STOCKTON (CBS13) — Some military veterans say this year’s Fourth of July parade in Stockton is more about politics than patriotism, but a candidate’s letter could also create legal problems for the nonprofits involved in the parade.
A number of veterans organizations partnered with the United Way of San Joaquin County to host the parade that will go through downtown starting at 11 a.m. The theme of the parade is “A tribute to our fallen veterans.”
Gene Acevedo is the parade committee’s co-chair and he’s also running for Stockton City Council.
“For the past 11 years, I have been helping parades throughout Stockton, throughout San Joaquin County,” said Acevedo, who added he didn’t think his participation was a conflict of interest.
However, Acevedo created a controversy with a letter he sent his opponent, Susan Lofthus, about parade participation.
The second paragraph reads: “We are contacting you based on your desire to reach Stockton communities before the upcoming election.”
“It’s actively mentioning there’s an upcoming election and to me, that shows the true motive behind it,” said former city council candidate and veteran Motecuzoma Sanchez. “You’re kind of exploiting veterans and their branding, their name.”
An even bigger problem is Acevedo used the names of the veterans organizations and the United Way in the letter, which can cost the nonprofits their federal tax exemption. Federal law prohibits non-profits from participating in political campaigns.
“This letter that you just gave me, I’m not aware of,” said Tino Adamy, who helped organize the parade with the Stockton Veterans Coalition of San Joaquin. He said he was unaware of the letter until CBS13 gave it to him.
Adamy and the President/CEO of United Way of San Joaquin County Andrew Prokop said their agreement was for the United Way of San Joaquin County to provide insurance for the parade, collect the funds, and pay the bills after the parade.
“Someone read into that and had sent the letter out on their own, asking people to participate in the parade and used the United Way’s name without our knowledge and without our approval,” said Prokop.
Acevedo owns up to writing the letter and apologized for not telling the non-profits he sent it.
“Correct, I wrote this letter just as an open invitation, [my] personal invitation to Susan,” said Acevedo. He said he didn’t send it to anyone else.
The Fourth of July parade is not the first to cause political controversy in Stockton this year. Acevedo campaigned in this year’s Cinco de Mayo parade, while also serving as the parade grand marshal.
CouncilmemberDyane Burgos Medina didn’t pay upfront to campaign in the parade like all of the other candidates did. Medina’s opponent, Christiana Fugazi, said she complained after seeing Medina didn’t file the parade expense.
“My opponent wasn’t charged a fee,” said Fugazi. “I think elected officials and people running for office should be held to the same standard and play by the same rules.”
Medina declined to speak on-camera, but said she paid her fee a month later, because she didn’t know she had to pay.
Acevedo said his campaign and his work on the parade are separate.