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Late in her 2012 mayoral campaign, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis enlisted ElectionMall – the company at the center of a campaign finance scandal – to host her website. The services weren’t reported. Her campaign says the company’s CEO was a volunteer.
Near the end of her 2012 mayoral campaign, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis used a company now at the center of a major campaign finance scandal to run her website and email system. Those services aren’t reported on her campaign’s financial disclosures.
In April 2012, Dumanis enlisted ElectionMall, whose CEO Ravi Singh is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal, hidden donations from a wealthy Mexican citizen, Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, to work on Dumanis’ campaign and others in San Diego. Singh’s employees transitioned Dumanis’ website and email system to their servers, according to internal emails from Dumanis’ campaign obtained by Voice of San Diego.
Jennifer Tierney, Dumanis’ longtime political consultant, confirmed that ElectionMall hosted Dumanis’ campaign website for the two months prior to Dumanis’ fourth-place finish in the June 2012 primary.
Tierney said Singh advised the campaign on the website’s appearance. He also wanted to demonstrate ElectionMall’s mass emailing and fundraising services, so the campaign let him host the website, Tierney said.
“We had assistance from Ravi in the mayor’s race,” Tierney said. “We did not pay him.”
Tierney said Dumanis didn’t need to report ElectionMall’s work on campaign disclosure forms because Singh worked as a volunteer, and his company’s web-hosting services had no value.
But that’s not clear. If ElectionMall provided anything that cost money to Dumanis’ campaign, that could conflict with state and local campaign finance laws. City election candidates cannot accept anything of value from a company.
Website hosting doesn’t cost much, but it typically does cost something, said Jonathon Book, who owns local web services company Quexion. Book estimated it would cost between $150 and $225 to host the website of a big-city mayoral campaign for two months.
“It’s uncommon not to pay to host a website,” Book said.
Dumanis’ campaign did disclose a nearly $3,500 payment to the website’s previous host, a local company called Brainshine. The company’s owner, Blaise Nauyokas, said most of that money went toward designing and building Dumanis’ site from scratch, but would have included a nominal fee for web hosting. Nauyokas said he typically charges clients $10 a month for that service. Dumanis’ campaign also paid an outside webmaster throughout the race.
A website host stores a site’s text, images, design and other files on its server and makes sure there’s enough bandwidth to handle the site’s traffic.
“If the owner of a company volunteers his personal services to a campaign, he can do that without running afoul of city campaign laws,” said Stacey Fulhorst, who heads the city’s Ethics Commission. “However, if his company provides anything of value to the campaign that could be an in-kind contribution, that would likely be prohibited.” (Fulhorst said she was speaking generally about city campaign laws, not this specific case.)
Kevin Klein, Dumanis’ mayoral campaign manager, said it was never made clear why the campaign transferred its web hosting to ElectionMall at the end of the race.
He said ElectionMall also sent a box of tchotchkes to the campaign, including branded fliers, business cards and about 100 pens.
Singh’s company began hosting Dumanis’ campaign website around the same time federal prosecutors allege Singh was running a massive off-the-books effort to boost Dumanis’ mayoral bid.
Just two months prior to the website transfer, prosecutors say Azano agreed to pay $100,000 to Singh and ElectionMall for online advertisements to help Dumanis. The spending was never reported, and concealed that a foreign national was illegally contributing to an American campaign, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors also allege that in May 2012, Azano illegally funneled another $100,000 through a shell company to an independent expenditure committee supporting Dumanis.
Dumanis has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case and Azano has not been charged. Dumanis has said she met Azano and Singh previously, including attending a luncheon at Azano’s Coronado estate, but she knew nothing of the alleged scheme.