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Watchdog group accuses Petaluma PAC of violations

Conservation Action denies wrongdoing, dismisses charges as ‘wild allegations’

By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Windsor organization said Friday it has filed a salvo of complaints with federal and state agencies regarding Sonoma County Conservation Action, reviving a more than decade-old battle between the groups on opposite sides of the environmental divide.

In complaints to the Internal Revenue Service, state Fair Political Practices Commission and California attorney general, the group called Tell The Truth challenged Conservation Action’s tax-exempt status and accused it and related organizations of filing and financial-reporting oversights.

“By identifying the most blatant violations, we have exposed just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jo Timmsen of Windsor, Tell The Truth’s executive director.

Dennis Rosatti, Conservation Action’s executive director, said the allegations “have no basis in fact” and accused Timmsen’s group of a “cheap campaign trick.”

David Keller, a Conservation Action board member, called the complaints “a series of wild allegations” and denied that his group had “done anything that is out of order.”

The complaints also said that two Petaluma neighborhood leaders, Matt Maguire and Paul Francis, or their organizations, are liable for taxes on a $100,000 legal settlement they secured from the developer of a Petaluma shopping center.

Maguire, a former Petaluma city councilman, said the money was in an escrow account and “it’s really nobody’s business” how it is spent.

Tell The Truth, which calls itself a campaign watchdog group, surfaced in 1998 with brochures targeting Conservation Action, a political organization founded in 1991 that has rankled the business community by canvassing for green-oriented candidates and issues.

Timmsen, a bookkeeper, said she worked for 40 to 60 hours and hired an attorney to help prepare the complaints. In the past, she said, she has spent hundreds of hours researching Conservation Action.

“This is my last shot,” Timmsen said, adding that she intends to leave Tell The Truth in January after 10 years with the organization.

A complaint filed by Tell The Truth with the Fair Political Practices Commission in 2008, accusing Conservation Action of mishandling donated funds, was dismissed by the state agency in March.

Rosatti said  Tell The Truth is “wasting government dollars and is abusing the regulatory function of government to further their shady funders’ political goals.”

Timmsen said her organization is not required to identify its financial backers because it is not engaged in political campaigns.

Keller and Rosatti also questioned why The Press Democrat was reporting on Tell The Truth’s allegations, which were detailed in a five-page news release, before they had a chance to examine the specific complaints, or determine if they had actually been filed.

“This is garbage,” Keller said.

Tell The Truth’s complaints assert that Conservation Action’s involvement in political campaigns should prompt the IRS to revoke its tax-exempt status and that its Political Action Committee failed to disclose donations of about $5,400 from state Sen. Pat Wiggins and Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, both Santa Rosa Democrats.

The PAC could be liable to the state for $80,000 in penalties for financial reporting failures, the complaints said.

The complaint is “clearly a politically motivated move,” Maguire said, calling Tell The Truth a “rabid right-wing organization” that targets progressive groups.

An IRS spokesman said Friday that, by law, he could neither confirm nor deny the filing of any given complaint.

The Fair Political Practices Commission and the Attorney General’s Office did not respond to questions about the complaints.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.





20 Responses to “Watchdog group accuses Petaluma PAC of violations”

  1. Rosario Gonzalez says:

    Sonoma County Conservation Action is a front group for a political mob. They use the green mask to fund politicians and then get donations back from them to keep it going.

    Left or right, the mob runs this county. The defenders of SCCA like Erin Brass Tacks will be tripped up and fall. Dirty money, front groups, and nasty attacks don’t look good for SCCA, and someone’s going to get them. I hope it’s soon.

    Coalition for a Better Sonoma County (Wiggins’ husband and Noreen Evans), SCCA, Sonoma County Young Democrats, they run the area like a mob machine. Vote out Susan Gorin, Jacobi, and Haenel. They’re part of it.

    Don’t know Joanna Schaeffer but I’m voting for her. If they’re not connected I’m voting for them.

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  2. @ Arc of Justice: Excellent comment!

    Watchdog group TELL THE TRUTH

    JO TIMMSEN is Executive Director of TTT

    No web site that I can find when Googled

    The SONOMA COUNTY ALLIANCE, right leaning \CHAMBER OF COMMERCE (Sharon Wright) type of operation has a member named:

    JO TIMMSEN – Association

    I know it’s a stretch, but do you think TELL THE TRUTH, JO TIMMSEN and SONOMA COUNTY ALLIANCE are in cahoots?

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 10

  3. tilly says:

    @Stephen Anthony
    I find it very interesting that all those who seem to support SCCA are adept at bashing the business community and developers. Where do these people live?
    Perhaps in a home built by a “developer”.
    Where do they buy their necessities? Perhaps from a “business”? Unless they all built their own homes with timber from their own land and rock from their own quarry, then they need to calm their rile and realize that developers and business ARE NOT THE ENEMY!

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 15

  4. Brass Tacks says:

    It is telling that the authoritarian instincts of the right-wing elements come out when groups like To Tell the Truth do their dirty work. They don’t just disagree with us, they want to de-legitimize and criminalize constitutionally protected free speech activity that they disapprove of. That’s why none of these types should be entrusted with power. They lack the maturity and sense of fair play required to govern.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 15

  5. Arc of Justice says:

    “Sonoma County Swift Boaters, ‘To Tell the Truth’, abuses courts for political ends”

    This is the third time that the same shady group, TTT, has abused the courts right before an election, in order to tie the SCCA up in bogus legal charges, and divert them from their very effective political work. The SCCA is a 501c4 organization that has every legal right to do advocacy work on local elections and ballot issues.

    The last set of charges, from the 2008 electoral cycle, were just resolved afew months ago. Now the same slime-meisters are back with another round of bogus charges.

    In my view, it’s time to expose this outfit, and make them pay for abusing the court system for political gain. Evil eventually meets judgement, and their day is due.

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  6. Bradley Miller says:

    Why not throw the kitchen sink at them too? If the SCCA wasn’t acting like a bunch of cornered animals, maybe we could have a reasoned debate here. The SCCA was formed by Noreen Evans and now is headed by Dennis Rosatti that is also the new head of the ADC. Michael Allen was the former head of the ADC. Michael Allen is running for Noreen Evan’s seat, and Noreen Evans wants to move into Pat Wiggins seat. The SCCA is an extension of these politicians and I don’t consider them a ‘charitable non-profit’.

    All roads lead back to Michael Allen, the Blagoyavich of Sonoma County, who is currently being investigated by the FPPC for alledged conflicts of interest while he served for one year on the Santa Rosa Planning Commission. He was also the focus of attention in the Sonoma County Grand Jury investigation for his role in the defeat of the Lowe’s project.

    I believe the Tell the Truth group is on to something with the SCCA. Just because they didn’t get them last time doesn’t mean they won’t this time. We need to do a major housecleaning in Sonoma County and the SCCA is a good place to start.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 20

  7. Bryant says:

    whenever some college kid with a clipboard comes to my doorstep seeking a “donation” to SCCA and spewing political viewpoints, I question their knowledge on the issues and candidates just to find out they only have talking points. Most of the talking points are biased and misleading. I don’t see how any such donation would qualify as being tax deductable.

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  8. Margaret says:

    Dear Pot Calling Kettle Black Progressives,

    So Maguire’s personal settlement of $100k in Petaluma is an acceptable use of tax payer dollars, whereas an apparently well researched & substantiated prod into the groups that support such reckless and economically damaging litigation is not?

    Lets use our tax payer dollars wisely- and for the good of everyone. Understand why you are scared: this is for once a good investment.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 17

  9. Paul Smith says:

    Oooh, Herb Williams! The bogeyman! The bogeyman! Voters will run in fear! Oops, what’s that? Only a handful of the same progressive extremists who act as their own self-contained echo chamber really know and care who he is? Hmmm, well, at least they’ll have an easy target to blame if they lose:
    “It wasn’t our issues or candidates, I tell you! Voters want what we offered! But they had Herb Williams, don’t you get it?! HERB WILLIAMS!!”

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 25

  10. Writing an article filled with quotes from both “sides” is not enough to qualify as newsworthy journalism. It’s enough to manufacture an issue, but it merely sensationalizes its issue.

    While it’s good that this article acknowledged the history leading up to this legal filing, the article should have included at least some key passages from the actual documents that were filed. The reporter should have asked questions about that documentation. Instead, the PD publishes a sensational She Said/He Said piece.

    My fear is that the PD will continue these tactics until election day.

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 17

  11. goodbyekerns says:

    @ Jason Valez – I think that you have it backwards there. SCCA does what it does within the law and above board. The misnamed (because they never do) Tell the Truth calls themselves a non-profit and refuses to reveal its backers. However what hey really are is an Independent Expenditure Committee and therefore they’re the ones not adhering to the law.

    I expect for TTT to fold at the end of the year since kerns,kelly and pasalacqua will be out of office and won’t be able to run interference for them anymore.

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  12. Horatio says:

    Methinks thou dost protest too much!!

    Why this extreme reaction by the Sonoma County Conservation Action group if there is not merit to what the Tell the Truth group says??? It is time these leftists so called “conservation” groups are questioned. They have brought too much business killing regulation and antibusiness atmosphere to Sonoma County.

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  13. Truth Teller says:

    Very convenient that the Press Democrat left out the crucial information that “Tell the (Mis)Truth” was created by Herb Williams. It’s no surprise this “independent” group is on the prowl against candidates endorsed by SCCA because he’s running most of the “pro-business” campaigns in Petaluma and Santa Rosa. He should be careful — I’m sure there’s plenty of questionable funding issues with his side.

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  14. Jason Valez says:

    That’s a lot of nasty namecalling against a 19 year old watchdog group that is making the complaint against Sonoma County Conservation Action. I believe SCCA is a 501C3 ‘charitable organization’ that’s not supposed to do political campaigning. It’s probably a valid complaint because they do a lot of political campaigning. They should re-register as a 501C4 that is allowed to do what they do. But then, the donors wouldn’t be able to deduct their donations from their taxable income. It’s really an IRS matter.

    People should support all watchdog groups because the government is largely corrupt. Shedding a light on wrongdoing usually stops it so I encourage everyone to investigate their politicians. Look what happened in Bell. That wouldn’t have stopped if someone hadn’t reported them. So enough with the name calling of whistleblowers, we need them desperately right now. Thank you ‘Tell the Truth’.

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  15. Fighting RWNJs since 1955 says:

    @Ranting Mike

    “Its time these left wing ‘consevating action’ groups had the light of day shined on them for what they are.”

    They “had the light of day shined on them” in the LAWSUIT Tell The Truth brought before. THE EVIL SIDE LOST! What don’t you get?

    “They…waste our tax dollars by filing law suits…” CAN YOU READ? Did you see that Tell the Truth did the same thing? THEY LOST. THEY WASTED THE TAXPAYER’S MONEY ALREADY and back at it again. All under the shadowy title of Tell the Truth, even they won’t list their backers. *Shine the light on that!*

    Oh, wait! That sounds like Rosa Koire’s group! They brought a WASTEFUL lawsuit against the “left wing” as well. AND THEY LOST TOO!

    You may have differing viewpoints, but all you offer are tired arguments that can be thrown RIGHT BACK AT YOU.

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 22

  16. Dave Madigan says:

    If, as SCCA claims, there is no merit to the complaints, then SCCA has nothing to worry about.
    If there *IS* merit to the claims, then hold them to the same standards as everyone else who obeys the law.
    How can Pat Wiggins make a donation to this group when she is suffering from such a serious medical condition? Who in Wiggin’s office is really making these decisions?

    Thumb up 33 Thumb down 23

  17. Rose Kayen says:

    The people that need the light shined on them are these fake developer backed front groups like “To Tell the Truth” Their last complaint against the same group resultd in nothing. No wrongdoing was found or any fines or sanctions imposed. It’s fairly obvious (to everyone but the PD) that this is an election season dirty tricks by another group that keeps their members secret but want to look at everoney else’s financials with a fine tooth comb. How people can justify such hypocrisy is beyond me. I hope SCCA slaps them with a countersuit…I’d like to see their books and what “To Tell the Truth ” is hiding…

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  18. The Arc of Justice says:

    The PD would do a public service by doing an in-depth investigation of this shadowy, secretive dirty-tricks operation, risibly named “To Tell the Truth”. They have been polluting the political well in Sonoma County for years. They are the local ‘Swift Boaters’.

    Their underhanded, reprehensible smear tactics should be roundly denounced by all decent people, whatever their political stance. They create an atmosphere of fear that chills ordinary citizens from getting openly involved in local politics, for fear of being slimed by these characters.

    Because the Press Democrat fails to do its journalistic job by looking into the funding and membership of this slimy Rovian outfit, their tactic of throwing out wild charges in the heat of the election season has the intended effect of muddying the waters and forcing progressive groups like SCCA to divert their resources into defending themselves against false and malicious fabricated charges.

    I call on the PD to earn its reputation as the regional paper of record by finally turning over the rock under which this slithering snake, “To Tell the Truth” hides. Sunlight will disinfect this diseased political hit-jobber outfit.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 21

  19. Mike says:

    Its time these left wing “consevating action” groups had the light of day shined on them for what they are. They oppose growth and waste our tax dollars by filing law suits and opposing anyone who favors business revenues and growth which incrases the tax base. They are definitely part of the problem of local government in Sonoma County.

    These groups accuse businesses of dirty politics and practices but they cry foul when brought to account for their operating practices.

    Sonoma County needs business growth and expansion to survive. It isn’t all wind machines and cars fueled by cow manure.

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  20. Stephen Anthony says:

    Another smear by a phony astroturf business fronted group that wants to “remain anonymous” These folks admittedly have been after the SCCA for years, because Sonoma County Conservation Action is a well respected and organized group of environmentalists with many supporters. Instead of trying to outwork or outorganize them with ideas, the corporate and business and developer shills take the easy (and slimy) route. Filing false charges. Thanks for wasting more tax dollars with false accusations. Anyone who hides behind a fake group while doing dirty politics has no right to call themselves “to Tell the Truth”
    PS Note to the PD :Anyone can file a complaint. (you may have noticed that it happens a lot at election time) so why do a story on something that hasn’t been investigated or substantiated in any way? I know you guys get big ads from developers and business but this is ridiculous!

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