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Auditor-Controller Race: Frank Davies Loses “Deputy Auditor-Controller” Ballot Designation, Will Use “Property Tax Director” Instead

Posted by Chris Nguyen on March 31, 2014

There have been five lawsuits related to the June Primary election ballot for Orange County. The meat of this article is after the bullet list. The bullet list just recaps the prior cases.

  • In the Second Supervisorial District, Allan Mansoor successfully sued the Registrar of Voters to change Michelle Steel‘s ballot designation of “Taxpayer Advocate/Businesswoman” and she is now required to use “Board of Equalization Member” instead. This case was covered here on OC Political, in an article in the OC Register, and in an article in the Daily Pilot.
  • In the Clerk-Recorder’s race, Troy Edgar‘s lawsuit against the Registrar of Voters to get on the ballot was rejected by the Orange County Superior Court. Edgar’s lawsuit against the Registrar of Voters also sought to toss Assessor Webster Guillory and Superintendent of Schools Al Mijares from the ballot, and this effort was also rejected by the Superior Court. Consequently, Edgar fails to make the ballot while Guillory and Mijares stay on the ballot. Here’s OC Political’s coverage, including the only online copy of the full text of the judge’s ruling. The judge’s sweeping ruling used “failed” or “fails” six times in reference to Edgar and even uses “without merit” in reference to one of Edgar’s arguments.
  • In the 73rd Assembly District, Mission Viejo resident Dale Tyler sued the Secretary of State to challenge a sentence in AD-73 Candidate Anna Bryson‘s ballot statement, “On the school board, I returned $59 million to taxpayers.” Tyler sought to have the sentence struck entirely, but the Sacramento County Superior Court judge issued a compromise, so it now reads, “On the school board, I voted to save taxpayers approximately $59 million.” Here’s OC Political’s coverage, and here’s the text of the judge’s ruling.
  • In the Auditor-Controller’s race, candidate John Wayne Willard sued the Registrar of Voters in an unsuccessful effort to challenge Eric Woolery‘s “Orange Treasurer/CPA” ballot designation. Consequently, Woolery remains “Orange Treasurer/CPA” on the ballot. Here’s OC Political’s coverage, including the only online copy of the full text of the judge’s ruling. When the judge includes strong language along the lines of “The evidence is undisputed that Woolery was appointed to the position of Treasurer…” you know it’s a sweeping ruling.
  • Oddly, the fifth lawsuit has yet to have any coverage anywhere despite being the first case to be completed, having been resolved way back on Tuesday, and it’s also likely the most significant case in terms of impact on a race. That case will be the focus of this article.
Auditor-Controller Candidates Eric Woolery, John Wayne Willard, Frank Davies, and Mike "Mike" Dalati.  OC Political was unable to find a photo of James T. Benuzzi.

Auditor-Controller Candidates Eric Woolery, John Wayne Willard, Frank Davies, and Mike “Mike” Dalati.
OC Political was unable to find a photo of James T. Benuzzi.

Laguna Niguel resident Todd Nugent challenged the ballot designation of Auditor-Controller candidate Frank Davies. Davies requested the ballot designation of “Deputy Auditor-Controller” for his bid for Auditor-Controller.

Nugent challenged it on the grounds that this was an effort by Davies to game the system by playing working title musical chairs, as he was not the Chief Deputy Auditor-Controller. Denise Steckler held both the job classification and working title of “Chief Deputy Auditor-Controller” before the candidate filing period. Frank Davies held the job classification of “Administrative Manager III” and the working title of “Director, Property Tax” during that time. Then in the middle of candidate filing, after Davies had pulled papers for Auditor-Controller and shortly before he filed them, all four Directors at the Administrative Manager III level in the Auditor-Controller’s office had their working titles switched from “Director” to “Chief Deputy Auditor-Controller” instead (while still remaining in the job classification of “Administrative Manager III”). Chief Deputy Auditor-Controller Denise Steckler then switched to the working title of “Chief of Staff” (while still remaining in the job classification of “Chief Deputy Auditor-Controller”).

Nugent filed suit in Superior Court and succeeded in having “Deputy Auditor-Controller” dumped as Davies’s ballot designation. Consequently, Davies is now “Property Tax Director” on the ballot.

In an obscure down-ticket race like Auditor-Controller, having a ballot designation of “Deputy Auditor-Controller” would have made Davies the frontrunner. Nugent’s challenge was critical in putting Orange Treasurer/CPA Eric Woolery back in the driver’s seat for the Auditor-Controller’s seat. Defeating Willard’s challenge was also critical for Woolery’s frontrunner position.

Here’s how the candidates will appear on the ballot:

(No, that’s not a mistake. Mike “Mike” Dalati is how he requested to be on the ballot. His fiancée, Karina “Karina” Onofre, is a Democratic candidate for AD-74. I have no idea why this couple decided to double-state their first names on the ballot.)

The three strongest ballot designations belong to Woolery, Benuzzi, and Dalati while the two weakest ballot designations belong to Willard and Davies. However, Benuzzi and Dalati failed to obtain ballot statements. Woolery is the only one of the five to wield both a ballot statement and a good ballot designation.

Woolery also bought up most of the slate mailers and wields the most aggressive online presence. He also has the highest name ID having been a former member of the Orange County Board of Education and the current Orange Treasurer. Additionally, he has residual name ID from his wife, Lisa Woolery, a former member of the Rancho Santiago Community College District Board. Eric Woolery also dominates the endorsement arena, wielding the endorsements of the Orange County Taxpayers Association, the California Republican Assembly, and numerous elected officials.

With tens of thousands of dollars, Woolery also has a larger warchest than all of his opponents combined with $50,200. He spent $38,701, on a combination of the ballot statement, candidate filing fee, slate mailers, campaign literature, and consulting fees.

Davies spent his entire $16,476 on the ballot statement and candidate filing fee.

Willard has $16,438, which was presumably spent on the ballot statement and candidate filing fee (he filed a Form 497, but not a Form 460); presumably the other $38 was wiped out by signatures-in-lieu.

Benuzzi raised $2,400 from Anthony Benuzzi and Ronald Benuzzi but had to refund $200 to Anthony Benuzzi when they discovered they had exceeded the campaign contribution limit; with his remaining $2,200, he paid the candidate filing fee and $280 of campaign literature.

Dalati did not file a campaign finance report for the January 1-March 17 reporting period.

In the interest of full disclosure, Woolery is a client of Custom Campaigns, the consulting firm that owns this blog.

One Response to “Auditor-Controller Race: Frank Davies Loses “Deputy Auditor-Controller” Ballot Designation, Will Use “Property Tax Director” Instead”

  1. Greg Diamond said

    I’m convinced, Chris. Tentatively, I’ll support anyone but Woolery in the primary — and will support whomever opposes him in the general. (That is despite your involvement with his campaign, which would otherwise be a slight positive for me in picking among Republicans. I just hate the “vote for me because I had so much money that I bought up all the slate mailers” approach to politics.)

    Now, can you tell me whether Mike Dalati is actually — based on his personal history — a Democrat? I had thought that he was a Republican (or maybe an NPP), having stuck with the party even when Bill Dalati switched in 2006-2007, and certainly during the year and a half that Onofre had left the Democratic Party to dally with the Republicans. I’ve asked on my side of the aisle and people don’t seem to know. Certainly, being engaged to the candidate that is trying to torpedo Anila Ali’s candidacy in AD-74 is not a plus in my book, although I can imagine that the Republicans are relieved (presuming that y’all didn’t actively solicit this.) Any thoughts?

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