Ethan Stan is a city and regional planning graduate student. The views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
In the upcoming local election, San Luis Obispo voters will see a long list of candidates for Mayor and City Council.
Two prominent candidates, Cherisse Sweeney for Mayor and Abrianna Torres for City Council, have names that have been plastered all over San Luis Obispo. They are presenting themselves as neutral, non-partisan candidates who stand for unity and bringing people together. But they are lying and are counting on misleading public statements to deceive the voters of San Luis Obispo.
Sweeney and Torres are supported by out-of-town conservative political lobbyists and relying on these connections to get cash from big-money donors. Both of their campaigns are retaining the services of Political Finance Solutions, Inc. (PFS), a West Sacramento based firm. Both candidates also list Bryan Burch of PFS as their campaign treasurer.
PFS is a longtime Republican consulting firm that lists, among others, the California Republican Party and the SLO County Republican Party as clients.
On PFS’ website, Bryan Burch’s bio claims, “Bryan has worked in politics for over a decade handling compliance for the California Republican Party.” This is publicly available information on their campaign filing documents.
Both candidates also retained the services of Pacific Coast Strategies, LLC. (PCS), a political consulting firm owned by registered Republican and oil and gas consultant Amber Johnson.
Johnson, according to the SLO Chamber of Commerce website, is the sole proprietor of PCS and managed the defeat of the anti-oil Measure G initiative.
“Amber is a delegate for the California Republican Party and has served as an RNC delegate and alternate at the ‘04, ‘08 and ‘16 conventions,” the website said. “She is an elected member of the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County.” According to their most recent filings, Sweeney and Torres have spent $1,500 each on PCS services.
Both candidates also maintain disturbing connections to right-wing private Facebook groups, where the messaging is very different from their public positions. They both announced their candidacies in the hidden “Take Back SLO” group before announcing publicly and count these people, many from outside the City of SLO (and even outside SLO County), as their core supporters. As far back as July 22, a group admin posted about the upcoming announcements of “their candidates,” though by September 6, a fellow admin begged group members to stop their “cussing” and slandering of SLO residents as it threatened the chances of “the candidates I worked so hard to run.”
Beyond messaging for these candidates, other posts in “Take Back SLO” include mask burning rallies, denial of the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic, pro-Trump rallies, mocking the existence of systemic racism, and outright threats – and celebration – of violence. Though explicitly formed as a group “formed to recruit leadership to the city council of San Luis Obispo,” it has become a dangerous echo chamber of dishonest and outright “fake” news. These are not the people or regressive views we want to influence our City Council.
That said, there is nothing inherently wrong with a candidate running as a Republican. But Sweeney and Torres clearly both realized that it has been a long time since an open Republican has won office in SLO and therefore decided they would try to bury their clear coordination with the Republican infrastructure in SLO County and statewide, all while hoping the fact they are not individually registered as Republicans would be enough to trick SLO voters.
This kind of dishonesty has no place in SLO politics and there are enough good, honest candidates running for SLO voters to reject this deception and keep it out of City leadership.