For reasons that will soon be evident, there aren't going to be any names in this column.
Earlier this week, we received a call from someone we know and respect, and who has had plenty of useful information and insight in the past. This person -- Source X -- wanted to pass along some information, but wanted to remain off the record. We said OK. And then, almost instantly, we regretted it.
The story Source X told was this:
A candidate in the upcoming local elections, one that Source X could be expected to oppose, had received a fairly large campaign donation. All well and good. But the purported donor -- Person Y -- was not the actual donor at all, according to Source X. In fact, it was Person Z who provided the money for the donation. Z used Y as a pass-through, Source X alleged, to obscure the origin of the funds and contravene campaign finance laws.
"How do you know this?" we asked Source X.
Source X replied that he knew someone who had seen Person Z's bank statements, which showed a check from Person Z to Person Y in the same amount as the donation.
This took us aback. When we recovered, we had more questions. Who saw Person Z's bank statements? How did this person have access to those documents? Theoretically speaking, how could we be expected to replicate this knowledge? Source X declined to elaborate further, and signed off by expressing faith in our investigative abilities.
It seems to us that there's two general explanations for what had happened in this conversation, neither of them savory. Was Source X telling the truth about the bank statements or not? If not, then the point was to send the Journal off on an errand, in the hope that it might bring back some useful campaign dirt -- or, failing that, to momentarily embarrass both the candidate and Person Z with intrusive questions from the press that had no solid grounding in fact.
If what Source X said was true, though ... well, that's a whole other level of sleaze. Sleaze on the part of Person Z, certainly, and possibly on the part of the candidate: The laundering of campaign donations is a pretty serious violation of the letter and spirit of California's Political Reform Act. But also an overwhelming amount of sleaze on the part of Source X's posse -- which, by implication, would seem to possess a fairly significant black ops opposition team aimed not only at the candidate but at the candidate's donors and allies. How did someone get Person Z's bank statements, then? Dumpster diving? Electronic surveillance? Friend at the bank? If you can think of an innocent explanation, let us know.
Either way, we took the conversation as a sign that Humboldt County's political apparatus -- which, even in the best of times, operates just outside the boundaries of the law and way outside the realm of the honorable -- is gearing up for a big 2010. We're going to go out on a limb and predict that this year will equal or even best 2004, year of the Gallegos recall, for sheer dirty pool. The shady telephone polls, which will never appear on any candidate's financial disclosure forms, have already begun. Next we'll get the threats, the false front groups, the scare ads, the word-of-blog innuendo, the campaign finance gymnastics and all the rest of it. There will be cynical campaign managers whose aim, as we wrote last week, will be to secure your vote by frightening you and making you more stupid.
There are two contests on the June 2010 ballot that will generate scum by the boatload, guaranteed: the races for District Attorney and Fourth District Supervisor. The Fifth District Supervisor race could get promoted into that territory. Who knows -- maybe the politicos will throw the competitive races for Sheriff and Assessor into the mix, too.
The Journal, a newspaper, can't help but be of two minds about this. On the one hand, it's absolutely fantastic to get to air out a vile campaign move and to shame those involved. Someone has to attempt to play watchdog, and come May there will likely be enough material for five or six full-time reporters and twice our current number of pages. Then again, there's the nagging reminders in the back of one's head that elections really are important. They should be about something.
And so we lift our hands and make a pledge to you -- in the coming months, we will deliver full, comprehensive, no-bullshit coverage of the issues behind these races, and we will do it better than anyone else. We'll expose the scandals too, if we can, but tipsters take note -- you can't just tell us about your stolen documents. You gotta show us your stolen documents. And you better be prepared to answer questions about how you stole them.