‘Clear collusion:’ One district attorney candidate accuses other of campaign finance violation

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A late accusation in the District Attorney’s race just days before Tuesday’s primary has landed hard in Kern County.

Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman and Supervising Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer both agreed to abide by Kern’s Measure K, which imposes a spending limit of $200,000 in this race.

With both right up against that spending ceiling in the home stretch, Spielman says Zimmer broke the rules to inject some last minute cash into her race. 

“The district attorney swears to uphold the law and when you cant even follow it in the campaign, that is very concerning,” said Spielman Friday. 

Here are the facts.

A dormant political action committee-or PAC-called People’s Advocate sprang into life in the past two weeks, raising over $35,000 and buying ads in support of Supervising Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer in the race for Kern County District Attorney. 

The ads, bought on KGET TV-17 and KERO 23 ABC featured House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy supporting Zimmer.

And here’s where the questions arise. 

According to the Fair Political Practices Commission of California, PACs may buy ads advocating for candidates, as long as they aren’t “coordinated or ‘made at the behest’ of the affected candidate.” 

Zimmer’s opponent Spielman says Zimmer’s campaign coordinated with the People’s Advocate PAC. 

“There appears to be clear collusion between the campaign and the PAC spending,” said Spielman. 

The argument has two main parts. 

First, the treasurer of Zimmer’s campaign listed on her public finance forms is Thomas Montgomery, the same treasurer listed in public disclosure forms for the People’s Advocate PAC.

And second, republican consulting firm Western Pacific Research, which Zimmer retained this cycle, helped facilitate these late ad buys for the PAC.

Spielman noted the McCarthy video from the PAC ad comes straight from Zimmer’s campaign Facebook page.

Zimmer declined to do an interview with 17 News Friday.

She texted, “No collusion,” and referred us to John Peschong, Zimmer’s campaign manager with Meridian Pacific, a political consulting firm.

Regarding the allegations, Peschong told us Spielman is “Making that up.”

Peschong told 17 News his company and the Zimmer campaign have not coordinated with People’s Advocate PAC in any way.

But when asked to respond to Zimmer’s treasurer working for the campaign and the PAC, Peschong said we’d have to speak with the treasurer.

So we called People’s Advocate PAC and left a message, but haven’t heard back. 

To the second accusation, Cathy Abernathy, who took over as president of Western Pacific Research after her husband Mark Abernathy died in January, said her company did not violate any state campaign finance law.

Zimmer says she is not involved with WPR anymore, and Abernathy said she did not consult with Zimmer after Mark Abernathy’s death in January.

However in April, Zimmer told 17 news in an interview “After Mark passed away I am continuing to consult with Cathy Abernathy.”

Abernathy insisted there was no formal business arrangement with Zimmer and WPR after January 31st.

Abernathy said even though there was no misconduct, WPR will remove the ad from airwaves to remove all questions of interference. 

Jay Wierenga of the Fair Political Practices Commission told 17 News only an investigation can determine if someone violated election law. 

Spielman just wants the ads taken down.

Cathy Abernathy is an unpaid political analyst for 17 News.

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