2018 Obama Phone Message Re-Used in CV Mayor Campaign to Mislead Voters


By Alberto Garcia
Investigative Reporter

Someone is using a four-year-old recording of President Barack Obama to deceive voters into thinking the former president has endorsed a candidate in this year’s race for Mayor of Chula Vista, but neither the candidate nor two independent committees supporting him are claiming responsibility for the calls.

The recorded telephone messages are in support of Ammar Campa-Najjar, one of six candidates running to lead the county’s second-largest city.

Campa-Najjar, 33, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018 and 2020, flirted with running for the State Assembly in December 2020, then launched his current campaign for Mayor of Chula Vista just eight months later.

During his two congressional campaigns as the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, Campa-Najjar enjoyed the support of high-profile elected officials, including former President Barack Obama.

Campa-Najjar used pre-recorded telephone messages during both his 2018 and 2020 congressional campaigns for the 50th Congressional District in East County, but lost both races to Congressman Duncan Hunter in 2018 and former Congressman Darrell Issa in 2020.

But voters in Chula Vista have been receiving the recorded messages from Obama this week despite the fact the former president has not endorsed anyone in the local election.

According to Campa-Najjar, he was not aware of the phone calls or whether Obama has endorsed him for this year’s race, meaning someone else is using the outdated messages in an apparent attempt to deceive voters.

Campa-Najjar claims he only became aware of the phone message when asked by La Prensa San Diego, but he has not denounced the messages as misleading or asked that they be stopped.

Email and phone messages requesting comments sent to two independent expenditure campaigns set up exclusively to support Campa-Najjar went unanswered.

A message left for Mason Inocentes, the treasurer of the “Residents for a Brighter Future” political committee created exclusively to support Campa-Najjar, was not returned.

Inocentes’ campaign group sent out a mailer to Chula Vista voters earlier this month featuring a photo of Campa-Najjar, a woman, and two young boys in what appeared to be a family portrait.

Front of campaign mailer sent by Residents for a Brighter Future

The picture was also featured on Campa-Najjar’s own campaign website with the caption ”Ammar and his family” at the time the mailer was sent out to voters.

Photo on CampaCampaign.com website listed as Ammar and his family

The picture, however, is of Campa-Najjar and his cousin’s wife and her two children -which are the candidate’s godsons- leading many to charge that the picture was used to give voters the impression that Campa-Najjar is a married man with children by not detailing the people in the picture. The woman and children were not identified within the mailer.

Campa-Najjar maintains that his cousin’s wife and godsons are “family”, but ultimately changed the caption under the picture on his campaign website after La Prensa San Diego ran an article describing the mail piece and the controversy over the picture. The caption was then changed to “Ammar and his cousin Bianca and godsons.”

DISTRICT SHOPPING

Critics have raised issues with Campa-Najjar’s three moves between relatives in three separate political districts in what seems like district-shopping for opportunities to run for office.

Campa-Najjar, a registered Democrat, first ran for Congress in 2017. He moved into and registered to vote at the home of his mother and stepfather in the East County community of Jamul, which is in the 50th Congressional District, to challenge embattled incumbent Congressman Duncan Hunter who had been indicted on charges of misspending campaign funds for personal uses. 

Hunter defeated Campa-Najjar by 3.4% in the November 2018 election. 

Campa-Najjar continued to campaign for the same congressional district again in 2019, but, before the candidate filing deadline, Congressman Hunter resigned and former Republican Congressman Darrell Issa entered the race against Campa-Najjar. 

Campa-Najjar lost the 2020 election by a wider margin than he had lost in 2018. 

During his two congressional campaigns, Campa-Najjar emphasized having been born in La Mesa and living in Jamul, but did not mention his past in Chula Vista. 

In late December 2021, just two months after his congressional campaign, Campa-Najjar created an exploratory committee for a run for the State Assembly seat being vacated early by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber after she was nominated to serve as California Secretary of State.

Campa-Najjar used an address in the unincorporated area of Bonita which is the home of his aunt, Minnie Rzeslawski, a local realtor. That home is in the 79th Assembly District, but not within the city limits of Chula Vista. Campa-Najjar never registered to vote at the Bonita address.

In January 2021, Campa-Najjar released a poll he had conducted showing he ranked first among potential Democratic candidates, but then announced he would not enter that race. At the time, he was still registered to vote at his mom’s home in Jamul, which was not in the 79th Assembly District.

According to the California Constitution, Campa-Najjar did not meet the candidate requirements of having lived and been registered to vote in the District for at least one year before the election, so he could not have actually run for the special election to replace Weber.

Nonetheless, Campa-Najjar raised over $73,000 for the Assembly in a campaign committee called Campa-Najjar Assembly 2022, which could not have been used to fund a race for Assembly in 2021. He spent over $46,000 on polling and other expenses, but held on to the remaining funds of over $27,000.

Six months later, in July 2021, Campa-Najjar changed his voter registration address to his grandmother’s Eastlake-area condo in Chula Vista before filing paperwork to run for Mayor of Chula Vista in March 2022. He claims to have moved back to that the Eastlake condo -which he refers to as “my forever home”- in December 2020 after his last congressional campaign.

“I moved back in December of 2020, it was time to come home after fighting the good fight,” Campa-Najjar told La Prensa San Diego in response to questions about his residency. “I wasn’t sure if I’d continue politics, but I went on a listening tour, formed an exploratory committee and then officially announced in March 2022,” he added, but did not mention his brief campaign for Assembly during the same period when he claims he was living with his aunt in Bonita.

The month after registering to vote in Chula Vista, Campa-Najjar transferred over $7,300 in contributions from his aborted Assembly campaign into his new campaign for Mayor of Chula Vista. All of the contributions were pulled from money donated in December 2020 and January 2021, all outside of the window allowed by the Chula Vista Municipal Code which limits contributions to only be given within 11 months of an election.

Campa-Najjar claims that he held on to the Assembly contributions for seven months after deciding not to run for Assembly then transferred those to his Mayor’s campaign to comply with the 11-month window.

The Chula Vista Municipal Code, Section 2.25.040(E) reads that “No person shall make a contribution to any candidate and no such candidate shall accept from any person such a contribution sooner than 11 months preceding a single election contest.

The contributions were not only written more than 11 months before the election, but none of those checks were written to the Campa-Najjar’s Mayor campaign; they were written to his Assembly campaign and that committee transferred one bulk payment to the new committee.

Also, not one of the 22 declared contributions were from individuals living within the City of Chula Vista.

Campa-Najjar’s residence has also been questioned because it is widely known he has been dating local Congresswoman Sara Jacobs since 2019, and several people familiar with the couple claim he lives with Jacobs in her residence in the Banker’s Hill area of San Diego, and uses his family residences as his voter registration address only for purposes of running for office.

Congresswoman Sara Jacobs

Jacobs, 33, was elected to the 53rd Congressional District in 2018, which currently includes the Eastern areas of Chula Vista, but her district boundaries were changed in this year’s redistricting and her new district will no longer include parts of Chula Vista. She was re-elected in 2020.

Critics accused her of buying her election because she mostly funded her first campaign with over $2.7 million of her own money.

Jacobs is the granddaughter of billionaire QUALCOMM Co-Founder Irwin Jacobs, and daughter of wealthy philanthropist Gary E. Jacobs.

It is not clear whether Campa-Najjar has taken other steps to establish his domicile, the legal definition of where someone lives for purposes of voting in elections. Someone may have multiple or short-term residences, but can only have one domicile at a time. 

Campa-Najjar responded with vague answers to several questions about his residency submitted by La Prensa San Diego, including refusing to say who else lives at the Eastlake condo, and whether he stays at any other residences during a normal month by saying he “lives” at the Eastlake condo now.

The legal question of establishing domicile includes the address used for one’s driver’s license, car registration, insurance, utility bills, and other factors used to determine if someone actually intends to use the address as their place to live.

Two Los Angeles politicians have been convicted in recent years of perjury and voter fraud for falsely claiming to be domiciled where they registered to vote in order to run for office. 

Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon and State Senator Roderick Wright were each convicted for using different addresses only for purposes of qualifying to run for office. Alarcon was sentenced to 120 days in jail and Wright to 90 days in custody. 

Alarcon’s convictions were later overturned on appeal based on a faulty jury instruction by the trial court judge, and Wright was pardoned by outgoing Governor Jerry Brown in 2018.

OUTSIDER CONTRIBUTIONS

Between his own campaign committee and two independent groups supporting his campaign, Campa-Najjar has raised more money than all of the other five candidates combined, totaling more than $430,000 reported to date.

Opponents have criticized the unprecedented amounts of money being spent on Campa-Najjar’s campaign and the fact that most of his funding is coming from donors outside of Chula Vista.

Three contributions from North County billionaires in support Campa-Najjar’s campaign have also raised concerns about outside influences in a local election.

Billionaires Joan and Irwin Jacobs donated $98,000 in April and Gary Jacobs donated $20,000 this week to an independent committee created exclusively to support Campa-Najjar which paid for a campaign mailer sent to Chula Vista voters last week featuring the misleading picture of Ammar and his relatives. 

Contributions from Jacobs family members

Although the candidate and independent committee cannot coordinate their expenditures, there are no barriers to candidates directing donors to contribute to the outside group that is not restricted by the City’s $360 per person contribution limits which applies to the candidate’s direct campaign committee.

Although Campa-Najjar admits he is dating Sara Jacobs, she does not appear on any of Campa-Najjar’s campaign literature or website. When asked by La Prensa San Diego about why she does not publicly endorse his campaign, Campa-Najjar responded that “keeping our campaign lives and our personal lives separate is what works best for us.”

BUSINESS EXPERIENCE

Campa-Najjar, who has alternated between living with his mom in Jamul, his aunt in Bonita, and his grandmother in Chula Vista during the past five years that he has been a candidate, has never held public office or served on any local community board, commission, or civic group in Chula Vista as is usual for mayoral candidates.

Campa-Najjar uses ”Businessman” as his ballot title and lists his sole income coming from his own company, ACN Strategies, LLC, but financial disclosure reports show that his company generated very little income during the past few years.

His official financial disclosure documents show his income was as low as $5,001 per year during the time he has been a candidate, raising questions about how he manages to survive while running for office and who may be funding his subsistence.

Campa-Najjar claims that he has largely lived from his savings while running for office nearly continuously since early 2017.

After leaving his position with the US Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. in January 2016, Campa-Najjar created ACN Strategies, LLC, a public affairs and communications firm he describes as “a small business that helps other small businesses, and nonprofits with small budgets, compete against their larger counterparts.”

ACN Strategies LLC was incorporated in Washington, D.C. on January 7, 2016, and lists Campa-Najjar as the only owner and officer. On November 3, 2021, the company’s most recent annual statement of information listed his mom’s Jamul house as the entity’s official address.

During his 2018 congressional campaign, Campa-Najjar disclosed ACN Strategies as his sole asset with a value range of between $1,001 and $15,000, but liabilities of between $100,001 and $250,000.

He declared income from his company of between $15,001 and $50,000 in both 2016 and 2017, detailing that revenues of more than $5,000 came from the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for “consulting services.”

Campa-Najjar’s FEC Filing in 2017

During his second congressional campaign in 2019, he again disclosed ACN Strategies as his sole asset with a value range of between $1,001 and $15,000 and liabilities of between $100,001 and $250,000, but his company income had fallen to between $5,001 and $15,000 in both calendar years 2018 and 2019. The only sources of revenue to the company he disclosed was “TAB/DRAPEHS, SAN DIEGO, CA” and “UCSD SAN DIEGO”.

Campa-Najjar’s FEC Filing in 2019

When Campa-Najjar launched his run for Mayor of Chula Vista in February 2022, he filed the required statement of economic interests covering the past 12 months and listed income of between $10,001 to $100,000 from ACN Strategies, but he did not disclose the names of any of its clients which paid him fees, so there is no record of who is providing financial support for him while he runs for office. 

As a company incorporated in another state but operating in California, Campa-Najjar’s company must be registered with the California Secretary of State’s office as a “foreign entity” and pay an annual franchise fee of $800.

A search of the California Secretary of State’s website failed to find any listing for ACN Strategies, LLC.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, a company failing to register in the state cannot file or maintain lawsuits in state courts and may be fined up to $2,000 per year for failing to register in the state.

SHIFTING POLITICAL POSITIONS

Just weeks before the November 2020 election, Campa-Najjar was criticized by Democrats for participating in a live-stream interview with Defend East County, a known far-right group whose followers regularly promote right-wing conspiracy theories, make racist statements, and publicly called for violence against Black Lives Matter protesters. Campa-Najjar and the group’s leader, Justin Haskins, smoked cigars and drank during the interview.

Screen grab from Defend East County interview. Link to full video here

Campa-Najjar made controversial statements during the show, including that he would not have voted to impeach President Trump, that he would have voted to confirm both Supreme Court appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett who were nominated by President Trump, and that he was not sure whether he would be voting for Trump or Biden just weeks before the 2020 election.

During that same period, as Campa-Najjar worked to garner voter from conservative East County voters, he wrote in a Facebook exchange that he did not “support legal or illegal abortion”, taking a position that seemed at odds with his endorsement by Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice PAC, and other pro-choice groups, including the Democratic Party and several prominent Democratic elected officials.

Facebook post by Campa-Najjar in 2020

During his campaigns for Congress, Campa-Najjar used pictures of himself with both Donald J. Trump and Barack Obama to claim he has broad support and relationships.

MOVED FREQUENTLY AS A CHILD

Campa-Najjar is the son of Palestinian-born Yasser Mohammad al-Najjar and San Diego native Abigail Campa, and he calls himself the first “Mexican-Palestinian American” candidate for Congress and now for Mayor. 

When he was nine years old, Campa-Najjar moved with his father, mother, and brother from San Diego to live in the Gaza Strip, the ethnic enclave on the Mediterranean Sea ruled by the State of Palestine but controlled by Israel.

The family moved back to California after three years, but his father, who had become an official for the Palestinian National Authority, remained in Gaza. 

Campa-Najjar has lived at various addresses in Chula Vista, San Diego, and East County during his life, including the current Eastlake condo with his grandmother when he attended Eastlake High School and worked at Eastlake Church as a teenager.

It was during that time in high school when Campa-Najjar says he converted from Islam to Christianity. 

His Eastlake High School diploma from 2007, which he currently displays on his campaign website, shows his name as Ammar Yasser Najjar, which was his birth name until he legally changed it to Ammar Joseph Campa-Najjar in 2018 while he was a candidate in his first campaign for Congress.

Campa-Najjar’s Eastlake HS diploma. Source: campacampaign.com/media

A graduate of San Diego State University, Campa-Najjar later worked in Washington, D.C., for the US Department of Labor, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and as an intern in the Executive Office of the White House under President Barack Obama.

Campa-Najjar is running for Mayor against five other candidates, including current Councilmembers Jill Galvez and John McCann, former Councilman Rudy Ramirez, community college executive Zaneta Encarnacion, and former Army med-evac helicopter pilot Spencer Cash. 

The Primary Election will be on June 7th and the two candidates who receive the most votes will face off in the November 8th General Election.

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