A campaign staffer for Republican state assembly candidate Mark Pazin apologized Wednesday for falsely accusing opponent Esmeralda Soria of accepting donations from former Congressman TJ Cox, who was indicted on 28 federal charges the day before.
Pazin’s campaign sent out an email Wednesday morning blasting Soria, a Democrat on the Fresno City Council, for accepting donations for her assembly campaign from Cox.
“TJ Cox has donated hundreds of dollars to Soria’s Assembly campaign and she needs to return it if she has a shred of decency,” Jordan Dennision, Pazin’s campaign manager, said in a news release. “You shouldn’t run for public office to represent hard working taxpayers if you keep campaigning with money from a criminal.”
But it wasn’t true.
After inquiries from The Bee on Wednesday, Dennison later issued an apology.
“I apologize for the error which was regretfully made in haste,” Dennison said. “Nonetheless it says a lot how close ex-Congressman Cox is to Soria and we are closely watching how it all shakes out.”
Later Wednesday, Soria’s campaign responded to the false allegations in a statement that also condemned Cox and criticized Pazin.
“Whether Pazin’s campaign was blinded by incompetence, malicious intent, or an unhealthy obsession with Cox, Pazin was wrong to blast false claims to reporters and district voters that TJ Cox ‘donated hundreds of dollars’ to our campaign with no proof,” said Josh Pulliam, a consultant for Soria’s campaign. “In fact, campaign finance records show that Terry Cox, a local Fresno resident and former Soria staffer, donated to Soria’s campaign – not the disgraced former Congressmember.”
“Central Valley voters deserve a campaign focused on issues and ideas, not Mark Pazin’s dirty tricks,” Pulliam said.
Soria is in a relationship with Fresno developer Terance Frazier, who runs the nonprofit that operates Fresno’s Granite Park. Cox previously served on the board of that nonprofit. The relationship and business dealings of the two men are common sources of criticism from Soria’s political adversaries.
Cox spent Tuesday in custody at Fresno County Jail and pleaded not guilty in court to 28 federal charges, including wire fraud, money laundering, financial institution fraud, and campaign contribution fraud.
The first news release sent by the Pazin campaign Wednesday morning linked Soria to other allegations of corruption and included a photo of her, Frazier and Cox. The news release also included a photo of her and Frazier outside of Cox’s congressional office at the Capitol.
“Soria has clearly shown to surround herself with shady characters and we deserve better,” Dennison said in the news release.
The news release also linked to an article on a site run by a Republican political consultant.
Others distance, or attack
Frazier on Wednesday also said in a statement that he was shocked by the indictment and said that Cox’s arrest showed Frazier’s foundation committed no wrongdoing.
“The indictment of TJ Cox announced yesterday by the U.S. Attorney paints a very sad and unfortunate picture of one man’s dealings with his business partners, family and friends,” Frazier said.
Cox, also a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican David Valadao in the 2018 election to represent the 21st Congressional District, which covered Kings County and parts of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties. In a 2020 rematch, Valadao recaptured the seat from Cox.
Now, another Democrat, Rudy Salas, is running against Valadao. Cox endorsed Salas, but after Cox’s arrest, Salas distanced himself from the former congressman.
“TJ Cox has disgraced himself,” Salas said in a statement on Tuesday.
Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld also seized the opportunity on Tuesday to blast Soria, Frazier and other councilmembers for the connections to Cox.
“I am grateful to law enforcement, frankly, and for the FBI for bringing accountability,” Bredefeld said Tuesday during an unrelated news conference at Fresno City Hall. “I believed that there was an investigation going on. Obviously, there was. Does that reach into City Hall? We’ll see. We’ll see where this goes.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee wasted no time trying to capitalize on Cox’s arrest. On Tuesday, the NRCC’s Twitter account tweeted a link to purchase T-shirts depicting Cox behind bars.