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With only 22 days until Election Day, tensions between county incumbent Das Williams and challenger Laura Capps have escalated into an all-out political war.
Anti-Capps mailers and radio messages are flying around the 1st District in response to what Williams’s supporters call a “hypocritic campaign” by Capps. The three consultants behind the anti-Capps crusade — Democrats Mollie Culver and Tyler Gibson, and Republican-turned-no-party-preference Cory Bantilan — have formed a pro-Williams independent expenditure committee.
“I got involved because I am tired of hearing Laura misrepresent the facts about Das and his record,” said Bantilan about his PAC. “One of the behaviors I dislike most is hypocrisy, and her campaign is displaying it on a regular basis.”
The central issue driving the 1st District race is Williams’s hand in crafting the county’s cannabis cultivation ordinance. Capps, while she doesn’t disapprove of legal pot, feels Williams opened the cannabis floodgates too far and believes the $62,000 in campaign donations he received from cannabis interest groups influenced him while writing and enacting the law. Williams vehemently denies the cash as having any influence on policy.
Capps has called for a campaign finance reform law to limit campaign contributions to $1,000 and bar groups and individuals with projects before the board from contributing to campaigns. Though Williams promised to stop accepting money from cannabis interests, Capps believes the PAC is his back-door way of achieving the same goal.
“We aren’t going to win despite this PAC attack; we’re going to win because of it,” Capps said at a last-minute press conference Friday morning to address the recent mailer attacks. “The only reason to have a PAC is to hide something.… This PAC has given [Williams] a way to continue to benefit from cannabis money while trying to claim otherwise.”
Although none of the money in the PAC is currently tied to cannabis interests, Capps claimed that Culver and Gibson’s involvement is a clear tie. Capps said Culver and Gibson were the lead lobbyists who wrote much of the cannabis ordinance for Santa Barbara County.
She said Culver specifically, as representative of the Cannabis Business Council, strongly lobbied for the most problematic features of the policy, including allowing growers to obtain unlimited state licenses prior to obtaining county permits.
“I am proud of the work that I did to help advocate for a sensible cannabis ordinance that addresses the nuisance issues that have plagued the 1st District for years, such as odor, and that provides much-needed revenue for issues such as enforcement on illegal operations, community libraries, and public safety,” Culver said in response.
Culver added that Gibson never worked with her on the cannabis ordinance or at any other time, and that their PAC was not cannabis related.
An overriding part of the “hypocrisy” the committee refers to is Capps’s acceptance of “at least 41 contributions over $1,000, including more than $30,000 from a single wealthy donor. She has accepted thousands from donors with land-use appeals before the Board of Supervisors.”
Capps, however, maintains that she has been transparent since day one of her election bid. She says she “has to win in order to make a change,” and therefore has not self-imposed her own ethics reform plan on her campaign. She cited her average donation as $350 and Williams’s average as over $2,100.
At her press conference Friday morning, Capps addressed the PAC’s mailers, which she called “attacks” and refer to her, as well as former supervisors Janet Wolf and Susan Rose, as “extreme progressives.” One ad also references her mother, former Congressmember Lois Capps, by stating that “Liberal Laura Capps makes her mom, Lois, look like a moderate.”
Bantilan said that Capps is “confusing mentioning and attacking.” “We are not attacking them,” he said. “We are just mentioning them.” Wolf, Rose, and Lois Capps also described the ads as “attacks” and asked Williams to denounce them. “We call on Das Williams to denounce these ads and dissolve the PAC,” said Wolf.
Williams, Bantilan, Culver, and Gibson deny Williams as having any involvement or knowledge of their PAC — which would be illegal. Capps claims that too many close allies are involved, making it near impossible for Williams to be unaware.
Shawnda Deane, listed as Assistant Treasurer of the PAC, has been the Treasurer of Williams’s campaigns going back over a decade, and as recently as 2019. She also said his first PAC donor is close family friend Lee Heller.
“I think I did my equivalent of denouncing the ads by publicly urging my supporters to stay positive,” Williams said Friday morning. “I do not ask my supporters to be negative and attack her back.”
When asked about dissolving the PAC, Williams said that it would “defeat the spirit of independent expenditure committees — I’m literally not allowed to talk to them about that.”