photo by LaJollaLight

by Ryann Grochowski | inewsource

The county Democratic party claimed Thursday that political ads supporting San Diego city council candidate Ray Ellis violate ethics laws, and it asked the District Attorney’s office to investigate.

Party chairman Jess Durfee said the goal is to get the ads off the air.

“The election will be tainted by these activities if these commercials are not stopped,” he said.

Businessman Ellis is locked in a tight race with incumbent Sherri Lightner to represent San Diego Council District 1. It’s the only remaining competitive council race. Whoever wins Nov. 6 will determine council’s party majority.

Durfee’s two claims focus on television ads — one produced by Ellis’ campaign and the other by an independent expenditure committee called San Diego County Voters for Progress and Reform. While the ads are different, they both appear to use the same video. Candidates are forbidden by law to coordinate campaign efforts with independent expenditure committees.

Both ads are on YouTube, but the progress and reform committee paid $50,000 to run its ad on cable TV as well.

In a second complaint, the Democrats allege the committee did not disclose a $25,000 contribution from the Building Industry Association, as required by law.

“No one should be able to buy an election, and that’s what these individuals are trying to do,” Durfee said in a news conference on the downtown courthouse steps Thursday.

Individual campaign contributions to city candidates are capped at $500 per election. But independent expenditure committees — known as local Super PACs — can spend and raise virtually as much as they want.

By illegally combining forces, the party said, the Ellis campaign essentially can raise and spend without limits.

In addition to the DA’s office, the party filed complaints with the San Diego Ethics Commission, which oversees city campaigns, and the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Durfee said the party got the district attorney’s office involved because the commissions “act very slowly.”

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ office would not confirm if an investigation would take place.

She released this statement: “During an election cycle, it is not unusual for campaigns or political parties to make allegations to gain an advantage. While we take our responsibility to thoroughly investigate such allegations very seriously, at the same time we cannot allow the District Attorney’s Office to be leveraged for political gain or be used as a political pawn.”

In an email, Ellis’ spokesman Matt Donnellan, said, “This is just a desperate partisan attack to distract voters from Sherri Lightner’s abysmal record on the City Council.”

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