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Critics question nonprofit’s motives; group vows to continue

In the wake of controversial mailers and websites circulated during the election season, the organization We Love Encinitas, which claimed to be a nonprofit group, is facing scrutiny for mailers that some deem political.

In early October, the group sent a mailer publicizing high favorable ratings from the city-funded Citizen Satisfaction Survey conducted in July by a private firm, True North Research. In its mailer, We Love Encinitas said, “Thank you to our city leaders … City Council members, police, fire and city staff.”

It was not apparent who was behind the organization through the mailer or website, Both only included a disclaimer stating We Love Encinitas was a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School, a nonprofit is a tax-exempt corporation organized for purposes other than generating profit. Nonprofit organizations include churches, schools, charities, political organizations, legal aid societies and professional associations, among others.

What raised concern among city activists was the group’s second mailer, which featured pictures and quotes from four of the five City Council members – Jerome Stocks and Mark Muir, who were running for re-election, James Bond and Kristin Gaspar – reacting to the positive results of the survey. Councilwoman Teresa Barth was not included.

Information comes to light

Initially, We Love Encinitas registration records as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit could not be found in state databases by publications and local law firms.

But in mid-November, via the Secretary of State’s office, Coast Law Group in Encinitas found that the organization had become active on Oct. 22 as We Love Encinitas Community Advocates, days after residents received the mailers.

It was also discovered that Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar’s husband, Paul Gaspar, was the registered agent for the group. Political blog Encinitas Undercover publicized the information in a Nov. 21 post.

Marco Gonzalez, a managing partner of Coast Law Group who oversees elections law, said We Love Encinitas walked a fine line when it comes to what’s acceptable for nonprofits.

“Technically, nonprofits can send out mailers to educate people about issues. Had it not been an election season, those mailers could be qualified as nonprofit education, but their timing and substance (was) sketchy,” Gonzalez said.

“They attempted to put Mark Muir and Jerome Stocks in a favorable light in a time when running for office,” he added.

Barth said that when she received the mailer, she knew that whoever was behind it was using it for campaign purposes. She said that when she found out that Paul Gaspar was the founder of the organization, she was surprised.

“I don’t think a (council member’s) spouse has ever taken this kind of action,” Barth said. “But Kristin has always been a Stocks supporter; he nominated her for deputy mayor.”

Stocks and Muir denied to the North County Times in mid-October having any connection to We Love Encinitas and knowing who was behind it.

Paul Gaspar responds

In an email exchange with a North Coast Current writer, Paul Gaspar said that “We Love Encinitas activities have never been political or a secret.”

“As one does not have to be secret about disseminating good news – unlike the multiple anonymous negative groups and blogs that have infected Encinitas,” Gaspar wrote.

Gaspar did confirm that We Love Encinitas had not been granted nonprofit status in mid-October, around the time the mailer was sent, due to another state organization’s name being too similar.

Along with his responses to questions, Gaspar forwarded a news release dated Oct. 17 that identifies him as a founding member and introduces the organization as “a nonprofit, nonpolitical organization committed to a positive voice for informing the Encinitas community through: community outreach, multimedia, direct mail, social media, and the sale of promotional items.”

Gaspar said he sent the news release to now-jointly owned daily newspapers U-T San Diego and North County Times.

U-T San Diego did not respond to an inquiry regarding whether the publication received it. However, an Oct. 23 report from U-T Campaign Watch still questioned who was behind We Love Encinitas.

Gonzalez said he believes the news release was not sent to any publications on behalf of the nonprofit.

“No one seems to have received it; I don’t know anybody who did,” Gonzalez said.

About not including Barth in the mailer, Gaspar said he decided not to include her because, during a City Council meeting, Barth said the council should not take credit for the positive results of the Citizen Satisfaction Survey.

“I did not want to anger her by including a quote from her amongst other comments or the overall theme/context of mailer, which she had already stated she did not agree with,” he said via email.

That City Council meeting took place on Sept. 12, the day the results of the satisfaction survey were revealed. When given a chance to speak, according to a video recording of the meeting, Barth gave credit to the city’s staff for the positive marks.

“Our sheriffs, our marine services, our lifeguards, our park maintenance staff. These are the people that the community interacts with,” Barth said during the meeting. “I’d love to take credit for this, this is what politicians love to do, but the reality is it’s the people that work for us in this community that deserve … the vast majority of credit for the successes that we see here.”

Councilman Bond, who is retiring after 20 years of service, was quick to disagree with Barth.

“I do want to take a little credit and I want (City Council) to take a little credit,” Bond said in the meeting.

Barth told the North Coast Current on Nov. 26 that she did not intend to take any credit away from the City Council, as “it’s everybody’s effort that makes Encinitas a wonderful town. Not just five people.”

Repercussions ahead?

Gonzalez said there could be legal repercussions for We Love Encinitas, but “they are not worth the time” pursuing as the political consequences for Kristin Gaspar will have a greater effect.

“Paul and Kristin took a gamble that the incumbents will remain in power,” Gonzalez said. “Now there is going to be a political price to pay for Kristin to step up this way and now having to eat crow.”

Kristin Gaspar declined to comment for this story, saying her husband was best to direct questions to as she is not an officer of the organization.

Barth said she, too, believes being connected to We Love Encinitas will have a toll on Kristin Gaspar’s political fate. Gaspar has two years remaining of her four-year term.

“Based on what people have said to me, this has already affected their trust in Kristin. But how the next two years go is really up to her,” Barth said.

The allegations from city activists have not fazed Paul Gaspar and the organization. He said the group will continue to “execute its mission for the benefit of the citizens of Encinitas.”

“I think there is a real niche for our positive group in town and we will certainly continue to be a fantastic non-political and positive news source,” he said via email. “(We Love Encinitas) will not engage in this political banter any further.”

Gaspar also said the organization will be holding a public outreach event in the next few weeks.

Ernesto Lopez is a San Diego freelance writer

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Critics question nonprofit’s motives; group vows to continue