GOP candidates decry Sacto Press Club secrecy

This article was updated at 10:20 a.m. PT based on new information. See editor’s notes.

When political candidates take debate questions from reporters, they know it can be like stepping into a lion’s den. But that saying achieved new meaning for California recall candidate John Cox amid recent Sacto Politico revelations that the organizer of the Aug. 17 debate – the Sacramento Press Club – has quietly known one of its members purchased the ticket used by a process server to interrupt the closed-door event and throw a subpoena toward Cox.


In the same story, the Los Angeles Times confirmed they had advance “information that something might occur at the event.” Their reporter filmed the incident and immediately posted a 15-second clip to Twitter. From there, it was linked to and downloaded by media throughout the nation.


Thus it would seem fair for Cox to wonder “Is that any way to treat an invited guest?” In an extended interview with the Sacto Politico, he publicly called for the Sacramento Press Club to be transparent and reveal the name of the member involved and other details it knows about the incident. But for the time being, the press club has said in a statement, “If anyone has a concern that they’d like to discuss, please ask them to contact us directly.”


“I think for their own credibility in the future and for the credibility of the press as an honest actor,” Cox said, the press club “should disclose who bought this ticket and how the ticket got to that person.”

“There is another question here. What if this guy was lying to the L.A. Times that he was only going to serve a subpoena, but instead he was going to go there and hunt me down and shoot me?” said Cox (left). “Did [the Times] have any ethical obligation to let security know?”


The Sacto Politico does not know who tipped off the L.A. Times or what specifically the tipster told the Times might happen.


Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and state Asm. Kevin Kiley also participated in the Aug. 17 debate. Former U.S. Congressman Doug Ose was scheduled to attend, but that morning withdrew from the recall race after suffering a heart attack. On Friday in a reply on Twitter, Ose echoed Cox’s frustration and concern:


“Why should a candidate disclose anything to the press if the press allows itself to be used in stunts like this? The only way to prevent this from happening again is to disclose who’s involved. Transparency is a 2 way street. Or maybe it isn’t?” he wrote.


Last week, the press club said in a separate statement that the member who passed along the ticket was “not a journalist and was unaware of the plan to use the ticket to serve John Cox with a subpoena.” However, the press club has not provided the member’s name, explained how it knew the member’s explanation was accurate, and who else may have passed along the ticket.


EDITOR’S NOTE: After publication Monday morning, the plaintiff in the lawsuit against Cox, Jim Innocenzi, emailed Sacto Politico that the Los Angeles Times did not provide him with the ticket, but he did not share who had.


Since then, the Sacto Politico requested the member’s name multiple times. Other questions asked included whether the member was or is currently part of press club leadership or its board; details about what security was in place for the Aug. 17 debate; and whether the member involved would be disciplined in any way, such as not allowed to purchase future pass-along tickets.

The press club did not respond to these and many other questions, nor did it provide comment on the complaints the Sacto Politico forwarded from Cox and Ose. However on Saturday, Press Club President Alexei Koseff provided the following statement from himself:


“The Sacramento Press Club has received no complaints about our debate. If anyone has a concern that they’d like to discuss, please ask them to contact us directly. Given how the Sacramento Press Club was mischaracterized in your original story, we decline to comment further.”


It should be noted Koseff’s claim that the press club “has received no complaints about our debate” came in reply to the Sacto Politico sharing such complaints in the form of direct quotes from Cox and Ose. In the email chain, these complaints appear directly below Koseff’s statement response.


The Sacto Politico also requested three times Koseff provide on-the-record examples for publication about how the press club was mischaracterized, but none were provided. Nor have any requests for an error correction or retraction been received from any members of the press club.


(Editor’s note: I am a member of the Sacramento Press Club, but did not attend the debate nor purchase or provide a ticket to anyone.)


“To me this goes to the bigger issue,“ Cox said. “Do we have an independent, unbiased media in this state? Or is our media crossing a line into partisan behavior, which I think this did,” Cox said.


Because all the facts surrounding this incident have not been shared, Cox said he doesn’t accept the press club’s assurance that no reporters were involved or that the member wasn’t aware how the passed-along ticket would be used.


John Myers, the Sacramento bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, previously stated the Times sent only one reporter to the debate and “didn’t seek access to the event for anyone other than our reporter.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: Again, Innocenzi emailed Monday morning that the Los Angeles Times did not provide him with the ticket, but he did not share additional information about who had.


The Times has been in the lead covering the lawsuit against Cox by Innocenzi, a political ad consultant who hired the private investigator Aman Choudhry to serve the subpoena. Cox said that lawsuit originally sought $45,000 from Cox’s now defunct 2018 campaign for alleged unpaid work. This became $100,000 when a judge ruled in May in Innocenzi’s favor and added his legal costs to the judgment.


“Everybody on [the 2018] campaign got paid,” Cox said. “The one bad apple was this guy [Innocenzi]. By the way, he made hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit from the campaign in 2018. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted more so he billed after the campaign was over for some charges that were just not agreed to.”


“Innocenzi is all about trying to get money from me. And he is mad that he got called [by me] on his fraudulent billings. He’s mad he has a judgment against a defunct campaign, and he can’t collect anything,” Cox said. “He thinks if he causes enough pain in the media for me that somehow he will extort the money from me, but I am not going to give in.”


Cox is aware how much media coverage his being served the subpoena received. His daughters in Chicago even heard about it, but he added, “I hope regular voters consider the fact I don’t pay bills from people who cheat, and this guy cheated. I hope they appreciate the fact that I won’t do that as governor either.”


Innocenzi was offered an opportunity to respond to these comments, but did not reply.


Cox said he also finds it peculiar that the Los Angeles Times closely covers what was originally a $45,000 private dispute, but has little mentioned a multi-million dollar San Diego “scandal” — as termed by the San Diego Union-Tribune – involving fellow recall candidate Faulconer.


The case involves a 2016 city real estate deal for an office building that the Union-Tribune said “the former mayor had pushed through.” An audit released last month commissioned by the San Diego City Council found “a serious lack of policies and oversight caused the City to miss or skip key steps in the acquisition process.” The audit also found that Faulconer’s administration left out or misrepresented key information.


At the same time, a volunteer real estate consultant to Faulconer’s administration pocketed nearly $10 million in the deal, and the city is currently on the hook for $115 million in mostly undisclosed, unexpected repairs. The city is now suing to get out of the deal.


In its Aug. 13 recall recommendations, the Times editorial board briefly referenced this “sketchy real estate deal.” On Question 1 on the recall ballot, the editorial board said it was a “strong, unequivocal no” against recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom. On Question 2, it reluctantly endorsed Faulconer as Newsom’s replacement as “the least bad option in a recall field that ranges from the merely bad to the utterly catastrophic.”


The editorial also said Faulconer “should publicly answer questions about his role in this deal.” And it’s here Cox wonders why the Times’ reporters and its columnists haven’t pursued asking Faulconer more questions about this.


“It’s absolutely germane,” Cox said. “As governor of the State of California, [Faulconer] is not just going to be responsible for one stinking office building, he will be responsible for literally billions of dollars in buildings.”


“Look, I’m doing this [running for governor] because I care about what goes on in this state. Most of the media thinks I am just like other politicians and I am just doing this just for my fame and fortune and all that crap. But I’m doing this because this state has got to change.”


For information about “Why we published?” go to that story here.


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