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Can we be really clear on who is bankrolling the “No on C” campaign?

The “No on C” flier that was delivered to thousands of households through-out Napa County a few days ago was paid for by “No on Measure C, Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture – FPPC I.D. #1401241.” It is listed as a “Campaign Finance Committee” on the CA Secretary of State’s website. There are no names listed in association with the committee, but there is a phone number: (707) 258-8668. This is the phone number of Michelle Benvenuto and the Wine Growers of Napa County.

That’s not really much of a surprise. But what is interesting is that after digging a little more, I found the actual mission statement (https://www.guidestar.org/profile/68-0398209) of the Wine Growers of Napa County, as filed with the IRS when it received its tax exempt status in 1998:

“A nonprofit association whose principal mission is to promote and preserve sustainable agriculture as the highest and best use of the natural resources of Napa County in tandem with the protection of wineries and their ability to produce and market wine. “

Please note the last part: “the protection of wineries and their ability to produce and market wine,” because that part of their mission statement is often left off of any more recent descriptions of the organization.

This is the description of the organization as listed on their IRS on Form 990 in 2014, 2015, and 2016 (all public records): “To promote and defend grape growing and wine making as commercial enterprises in Napa County.”

That’s pretty specific.

There is no website for the Wine Growers of Napa County, though they belong to both the Napa and St. Helena Chambers of Commerce. However, you can read much more about this organization in James Conaway’s book, “The Far Side of Eden, New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley.” Here is a short excerpt from page 183: “Consider the state of the valley, advise, bankroll, and wield a big stick, that would be the role of the new Wine Growers of Napa County …”

If you dig a little more through public records you can find this: the president of the Wine Growers of Napa County as of December, 2016 was Chris Indelicato, who is also the president and CEO of Delicato Family Vineyards, which, according to an article that appeared in Napa Valley Register, June 15, 2017 (“Delicato’s growing presence in the wine industry—and Napa Valley”) is the seventh largest wine company in America and the second largest wine company that has headquarters in Napa.

Other “officers, trustees, and key employees” in the public record of Wine Growers of Napa Valley include Michelle Benvenuto, Dave Pina, Tony Leblanc, Rob Mondavi, Mike Reynolds, and Carolyn Wasem.

The most troubling thing about all of this is how much money the No on C coalition (whose phone number, remember, is shared by the Wine Growers of Napa County) is spending to defeat Measure C and how many dirty political tricks they are playing to try to convince the voters that Measure C, if passed, will do the very things most residents in Napa County are worried about most: increase traffic and the number of tasting rooms and event centers, especially when you consider that the original mission statement of the Wine Growers of Napa County is “to protect wineries and their ability to produce and market wine.”

Do you really believe that the Wine Growers of Napa County will still be telling the voters that more event centers will lead to more traffic after this election? Or do you think, as I do, that they’re doing their best to confuse and mislead you into voting against your best interest?

Based on my research, the No on C effort appears to be bank-rolled by some very big money and big winery interests who have hired professional political operatives that are pulling out every dirty trick in the book, including push polls (from a 707 number based in Oakland), a failed attempt to deceive the voters at the tax-payers' expense, misleading billboards, and the very flawed and misleading mailers that went out last week. They are, just as James Conaway wrote, wielding a very “big stick,” in this case, money, influence, and intimidation.

Do you really trust them to tell you how to vote?

Do you really think they have your best interests at heart?

If you want to do a little digging on your own, ask your mayor or supervisor if they accepted any campaign contributions from the Wine Growers of Napa Valley.

Follow the money.

Please, don’t be fooled or confused by the dirty tricks. Vote Yes on Measure C. It’s about protecting the watershed for the benefit of everyone that lives in Napa County.

Elaine de Man

St. Helena

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