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 firstname.lastname@example.org.