Campaign diary: So not kosher

As you know if you read America Wants to Know regularly, the writer of this blog is running for Congress in California’s 30th District, the west and south San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. This is the district where longtime Democratic incumbents Brad Sherman and Howard Berman are running against each other, thanks to the redistricting by a citizens’ panel that was instructed to draw the lines without regard to the effects on incumbents.

Redistricting by a citizens’ panel is one of two reforms imposed on the political process in California by angry voters. The other one is the new “top-two” primary system. Instead of each political party having its own primary ballot on June 5, there will be one ballot for all voters, regardless of party registration. All candidates of all parties will be on the ballot, and voters of any party can vote for any one of them. The two candidates with the most votes go on to the November general election, which is effectively a run-off.

These reforms didn’t happen by accident. The ballot measures passed because California voters are upset with their incumbents. It’s fine to say, “People can always vote them out,” but when incumbents can draw safe districts for themselves and raise tons of money by selling access and favors to special interests, potential candidates don’t bother to run against them. No one in the same party can raise the resources for a primary challenge, and no one in the opposing party can raise the resources to run in a district that every political expert rates “safe” for the other side. So when voters go to the polls, there’s effectively (sometimes literally) only one name on the ballot.

This explains the apparent contradiction between the overwhelming re-election victories of longtime incumbents and the overwhelming disgust with longtime incumbents.

Keep that in mind, and let me tell you the story of how I came to be excluded from the upcoming candidate forum sponsored by the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

Beginning in late August or early September, the Jewish Journal began to report that I was a candidate in this congressional race. Columnist Bill Boyarsky and reporter/blogger Jonah Lowenfeld told their readers that I was a Jewish Republican. Mr. Boyarsky compared my longshot chances to the campaign in New York’s 9th District, an area with a large Jewish population that recently elected a Republican for the first time since the 1920s.

My e-mail correspondence with both reporters was very cordial.

Then on January 5, I participated in a town hall forum with Congressmen Sherman, Congressman Berman, and Republican candidate Mark Reed. You can see some clips on YouTube here and here, and they may hold clues to the reason for what happened next.

I received a call from Jewish Journal reporter Jonah Lowenfeld. He asked me, in a tone so frosty it could be served in a paper cup at Dairy Queen, if I had “registered” as a candidate.

The filing period for the race doesn’t open until February 13, which is the first date anyone can pull the papers necessary to get on the June ballot, and the Federal Election Commission doesn’t require or accept the forms for a registered political committee until a candidate has raised or spent $5,000. Since I’m doing my own website, video editing, artwork, writing and thinking, I haven’t yet had to raise or spend the kind of funds necessary to hire people to do those things for me, so I haven’t yet raised or spent $5,000.

“How much have you spent?” he asked me. I told him.

“That’s my only question,” he said.

I had heard that the Jewish Journal was planning to sponsor a candidate forum, and before I let him off the phone, I asked if I was invited to it.

“I’m not the one working on that,” Jonah Lowenfeld said, “but there are different criteria that are being considered for who will or won’t be included.”

That was the end of the phone call, and I didn’t hear another word about it until last Thursday afternoon, when someone alerted me that the Jewish Journal’s candidate forum for the 30th congressional district had been scheduled for February 21, and my name wasn’t on the list of those who would be participating.

So I sent an e-mail to the Jewish Journal’s publisher and editor-in-chief, Rob Eshman, asking if I was going to be invited. This is what I received in reply:

Subject: Re: Hello from Susan Shelley, GOP candidate in the 30th congressional district
From: Rob Eshman
Date: Thu, January 19, 2012 5:50 pm

Hi Susan:

The criteria we established were based on fundraising, endorsements and political organization. The three invitees qualified by those criteria. We will have editorial space in the paper prior to the election to present all the candidates, but we chose to limit the debate due to logistics and time. Thank you for understanding.



Rob Eshman | Tribe Media Corp.
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
The Jewish Journal
TRIBE Magazine

t 213.368.1661 x 108

I wrote back and said on the contrary, I did not understand why the Jewish Journal was excluding a Republican candidate who is Jewish. I laid out the case for my inclusion in the forum, and I heard nothing back.

On Friday, Gary Aminoff, first vice chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, sent an e-mail to Mr. Eshman and David Suissa, the editor of the Jewish Journal. “Dear Rob and David,” he wrote,

“I believe that you are making an egregious error in excluding Susan Shelley from the Congressional candidate forum on February 21st.

Susan Shelley is a viable candidate for the 30th Congressional District. She is well-funded and is supported by many Republicans in Los Angeles. She is going to pay the fee rather than pulling a “signatures-in-lieu” form. Filing for the seat doesn’t open until February 13th, so she will not be able to file her application until that time.

Susan will be a major force in that race and it would be a mistake to exclude her or ignore her. There are two Republicans in the race: Mark Reed and Susan Shelley. Both should be included in the candidate forum. Both are viable candidates. By the way, Susan Shelley is Jewish, and has the backing of a lot of the Republican Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley.

I urge you to reconsider your decision to exclude her. I have spoken with County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe, to Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon and to other elected officials. All of whom are appalled that you have decided to exclude a viable, well-funded candidate from the forum.”

On Wednesday I was invited to participate in a 30th congressional district candidate forum to be held at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, tentatively scheduled for March 12, and I was invited to participate in a 30th congressional district candidate forum sponsored by the Granada Hills Chamber of Commerce and the north and south neighborhood councils, tentatively scheduled for April 12. But the Jewish Journal, as of this writing, has not responded to my most recent e-mail, and they have not answered the e-mail sent by Mr. Aminoff.


In fifteen minutes of Internet research, I had the answer.

On May 12, 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that in 2009 it was uncertain if the Jewish Journal “would make it to its 25th anniversary next year” but thanks to an $800,000 donation by four philanthropists, the weekly publication “appears to have extended its life expectancy.”

“A group of leading Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists has announced a major financial commitment to The Jewish Journal, the flagship newspaper of the Los Angeles Jewish community,” reported the online publication two days later. “A philanthropic group led by The Journal’s Chairman of the Board, Irwin Field, committed a significant multi-year financial contribution to the undertaking. The group consists of Arthur H. Bilger, founding partner and managing member of Shelter Capital Partners, Peter Lowy, group managing director of the Westfield Group, and an anonymous donor. These philanthropists will join the Board and Executive Committee of Tribe Media Corp. along with Leon C. Janks, Managing Partner of Green, Hasson & Janks LLP.”

On September 12, 2011, Irwin Field made two campaign donations of $2,500 each to Howard Berman. Peter Lowy made two donations of $2,500 to Howard Berman on September 30, 2011. The legal maximum for an individual’s donation to a candidate’s campaign committee is $2,500 per election cycle, so that means they gave the maximum for the June primary and the maximum for the November general. Mrs. Janine Lowy also made two $2,500 donations to Howard Berman on September 30, 2011.

Donations to the three SuperPACs known to be raising “independent expenditure” money for Howard Berman are not public, at least not yet.

Peter Lowy donated $2,500 to Brad Sherman on June 29, 2011, but that was before the new district maps were final, and it was not yet certain that Mr. Berman and Mr. Sherman would be running against each other. The checks totaling $10,000 that went to Howard Berman on September 30 were written in full knowledge that Mr. Berman was running against another Democrat.

And two Republicans.

All four of us participated in a town hall forum sponsored by the Woodland Hills-Tarzana Chamber of Commerce on January 5, yet the Jewish Journal chose to exclude the female Jewish Republican from their own forum.

You can judge for yourself why the people who support Howard Berman would like the Republican alternative to be Mark Reed and not me, but there may be another problem with the Jewish Journal’s icy freeze-out of a GOP candidate described by Republican Party officials as viable and well-funded.

When the Jewish Journal was bailed out by an $800,000 donation from four philanthropists, it reorganized itself into Tribe Media Corp., a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, non-profit organization.

Its mission, reported “To strengthen the Jewish community through independent journalism and promote positive values across multiple media platforms.”

“To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code,” says the IRS website, “an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”

The Jewish Journal is tax-exempt so it can engage in “independent journalism” that strengthens the Jewish community. It may not “participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”

And it is excluding a viable Republican candidate who is Jewish from a candidate forum, while at least two of the four people who kept the newspaper in business make maximum donations to Howard Berman.

When the restructuring was announced in 2010, Tribe Media Corp.’s Executive Vice President for Advertising and Marketing, Steven Karash, said, “The new structure will allow us to help advertisers reach an influential, upscale and involved demographic.”

Won’t those advertisers be surprised when the demographic reaches back.

If you’d like to ask the Jewish Journal’s advertisers why they’re giving their ad dollars to a paper that’s excluding a Republican Jewish woman from a 30th congressional district candidate forum, call:

SAPAPA, Aminach mattresses
(818) 980-8045

Museum of Jewish Heritage
(646) 437-4209

Skirball Cultural Center
(310) 440-4500

UCLA Extension
(310) 825-9971

Los Angeles Jewish Chamber of Commerce
(866) 257-6117

Shiva Sisters
(310) 447-4123

Hear-X, HearUSA, Inc.
(800) 323-3277

LimmudLA Conference
(310) 499-1787

Susan Shelley posted at 2012-1-26 Category: Uncategorized