Jerome Block, the Democratic candidate for the state Public Regulation Commission, is changing his story again.
Last month, Block’s campaign repeatedly stated that local band Wyld Country played at a campaign rally near Romeroville in May.
One of his supporters, San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maez, the county’s chief election official, belonged to Wyld Country. After originally going along with Block’s story, he told the Optic that Wyld Country didn’t play and that the rally never even happened.
Faced with that information, Block admitted in an e-mail to the Optic that he hadn’t been “forthcoming.”
“With all the pressure from the local media, I continued with the story that the band did perform. I was unsure how to reflect a refund and quite frankly didn’t want another story. But I feel I need to be forthcoming now,” Block stated.
But in a letter to the secretary of state’s office last week, Block said he didn’t intend to mislead.
“At some point, I erroneously stated to Mr. David Giuliani of the Las Vegas Optic that the Wyld Country band had in fact played at an event. I negligently made this statement,” Block stated. “My negligence was due to pressure and details of the campaign. At the time of the statement, I did not have a clear recollection of the exact details. My intent was not to mislead, confuse or disguise any expenditure on the part of my campaign.”
According to Block’s campaign finance report in July, the candidate reported paying Wyld Country $2,500 about a month after the non-existent performance. Now, the secretary of state is determining whether to ask the attorney general to investigate whether Block falsified his report. A couple of investigators in the AG’s office are already conducting a preliminary inquiry.
In the letter, Block noted that after admitting the performance didn’t happen, he told the Optic that the band hadn’t played but was planning to perform at a later event.
“Because of the attention to this discrepancy and to avoid the appearance of any impropriety, I cancelled a campaign rally scheduled for Sept. 27, 2008, in Las Vegas at which the band was scheduled to play,” Block wrote.
He stated in the letter to the secretary of state that once he canceled the Sept. 27 event, Maez returned the $2,500 to the campaign.
That’s contrary to Maez’s version of events. The county clerk has told the Optic that he returned the money months ago. He also said he gave back the $2,500 in cash.
PRC campaigns are publicly funded so as to reduce the influence of regulated industries.
Block put $2,500 back into the public election fund on Sept. 26 “because this money was unspent and unencumbered by any future debts,” Block stated in his letter.
Block didn’t return messages for comment. His campaign manager, Jonathan Valdez, said Monday that he didn’t have any comment on the letter to the secretary of state.
However, he said that Block drafted the letter along with an attorney, but Valdez wouldn’t provide the lawyer’s name.
“We have two and a half weeks left in this campaign. We want to get our message to the people,” he said. “We feel very confident about the race. We’re headed up to Taos today.”
Valdez wrote many of the e-mails last month insisting that the rally happened and that the band played. At one point, Valdez wrote the Optic, “For the last time, we did have a rally, and yes the band did perform.”
Asked if he had known that the band hadn’t performed, he declined to comment. He wouldn’t say whether the rally happened.
“You’ll have to talk to Jerome,” he said.
Block’s only opponent, Rick Lass of the Green Party, called Block’s actions illegal.
“It is clearly illegal to use primary (election) funds for the general election under the campaign financing law. For Jerome to make a payment to the band using primary funds for a gig to be played in September is against the law, and he acknowledges in yesterday’s letter that that is what he did,” Lass said in a statement.
He also questioned Block’s excuse for misleading the public.
“He said that he lied to Giuliani because of the pressure of media calls,” Lass said in the statement. “If he can’t handle the pressure of accounting for his actions to his constituents, how will he stand up to the pressure of industry lobbyists and the media spotlight if he is a PRC commissioner?”