The letter from Mathis’ office to Gov. Gavin Newsom–dated May 1 and regarding Senate Bill 743–appears to have been copied verbatim from a letter written by Drew Phelps. Phelps is Mathis’ opponent for the 26th Assembly District.
Phelps’ original version of the letter, sent to Newsom on March 10, was composed as part of Phelps’ role as a project manager, policy researcher and analyst with Granville Homes. Phelps’ letter was then reproduced by the Central Valley Business Federation, a Fresno-based lobbying organization also known as BizFed, without listing Phelps as the original author. The BizFed version of the letter is dated May 22.
Alleged Theft Announced on Facebook
“He directly plagiarized (except for the 1st paragraph, everything else is the exact same) the letter I wrote for my day job over a month before his letter was released!” Phelps wrote on his Facebook account. “Thanks Devon! I know my leadership is sorely needed in Sacramento too!”
Justin Turner, a spokesman for Mathis, at first dismissed the authorship claim out of hand.
“Frankly, we don’t pay any attention to Drew Phelps,” Turner said.
After the situation was explained to him and he had time to review the letters, Turner claimed the BizFed version of the letter was the source of the plagiarized text sent to Newsom, saying incorrectly that Phelps was not the original author. The text of Mathis’ version of the letter and BizFed’s version of the letter–which Turner provided to the Valley Voice–are identical, and both omit the same portion of Phelps’ original text.
When it became clear the letter which Mathis sent to Newsom was in fact authored by Phelps, Turner accused Phelps of ignorance of how legislative offices operate. Position letters are often forwarded as a legislator’s original work, Turner said, but without acknowledging the origin of the letter.
“We had permission to use it,” he said. “This happens in government all the time.”
Turner later forwarded a statement from Mathis–quoting a definition of the term ‘form letter” from Merriam Webster–that reiterated the assertion Phelps was inexperienced.
“Perhaps Mr. Phelps is not familiar with the practice when it comes to support and opposition campaigns,” Mathis’ statement reads. “His accusation clear (sic) shows his lack of experience and knowledge of the legislative process.”
Phelps is a professional legislative researcher and analyst. Turner said Mathis and his staff do not monitor the opposition candidate and his campaign.
“We don’t look at Drew Phelps. We don’t look at his stuff,” Turner said. “We don’t pay attention. We don’t steal other candidates’ work.”
Jobs and Development at Risk
The issue taken up in all versions of the letter is SB 743–a law enacted in 2013 that changes the way the impact of operating motor vehicles is calculated when considering land development under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)–and its possible retarding effect on development and employment in rural areas.
Phelps originally penned the letter for his employer, a major land developer in the Central Valley.
“We wrote our letter as Granville Homes, because as a housing company this means a lot to us,” he said.
Granville Homes then shared the letter with BizFed, to which it belongs, requesting they endorse the position and forward the letter to interested parties, including Newsom.
“The (BizFed) board voted and said this is all good,” Phelps said. “We’ll use your letter.”
The BizFed version of the letter provided by Turner bears 10 signatures in total. Besides those of BizFed’s director and chairperson, signatures of eight state senators and assemblymen are included, among them that of Mathis.
Lack of Effort
Other representatives, besides signing the BizFed version of the letter, also wrote to Newsom under separate cover. Mathis, however, was the only one who lifted the text of Phelps’ original letter and presented it as his own.
“A few went out above and beyond and wrote their own letter,” Phelps said. “(State Senator) Shannon Grove (R-16th District) did something similar, but they actually wrote their own letter.”
While reusing ideas and so-called talking points is common practice, Phelps said, claiming the work of others as one’s own is unusual. He points to how other legislative offices handled the matter.
“They didn’t plagiarize like Devon did,” he said. “He’s the only one who took it word for word.”
Phelps said the behavior is typical of Mathis and his staff.
“This is the amount of effort they put in for our district,” he said.