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Sierra College trustee accused of stifling First Amendment rights

Klein says last-minute e-mail ‘false’
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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An e-mail battle involving lawyers and threats of libel litigation has emerged as the final days of the Sierra College Board of Trustee campaign wind to an end. Members of the Save Sierra College committee have charged board trustee Aaron Klein with attempting to violate their First Amendment rights. Klein says the group is making libelous claims about him. “Aaron Klein is employing Gestapo campaign tactics because he can’t stand the truth,” said Cheryl Maki, Save Sierra College spokesperson, in a press release. “I am frankly appalled, but not surprised that he would go to theses lengths to trample the First Amendment. This is a typical reaction from a man who can’t tell fact from fiction.” Klein, who is running for a second four-year term, contacted an Internet service provider via his attorney to shut down an e-mail address that was distributing information about him that he says is libelous. “Bill (Martin) and Cheryl (Maki) can send however many e-mails they want about their unending quest for more deficit spending and their proposal for $18,000 per student in new taxes, but nobody has the right to fabricate false claims to smear their opponent with,” Klein said in a prepared statement. “The voters are far too smart to be fooled by Bill and Cheryl’s lies, and I trust in their verdict on election day.” Maki said the e-mail, sent by the committee, was distributed to registered voters. It said Klein tried to connect Sierra College with a federal lobbying firm that is currently under investigation by the FBI. The e-mail stated, “$135,000 of taxpayer money was siphoned from critical college needs without benefit of even one minute of public discussion.” Klein was vehement in denying that charge. “Let me be clear: I have never ‘initiated contact’ with any lobbyist for any reason whatsoever, I have never even met the people listed in their press release, and I have never suggested that a particular firm be hired by the college for that purpose,” Klein’s statement read. Leo Chavez, president/CEO of Sierra College, said he remembered the conversation with Klein when the trustee only offered the contact information of a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, Potomac Partners. Chavez said this past summer at the annual board retreat, the board said obtaining more federal funding was one of its goals. Sometime after the meeting, Klein contacted Chavez and said he was aware of a lobbying firm the college could possibly use. “It was very clear at the time that it was only a place to start,” Chavez said. “It was also very clear there was no pressure or hint to use this or any other firm. He just had a contact with them and thought I could start there.” Klein added that his policy is if a firm contacts him, he will give them the college president’s information and then let the president know the firm may be calling. Chavez said when he was hired, the college did have a contract with Pete Evich, vice president of Van Scoyoc associates, the lobbying firm referenced in one of Save Sierra College’s e-mails. However, Chavez canceled that contract, not because of an unsatisfied relationship, but because the college wanted to direct the dollars elsewhere, he said. Since then, Chavez said the college has not had a federal lobbyist and he has felt no pressure from any board member to select a particular firm. A letter from Klein’s attorney Clayton Campbell was provided to the Journal. The signed letter was from Campbell and addressed to Topica, Inc., the service provider that had control of the e-mail account that was shut down. The account belongs to Kent Pollock of Kent Pollock Communications in Sacramento. Pollock sent mass e-mails out for local campaigns including Jennifer Montgomery, Otis Wollan, Angela Torrens in Rocklin and Elaine Rowen, who is running against Dennis Cota for a seat on the Sierra College board. The letter stated that the company’s service was being used to “broadcast false and libelous e-mail messages pertaining to my client, Aaron Klein, to a database of registered voters who did not opt-in to receive his spam broadcast.” Campbell’s letter demanded that the company stop Pollock or the Save Sierra College committee from sending additional messages, citing potential state and federal law violations. “Every single charge leveled in that e-mail is backed by documented research,” Maki said. “We are confident that there is not one fact that is not true.” Pollock said he in turn contacted an attorney who charged the company couldn’t block the address. The company relented and the two e-mails to which Klein objects were sent to a combined total of more than 51,000 registered voters in Placer and Nevada counties. Maki said the committee could provide documents to support its e-mail and have posted it on its Web site, savesierracollege.com. “This is despicable politics at its worst,” Maki said. “There is nothing more un-American than trying to stifle free speech. Aaron Klein should withdraw this pathetic gambit.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.