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FPPC Complaint Filed Against Santa Monicans for Change

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By Jorge Casuso

October 5, 2020 -- A local political activist filed a complaint with the State watchdog agency last week claiming four Council challengers violated campaign law, a claim one of the challengers calls "baseless."

The complaint filed by attorney Joel C. Koury with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) on Thursday claims that members of the slate Santa Monicans for Change "are receiving thousands of dollars worth of unreported free advertising" from The Mirror.

The free advertising has come in the form of print and online opinion columns from SMART, whose leaders include two of the challengers, Arts Commissioner Phil Brock and Planning Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi.

"The articles criticize other City Council candidates and expressly endorse these four candidates for Santa Monica City’s council," Koury wrote in the complaint.

"Every article for the month of September has included the names and an endorsement for Mr. Brock, Mr. Fonda Bonardi" and the two other challengers on the slate -- School Board member Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra, who heads emergency response for Culver City.

The complaint notes that Brock also writes a weekly column for The Mirror that amounts to an unpaid ad.

"This publication is granting free advertising worth thousand dollars to this slate by publishing their columns," Koury wrote.

In a statement to the Lookout Monday, Brock said Koury's claim "lacks even minimal merit."

"The FPPC’s regulations specifically provide that a newspaper may publish commentary without that commentary being considered a contribution to a candidate," Brock said.

Brock counters that freedom of the press is "one of the core guarantees of our First Amendment."

"The editorial pages of newspapers across the country are filled with both editorial and opinion content about all levels of political candidates," he wrote.

"Mr. Koury’s interpretation of the law would prevent a local newspaper from publishing commentary or endorsement of local candidates in the critical time before a local election.

"As the FPPC’s regulations make clear, there is no basis for the press to restrict its publication in that manner," Brock concluded. "I expect that the FPPC will soon dismiss this baseless complaint."

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