Listen to invocations at a Los Alamitos City Council meeting, and you'll realize there is zero chance corruption could permeate this northern Orange County municipality. Councilman Ken Stephens understands this reality. To open a 2011 meeting, then-Mayor Stephens bowed his head in prayer and declared that his 3-2-vote council alliance wasn't running the city.
According to Stephens, his alliance—the one created not by heavenly intervention, but by a trash company seeking a lucrative government-granted monopoly—is on the executive team managing Los Alamitos, but only as administrative lemmings marching to divine orders. "We ask you to guide this City Council in the decisions that we make that always are best for the city," Stephens, a onetime 24-Hour Fitness office manager, told God. "And we thank you for allowing us to be one nation under God and one city controlled and guided by God."
I'm not sure if God likes to be referred to in the third person during conservations with him—especially when Democrats are present. But it's perplexing he would give a trash-collection contract to a firm demanding $6 million more from residents than another qualified bidder. It's also now clear that Dean Grose, Stephens' predecessor, wasn't ultimately to blame for winning national ridicule after disseminating images of the White House lawn converted into a watermelon patch upon Barack Obama's historic arrival.
Such incidents are scarring. A fine place with decent people, Los Alamitos shouldn't have to continually suffer embarrassment. Yet, in recent years at least, the city of 11,500 residents seems stuck in a lousy rut where dubious characters thrive.
Consider Mayor Troy Edgar. He's part—arguably the key part—of the aforementioned blessed 3-2-vote alliance. In 2011—just one year into his present council term, he decided he wanted a better title: Congressman. That effort lasted five months, and with enthusiasm for his candidacy ranging from lukewarm to nonexistent, Edgar abandoned that campaign in March to run for state Assembly representing his home city, Long Beach, Garden Grove, Cypress, Stanton and Westminster. In June's primary, Edgar led all candidates by capturing 28 percent of the vote. He is now facing fellow Republican and Huntington Beach resident Travis Allen (a political rookie who finished second with 20 percent of the vote) in November's election to a 12-year seat in Sacramento.
New California rules state two candidates of the same political party can now face off in a general election. Here, both GOP candidates tout themselves as decidedly pro-business and anti-tax, as well as honest. But there's evidence to believe Edgar has a serious character flaw.
In January, for his now-defunct congressional campaign, Edgar produced and delivered an eight-page glossy mailer to 3,000 Southern California Republican power brokers. The objective was to win endorsements, raise contributions and frighten potential GOP opponents away from the race. As political literature goes, the piece wasn't bad. It hailed his leadership skills, conservative policy stances and family values. To bolster credibility, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas declared on the front page of the brochure, "Supporting Troy Edgar for Congress was an easy decision."
It might be a line the DA, who recently announced he's seeking additional resources to prosecute corrupt public officials, will soon wish he hadn't uttered because the brochure could be the centerpiece of two crimes. Let me explain.
Because of anti-public corruption concerns resulting from the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, federal campaign-finance laws require campaigns to publicly disclose major expenses. The rationale is that voters should know if a candidate is up to no good. According to records obtained by the Weekly, the power-broker brochure cost more than $5,668, but Edgar never complied with federal election rules to disclose the spending or reveal who paid for it.
Indeed, he disclosed 41 separate congressional-campaign disbursements but not this one—which also happened to be the committee's largest expenditure.
Asked to explain, the candidate first said he is unfamiliar with that specific mailer because he has sent out "hundreds" of them. Later, he assured me the power-broker disbursement "absolutely shows up" on a disclosure report. When I told him it didn't and asked him to resolve what happened, he replied he "printed it at home," which is troubling because, as I write this column, I'm looking at a detailed invoice for the job from Sparta Graphics.
"I don't know what you are talking about," Edgar said. "The sad thing is you're grasping at straws here. This is an issue from the past. I want to talk about the merits of my candidacy and the true contrast between me and Travis."
Brandon Powers, a successful Southern California communications consultant hired by Edgar's congressional campaign, has firsthand knowledge of the brochure. The man has a reputation as a straight-shooter; he called the candidate's answers "verbal gymnastics." Powers said Edgar purposefully didn't disclose the spending on Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports because he didn't want to reveal that the source that paid for it was illegal under federal law: his company.
Edgar calls Powers "a disgruntled ex-employee" who is "spinning" to aid Allen.
But even novice candidates know corporations are banned from contributing to federal campaigns. It has been that way since 1907. Every candidate is formally advised of this prohibition at the outset of campaigns. Edgar filed his statement of candidacy with the FEC in Washington, D.C., in September 2011. The power-broker brochure got mailed three months later.
Edgar's troubles don't end there. In late January, armed with a camera, I covered the annual Tet festival parade in Little Saigon. The event featured marching bands, colorful floats, gorgeous beauty queens, ex-South Vietnamese soldiers and, of course, candidates.
That day, the natty, smiling, congressional candidate sat in the back of a rented convertible that lurched down Bolsa Avenue. He waved to the passing crowd, ignorant that among the masses was me. Along the route, people politely clapped or waved back. His staff, I witnessed, handed out 500 campaign fans.
According to an invoice obtained by the Weekly, the fans cost $900. But—as with the mysterious brochure—the expense never appeared on FEC reports. For that matter, Edgar didn't disclose the rental-car cost even though the vehicle carried large side-door magnets with his name, title and congressional-campaign logo.
If a future prosecutor deems the spending illegal and the disclosure omissions were intentional, the potential crimes aren't earth-shattering. Nobody died or got bloodied. Yet the conduct still might tell us something important about Edgar.
Here's the peculiarity of the situation: The candidate could have easily paid the expenses and reported that he'd done so. He's wealthy and, according to election law, was entitled to spend unlimited amounts of his own money on the congressional campaign. This puzzling mess is reminiscent of millionaire Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan stealing a bracelet she could have afforded to buy.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
I doubt Edgar's problem is drugs or booze, so what was his motivation in misleading the public? Powers—who says he became disillusioned with the candidate, left the campaign and hopes Allen is victorious—thinks he knows the answer: petty political calculation.
"Troy wanted to mislead the public about his spending because he didn't want anyone to know he's a self-funder who has a hard time raising money," said Powers. "Paying campaign expenses off the books hid the fact that his only real donor was himself. He struggles with the truth."
This column appeared in print as "'You're Grasping At Straws': Records reveal that state Assembly candidate Troy Edgar hasn't been honest about campaign spending."