Crystal Geyser Deceptively Sponsored Fake Grassroots Committee in Violation of the California Fair Political Practices Act
FPPC Commissioners Reject Proposed $48,000 Fine, ask for a larger penalty
After a nearly five year investigation, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) found that Crystal Geyser Water Company (CGWC) intentionally hid their identity as sponsors of the “Committee for a Strong Siskiyou Economy, No on Measure H” (Committee) and that their actions caused “significant public harm”. The FPPC noted that Crystal Geyser formed and controlled the Committee and provided funds for 98% of the Committee’s activities. The California Fair Political Practices Act (CFPPA) requires that Crystal Geyser, as a major sponsor, be named in campaign statements and advertisements of the Committee. However, the Committee sent out multiple advertisements and submitted campaign statements (to the FPPC) without properly identifying Crystal Geyser as the Committee’s sponsor. In addition, the investigation concluded that the content of the advertisements was written “as if the Committee was a grassroots and local led group”, thus misleading “voters about the true backers of the opposition committee.” This “astroturfing” strategy concealed the company’s role as a major donor against the measure by creating a false appearance of grassroots opposition to the initiative.
One of the signs secretly funded by Crystal Geyser
At its meeting on February 17, 2022, the FPPC reviewed a draft stipulation that stated Crystal Geyser Water Company (CGWC), its front group “Committee”, and the Committee’s principal officer, Jill Harris, and treasurer, Kelly Lawler, had violated the CFPPA. The proposed agreement between FPPC and CGWC would have assessed a total fine of $48,000, but it was unanimously rejected by the Commissioners who said it was too low of a penalty.
Measure H was an initiative organized by community members in 2016, with Angelina Cook as its proponent, to amend Chapter 13 of the Siskiyou County water extraction ordinance to eliminate an exclusive exemption for water bottling companies; that exemption had allowed water bottling companies to operate without obtaining permits before exporting water. Measure H would have held water bottling corporations to the same permitting requirements as other businesses. In addition, the measure would extend the groundwater extraction permitting requirement to all other groundwater sources not defined by the state as “groundwater basins”. Measure H was defeated countywide although south county voters endorsed the measure. In January, 2017, Siskiyou Forward Movement PAC founder Andy Fusso filed a complaint with the FPPC requesting an investigation of CGWC’s interference in the election.
In addition to Harris, four individuals were identified as principal officers of the Committee: Daralyn Reed, Joan Smith Freeman, Dorian Aiello, and John Kennedy. FFPC documents state, “Records show that the named principal officers, except for Harris, were added as principal officers for local support and endorsement.” Additional violations cited in the stipulation included the Committee’s failure to report contributions on campaign statements and failures to timely file 24-hour contribution reports. CGWC failed to timely file as a major donor and failed to timely file 24-hour contribution reports. At the February 17 meeting, the Commissioners returned the proposed stipulation to its staff for revisions to include increased fines.
For further information, see the press release from Siskiyou Forward Movement HERE
A video recording of the FPPC meeting can be accessed at the following link: HERE
(the discussion about CGWC violations begins about 20 minutes into the recording).