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Demonstrators Crossed Line, Group Charges

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

November 1 -- Days after protesters assailed hotel owners on Sunday for a $100,000 blitz of negative ads against City Council incumbent Kevin McKeown, the group behind the campaign is leveling charges that protest organizers violated campaign finance laws.

While no direct connection could be verified by The Lookout and organizers vehemently deny the allegations, Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities. (SMSP) sent a letter to the City Clerk’s office Tuesday charging that organizers of the protest illegally coordinated their effort with McKeown’s campaign.

“This organization is clearly an independent expenditure committee supporting the campaign of councilmember Kevin McKeown,” read the press release from SMSP, a political action committee backed by the Edward Thomas Management Company.

The company, which owns Hotel Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach, sponsored the ad campaign opposing McKeown. (see story)

“SMSP will also be asking the California Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate the organization’s ties to Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR), the campaign of Mr. McKeown and other groups,” according to the statement.

“Under the law, independent expenditure committees are not allowed to coordinate their activities with candidates that they support.”

While Denny Zane, co-founder of SMRR and an influential player in the renters’ group, spoke at the rally, the protest’s organizer, John Petz, denies the former mayor coordinated the event with McKeown as a campaign rally.

“Denny Zane did not lead anything or create anything in regard to the hotel protest,” Petz said. “I invited him to come.

“I asked him to say a few words, as a local political leader, on the topic of open and honest elections. When he spoke, he publicly thanked me for having organized the event.”

McKeown did not attend the impromptu demonstration organized by “Santa Monicans for Open Democracy,” an “ad-hoc” group Petz said he hastily created out of his frustration with the expensive negative campaign launched by the hotels.

“I was protesting what is the bastardization of our local political process,” he said.

While some demonstrators carried signs supporting McKeown, they were not encouraged to do so, Petz said.

But representatives for SMSP note that Zane was quoted in The Lookout telling the demonstrators, "Kevin needs to know that we're there for him." (see story)

“Clearly this shows coordination,” Jacobson said.

Petz denies the accusations and claims the complaint filed by the group is an attempt to divert attention from his rally’s purpose just days before the November 7 race for three open council seats.

“SMSP is waging a smear campaign,” said Petz. “These ads are bad, not because they attack Kevin McKeown, but because if we go this way, we will never go back.”

The controversial, and unprecedented, cable television spots -- which target the two-term council member for his homeless policies -- set off a political firestorm after a resident featured in one of the ads said he backed McKeown and was paid $200 for his appearance. (see story)

On their part, SMSP supporters are angry that Zane participated in Sunday’s demonstration less than one week after the very hotels he was attacking raised $100,000 for a campaign the former mayor is heading.

Friends of Safe and Clean Santa Monica Beaches, the group supporting Proposition V on next Tuesday’s ballot, has “taken as much as $100,000 from the same hotels and businesses that they have been accusing of trying to ‘steal the elections in our city,’” read the statement by SMSP.

While Jacobson said the hospitality industry will “stand behind its commitment” to the measure, the move by Zane and the campaign’s supporters who attended the rally is “the height of hypocrisy,” he said.

“The hotels are not some monolithic ogre out to destroy the town,” Jacobson said.






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