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Nunes sues activists alleging conspiracy in “sham” ballot designation suit

The campaign for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) has sued a group of activists who sought to strip him of his title as a “farmer” from the 2018 ballot, alleging they coordinated with a super PAC and likely the Janz campaign to damage his campaign.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Nunes’ committee argues that the fight over his ballot designation as a farmer may not have been an organic movement as presented in 2018.

Four activists were named in the lawsuit. One was Michael J. Seeley, a Los Angeles-based activist and member of the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action club.

Also included was Paul Buxman, a former farmer in Tulare County.

Another, Daniel O’Connell, is the Executive Director of the Central Valley Partnership, a liberal political network operating in the San Joaquin Valley.

They were also joined by Hope Nisly, a Fresno State librarian and author.

The suit alleges that Buxman, O’Connell, and Nisly were recruited by a super PAC, Fight Back California, to file a “sham” petition for writ of mandate to have California Secretary of State Alex Padilla remove the word “farmer” from Nunes’ ballot designation.

In an 2018 ABC30 interview, Buxman claimed that he originated the petition to challenge Nunes’ farming bona fides to “speak out for his fellow farmers.”

“I never met with anyone from Fight Back California,” Buxman said when asked Thursday if he or the other defendants had worked or coordinated with the super PAC.

“We never tried to sue or get money,” Buxman added, saying he attempted to have Nunes change his ballot designation before going to court. “It seems like [Nunes] is a guy that just wants to fight back.”

However, Team Nunes contends that the challenge to his credentials began roughly a month before Buxman, O’Connell, and Nisly would file their petition via attacks from the Janz campaign.

Asked if Buxman had worked with Janz’s campaign on the petition, the retired farmer said he had never met and didn’t know the Fresno County prosecutor, save for one visit to Buxman’s church during the 2018 campaign.

In discussing the new suit with The Sun, Buxman stood by his petition from last August.

“To keep showing pictures of himself out on the land is not being genuine,” Buxman said of Nunes’ campaign material.

When asked about the genuineness of Janz, a resident of suburban northwest Fresno, shooting television commercials on farms – including one operated by a Nunes relative – Buxman demurred.

Outside of the issue over Nunes’ ballot designation, the suit alleges that Seeley, at the direction of a nonprofit known as Campaign for Accountability, filed a “despicable request under the California Public Records Act request” to retrieve all emails of Nunes’ wife, an elementary school teacher in Tulare County.

It also alleged that Seeley’s publication of emails resulted in “extensive harassment” of his wife’ and her colleagues, “including hateful accusations that they teach bigotry and racism.”

The suit alleges two primary counts. The first is tortious business interference, which is an intentional act of wrongdoing that harms a business and disrupts the relationship between the business and the plaintiff suing.

Team Nunes alleges that the four defendants – by filing a bevy of apparently meritless ethics complaints and the petition to remove “farmer” from his ballot designation – harmed the campaign’s business activities.

The second count alleges civil conspiracy, arguing that Seeley, Buxman, O’Connell, Nisly, Fight Back California and, possibly, the Janz campaign coordinated to file the writ of mandate petition challenging Nunes’ ballot designation.

The suit was filed in Tulare County Superior Court. Fresno attorney Peter Kapetan is representing Nunes in the suit. He is joined by Virginia attorney Steve Biss.

Biss has represented Nunes in his two other high-profile suits against Twitter and The McClatchy Company.

Read the suit:

Photo: Gage Skidmore

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.