One of the reasons for requiring political candidates to release financial reports is to allow the electorate an opportunity to scrutinize and review how political monies change hands. Especially in a city where numerous individuals have been jailed recently for bribes disguised as political contributions, it is even more important to follow the money. The financial disclosures are supposed to be timely, accurate and transparent.
In reviewing Aliana Apodaca’s latest financial disclosure forms, I came upon four political expenditures; three to a company listed as “SPA” for a total of $11,500 and one to a company listed as Nation Builder for $99.00. Being in the business of online engagement, I’m always interested in seeing how politicians use social media for their campaigns.
The Nation Builder expense on November 8, 2013 is related to her website as she uses them to host and deliver her web content. The fee is the standard fee they charge for the tier she chose. As far as I know, Nation Builder does not charge a setup, or design fee for a campaign website. Then I noticed three expenses to “SPA” listed on her disclosure form.
All three expenses list “Graphics, Web, Design, IT” as the description for the payment. The first two were for $3,000 each, on October 23 and October 25, 2013. The last one was on December 2, 2013 for $5,500. In total, so far she has paid them $11,500.
In her disclosure, Aliana Apodaca discloses that the company she paid uses a PO Box as an address. I was curious to see who SPA is. I assumed that Apodaca would want to be as transparent as possible so I sent her an email asking her to clarify for me who SPA was. I sent my first email on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 and not receiving a reply I sent another one on Friday, January 24, 2014.
However, I continued to do my own research while I waited. My first stop was Google, the Texas Corporation database and the County’s DBA database. None of them was useful because the initials happen to spell a common word, spa. The next piece of information I had was the address used. According to her financial disclosure form, Aliana Apodaca paid SPA, a company using the address of “PO Box 12936” with zip code “79913”. Nothing came up for that address.
A few readers then suggested that maybe SPA stood for Sierra Public Affairs.
According to the Texas Comptroller, there is a company; Sierra Public Affairs, LLC. (32048200383) that uses the address “PO Box 12396” with the zip code of “79913”. According to the comptroller’s database, Sierra Public Affairs is owned and operated by Carlos Sierra.
Really, I thought to myself. I am used to political games, subterfuge and outright lies but to transpose two digits in a PO Box, is it really as simple as a mistake or is it more? Was it a simple mistake of transposing the three and the nine?
Two things bother me. Aliana Apodaca was quick to follow me on Twitter (@martinparedes) and respond to my Tweet about her correcting the corporate contribution she received via her own corporation but when I asked who STA was she wasn’t responding to my question. I receive her website newsletters but her response doesn’t seem to make it into my inbox.
The other thing that bothers me is the use of “SPA” instead of spelling out the full name “Sierra Public Affairs”. Is it really as simple as a mistake? I wanted to learn more about who Sierra Public Affairs is.
Carlos Sierra’s Twitter account states that he is “severely independent”, “Anti-Arpio” and “ex McCain aide”. He also lists “Phoenix/El Paso” as his bases. His website lists only a telephone number with an Arizona area code and an email address. On Friday, I sent Carlos Sierra an email asking him to clarify for me if, in fact “SPA” was Sierra Public Affairs.
I’m sure some of you are wondering why I didn’t bother to call the telephone number. The main reason is that I’m frequently accused of having an agenda, which is anger by the way, and that my information is wrong. I like to use email because it allows me to document the exchange and because I believe it gives the person answering my questions a fair opportunity to think and respond appropriately. Ambush interviews bother me because they are gimmicks for sensationalism. Besides El Paso politics are sensationalism by themselves without having to manufacture some.
Finally, on Sunday, January 26, 2014 I received a response via email from Carlos Sierra. He confirmed that SPA was his company. Sierra also added his firm worked on her “website, logo, social media, graphics, and branding.” He also added that her political consultants are “Victor Contreras and William Pierce” adding that “Levy Ad Group and Coyote” are also providing support to Apodaca
While I waited for the responses, I continued to search for more information about Carlos Sierra. According to the media reports, Carlos Sierra was a “staff assistant to U.S. Sen. John McCain”, according to The Arizona Guardian in a May 29, 2009 report by Dennis Welch.
According to an online profile, Carlos Sierra worked for McCain since about 2000 through 2010 and he was now a political consultant.
I continued to be bothered by the apparent attempt by Aliana Apodaca to make it difficult to trace her campaign finances so I scrutinized her financial disclosure forms.
I noticed that she filed her campaign treasurer on October 1, 2013. She received her first campaign contribution on the same day. Yet she registered her domain name on September 30, 2013 at GoDaddy. I can’t tell who actually paid for the domain name registration but the expense was created before she had officially appointed a campaign treasurer.
Maybe the legal eagles reading my blog can chime in on the legality of this, however as I understand it a candidate is prohibited from spending money before appointing a treasurer.
I can’t help but wonder if the transposition of the “3” and the “9” on the address of the company on her financial disclosure form and the use of the initials for Sierra Public Affairs was a mistake or an attempt to hide campaign financial information from the electorate.
Carlos Sierra’s close ties to Republican candidates is a good reason to keep his involvement in her campaign a secret from the electorate.
Yesterday, Carlos Sierra called me in response to a follow up email I sent him. According to him, as of the beginning of this month he is no longer working in Apodaca’s campaign. He told me that he believes the use of the initials and the transpositions of the numbers of the PO Box address were an “accident” by Apodaca’s campaign. Sierra told me that Apodaca’s sister is in charge of the financial disclosures and this is “all new” to them.
Whether ineptitude or an attempt to keep secrets from the electorate the fact is that in a city riddled with public corruption scandals, it seriously raises questions about Aliana Apodaca’s reasons for running for office. More importantly, why has Aliana Apodaca not bothered to answer my simple question? Was she hoping it would all just go away?