Animosity in the race to fill the 3rd District county supervisor seat has continuously spilled over into online territory in the past year, with complaints of trolling and attacks between supporters and opponents of the various contenders repeatedly taking center stage.
Some of that tension has stemmed from disputes between incumbent Adam Hill’s outspoken supporter, Aaron Ochs, and the anonymous website and Facebook page Fire Adam Hill 2016, which supports Hill’s challenger for the 3rd District seat, San Luis Obispo City Councilman Dan Carpenter.
Ochs is claiming Fire Adam Hill 2016 violated state political reform regulations by sponsoring ads on Facebook, but not filing as an independent expenditure committee to disclose how much the group has spent on those ads or who is behind the pages.
“Regardless of who I may personally support or oppose, that doesn’t color what the complaint is,” Ochs said. “I believe they should come forward — Fire Adam Hill — and disclose who they are, how much they are spending and who is contributing to them.”
When reached for comment through Facebook messaging, an unidentified Fire Adam Hill 2016 representative said campaign committee rules don’t apply because Fire Adam Hill is a private citizen who does not make any independent expenditures.
“I am only sharing news articles on Facebook, not making independent expenditures on a candidate or ballot measure,” the person wrote, declining to discuss the complaint further.
Ochs filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission in January — and then amended that complaint in March after the initial complaint was dismissed for lack of evidence — alleging the anonymous webpage was spending “significant’ amounts on political advertisements encouraging people to vote against Hill, who is seeking his third term on the county Board of Supervisors this November.
The Political Reform Act requires individuals or organizations that spend more than $1,000 a year supporting or opposing a candidate to file as independent expenditure committees, which, among other things, requires disclosure of where the money is coming from and how much they are spending. Online activity — such as social media posts and emails — are typically exempt, unless they fall under the category of paid advertising.
As evidence of his complaint, Ochs pointed to a comment by Fire Adam Hill 2016 on its page March 9, in which the group appears to claim it has spent “thousands of dollars” on its Facebook promotions. Facebook allows users to sponsor or pay for specific posts to appear in news feeds. The amount spent on the sponsored posts varies based on a personalized budget set by the user.
“Every time you and your ‘Team’ speaks negatively about the good people of San Luis Obispo County we dump more $ into our FB promotions,” Fire Adam Hill 2016 wrote in a response to comments made by Supervisor Hill.
The comment appeared below a March 5 post calling out an article and comment on Cal Coast Fraud — Ochs’ Facebook page and website that heavily criticizes local news site Cal Coast News. Fire Adam Hill 2016 often posts links to Cal Coast News articles, though the group also links to other local news organizations and websites.
FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga declined to discuss further details of the complaint, saying an investigation is ongoing.
He said it is unknown when the case could be resolved, though he noted that about two-thirds of FPPC cases are completed within six months, and 90 percent within a year.