet another" attack by the California Apartment Association and its membership against council candidates supportive of the city's hard-won renter protections.
"I've experienced landlords in Mountain View suppressing renters' interests by threatening and harassing me for exercising legitimate political speech with their tenants," he said.
FPPC officials said in an email that they do not comment on pending investigations, but that the organization will decide whether to investigate the complaint within 14 days. Howard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Two parties named in the complaint, Lashlee and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The campaign flyer claims that candidate Paul Roales, described only as a Waymo engineer, has not said that he supports rent control and whether it should be extended to mobile homes. In a recent interview, Roales said that he believes the city's rent control law should not be altered, and that residents have made clear in two elections that they support it. He also said he believes a plain reading of the law suggests that mobile homes should be covered by rent control.