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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

NorCal Mayor Says Builders PAC Defamed Her

SACRAMENTO (CN) - The former mayor of a Northern California town sued the Region Builders Political Action Committee, claiming it defamed her in an ad that cost her the 2014 election.

Sandra Calvert, former mayor of Loomis, sued Region Builders Inc. and its PAC on Jan. 15 in Sacramento County Court.

Loomis, pop. 6,500, is 20 miles northeast of Sacramento, in Placer County. The defendants are based in Sacramento.

Region Builders PAC is the largest business PAC in the Sacramento region and is "the most dominant economic growth advocate at the ballot box" according to its website.

Calvert claims that Region Builders PAC funded and delivered a defamatory political ad "on the eve of the November 2014 Town Council election."

Under the headline, "Consider the Calvert Record," the ad states, among other things: "She attempted to shake down a religious charity for $662,000 for 'tree mitigation.'"

In her lawsuit, Calvert claims the defendants "purposely delivered this defamatory mailpiece via US Mail to Loomis residents so close in time to the November 2014 election that plaintiff could not possibly have countered with a meaningful response before Loomis voters when to their polling places. Defendants presented this cowardly 'shake down' lie as part of what they falsely state was 'the Calvert Record' as a Town Council member."

In the ad, the Region Builders PAC calls Calvert "a councilwoman for Berkeley, not Loomis," and claims she fully attended only three Town Council meetings.

Region Builders PAC told Courthouse News that it merely exercised its First Amendment right to speak to voters and provide them with factual information on Calvert's record as a public official.

"This lawsuit is frivolous and Region Builders will vigorously defend itself against any attempt to silence it from speaking on matters of importance to its members, including public policy issues and the performance of elected officials and candidates for elective office," Ashlee Titus, attorney for Region Builders, said in a statement.

Calvert received just 14 percent of the votes and finished fourth in the November 2014election.

Calvert's attorney Douglas Watts said the lawsuit is focused on the accusation of the $662,000 "shake down." He said the bogus "shake down" refers to a matter that went to the Loomis Planning Commission, and that a mitigation fee for nuns to build never actually went before the council.

"The suit acknowledges that politics is a rough-and-tumble business; however, the defendants crossed a bright line here," Watts told Courthouse News. "The matter will be decided in court, and we hope through this exercise that these defendants learn a lesson that dirty politics and false advertisements have no place in Loomis elections."

Region Builders was active in other local 2014 elections, contributing $12,000 to a candidate in El Dorado County and putting Measure N, a pro-growth measure, on the ballot. Measure N garnered only 25 percent Yes votes.

Region Builders has also been a strong proponent of a $500 million entertainment and sports arena project in Sacramento.

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