Local Politics

Tuesday, May 27 2014 05:38 PM

High-profile GOP firm loses legal right to operate

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Political consultant Mark Abernathy in a 2010 photo

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County’s premier Republican political consulting firm, run by Mark Abernathy, has been operating on a suspended state registration after, according to officials, failing to pay taxes.

The state Franchise Tax Board suspended Western Pacific Research's corporation status Feb. 3, according to the California Secretary of State's office.

The company owed the tax board $7,066.18 as of Tuesday, agency spokeswoman Tami Grimes said, and is no longer a legal corporation in the state.

"They have lost the right and privilege to do business in California," she said. "In court, all contracts they have entered into are null and void."

What that means for the company and its many high-profile clients remains unclear.

Election season is in full swing and the primary election that could decide the fate of at least two Abernathy-backed candidates will be held on Tuesday.

Western Pacific Research is still operational, signing new clients and getting paid by a number of its big name candidates, including 32nd Assembly District hopeful Pedro Rios and Assessor-Recorder candidate Jon Lifquist.

The company's clients also include Assemblywoman Shannon Grove and state Sen. Jean Fuller, both Bakersfield Republicans.

"We were just made aware of the problem at Secretary of State's office with certain required paperwork not filed," Abernathy said in a written statement. "Our CPA and attorney are taking care of it and, we are assured, it will be brought up to date quickly."

"The company owes no taxes, the FTB is notoriously slow in getting correct information," he continued. "The company's taxes are all paid."

By all appearances, Western Pacific Research has been operating despite its suspended status.

Lifquist, who is locked in a heated battle for assessor, said he signed a contract with Western Pacific Research in early April and his campaign finance reports indicate he has paid the corporation $5,000 for services.

Lifquist said no one told him the license had been suspended when he signed the contract and that he's written his checks to Western Pacific Research.

Grimes said that it is acceptable for Western Pacific Research to take payments and sign contracts with new clients. Those contracts, however, are not legally binding.

"If the corporation's customer discovers the business is suspended, it could not pay and the corporation has no legal right to sue," Grimes wrote.

Grimes refered questions about enforcement of rules surrounding the operation of a corporation with a suspended license to the Kern County District Attorney's office.

Deputy District Attorney Greg Pulskamp said he didn't know whether the matter has been referred to his office and without a referral and investigation, it's impossible to know if the company has violated any laws.

"We hate to speculate in situations like this," he said.

But, speaking in general, suspensions of a business' registration with the Secretary of State's office are paper violations handled by the business in question coming into compliance, Pulskamp said.

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