May 18 2011 10:25 AM

Inconsistencies emerge in investigation of gay activist's donation to Bill Horn

The checks may have different signatures, but the same person wrote them.
An oversight agency's recent decision to close an investigation into a dubious donation to a San Diego County supervisor's reelection campaign raises more questions than it puts to bed.

One year ago, CityBeat examined an anomaly in Supervisor Bill horn's 2009 campaign-finance reports: Brett Malec, described as a student, donated $500 to horn's 2010 campaign. Digging deeper, we discovered that Malec was not only gay, but also an outspoken LGBT activist, making him an unlikely donor to horn, a Christian conservative who's opposed to gays serving  in the military and supported the Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban. The donation was especially unusual because the young man has not lived in San Diego County for several years and had never donated to a political campaign on any level (and hasn't since).

We asked Malec about the donation via Facebook in May 2010, and he denied making the contribution.

“Where did you see that I donated $500, because I did no such thing,” Malec wrote. “Please let me know so I can clear up the situation.”

We sent Malec documentation and follow-up messages, but he didn't respond to further inquiries. In the meantime, we discovered that Malec is the son of Lisa Malec, an employee of developer Bruce Tabb, both of whom had already donated the maximum $500 allowable under county campaign rules. Tabb regularly has projects before the Board of Supervisors and a significant stake in the update of the General Plan, which sets forth how the county will or won't accommodate growth. We informed Lisa Malec of her son's statement in a phone conversation, and she said she would get back to us. She never did.

According to a March 23, 2011, letter sent to horn's campaign and the Malecs, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) initiated an investigation but decided to close it after Brett Malec said he had written the $500 check and mailed it to horn's campaign. Malec, now a celebrity gossip reporter for E! Online, did not respond to repeated requests for comment from CityBeat and other news outlets. His mother spoke to the North County Times and said she didn't ask her son to donate to horn.

“We've done nothing wrong,” she told the paper. “It's a dead issue as far as I'm concerned. ... My family is supportive of Bill horn.”

CityBeat obtained the 33-page case file through a California Public Records Act request. The documents show that the FPPC initiated the investigation after receiving a link to CityBeat's story, sent via email by Stacey Fulhorst, the executive director of the city of San Diego's Ethics Commission.

The file reveals several inconsistencies in Brett Malec's story:

• The first time an FPPC investigator attempted to interview Malec, he was reached by phone on Feb. 1, 2011. The investigator asked him about the contribution, but the call was suddenly ended. The investigator assumed it was “inadvertently disconnected” and sent Malec a letter threatening a subpoena if he did not comply. A second interview was completed on March 21, and the investigation was closed two days later.

• In the second telephone interview, Malec told the FPPC investigator that “he was contacted via Facebook message by someone who informed him that they saw his name on a contributor's list…. He responded to the message but never heard back from the person.” This statement is demonstrably false: CityBeat sent Malec multiple messages through Facebook and emailed and spoke directly with his mother before the story ran.

• Lisa Malec's statement to the North County Times that she had not asked her son to donate to horn's campaign is odd considering that both her and her son's checks are written from the same joint checking account in the same handwriting, made out on the same date and are in sequential numbered order. The accompanying donor forms are also in the same handwriting, which matches that found on unrelated business filings signed by Lisa Malec for Tabb's development projects. However, the two checks have different signature styles, which is in compliance with state law. 

• The donation form that accompanied Brett Malec's check clearly indicated that the donation was part of an RSVP to a Sept. 10 fundraiser. Yet, Brett Malec told the investigator he did not attend a fundraiser for horn and that he had mailed the check to the committee.

At no point did the FPPC contact CityBeat to request evidence or testimony to counter Malec's version of events; nor did investigators interview Lisa Malec. The documents don't indicate that investigators reviewed postal evidence to back up the claim that Brett Malec had personally mailed the check.

According to FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter, the fact that there were two different signatures on the checks and that Malec said he made the donation fulfills requirements in state law. As such, they determined there was no violation.

Tabb didn't return calls. So far this year, two of his housing projects—Montecito Ranch in Ramona and Campus Park in Fallbrook—received final approval from the Board of Supervisors. The developer's antics are regularly covered in Ranter's Roost, an email list managed by county activist and watchdog Charlene Ayers.

“His main claim to fame before he got these two large developments approved recently is that he was a terrific fundraiser for these supervisors,” Ayers tells CityBeat. “He would set up all these huge events, and people would have to buy tables…. The supervisors want to keep him happy, that's for sure.”

Ayers has also documented a history of ties between Tabb and horn. For example, several years ago, horn's land-use aide, Chris Brown, left the supervisor's office to work for Tabb. The developer has also been named in previous FPPC reports for his involvement in mailers supporting horn that violated campaign-finance law.
“They're very good friends, very well connected,” Ayers says.   

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