I think it’s safe to say that Poway activist Chris Cruse doesn’t care for Poway Mayor Steve Vaus. In 2009, when Vaus spearheaded the recall effort of Council Member Betty Rexford, Cruse suggested that he was leveraging his “Carols By Candlelight” website to promote his political campaign for Council:
This alone is no big deal. If a business owner decides to run for office, it would be normal to see signs for his campaign in his storefront. In the 21st century, websites have replaced many storefronts or offices so dropping a political campaign link on a business website is akin to a sign in the storefront window. But Cruse has been watching Vaus and his “Carols By Candlelight” event for over a decade, and she believes — at the very least — his accounting methods are opaque, accusing him of using expired charitable foundations to direct sponsorship money to a for-profit venture:
“Carols by Candlelight is the name of a Christmas concert put on by Steve Vaus. It is heavily promoted as a charity event that benefits Rady’s Children’s Hospital. Carols by Candlelight is not a nonprofit with a 503(c)(3) with an IRS tax number, that would allow donors to take a deduction for their donation. Nor is Carols by Candlelight (or Steve Vaus Production) registered in the State of California’s database of charitable organizations or fundraising entities that comply with the State of California’s registry and reporting requirements. Some years ago, when Steve Vaus sent emails to me and my friends, asking us to be angels and donate thousands of dollars to his Carols by Candlelight production, the implication was that those donations would be tax deductible. But they were not. And because they are not, I was unable to find out how much of my donation would end up being given to the charity and how much would end up in Steve Vaus’ pocket.”
Cruse further accused Vaus of leveraging his position as a Council Member and Mayoral candidate, to solicit donations from city vendors (thought to be tax-deductible), to what (Cruse describes as) a for-profit venture:
“In 2012, Steve Vaus, who was then a candidate for Poway council, applied for a grant from California Municipal Finance Authority (CMFA). CMFA arranges bond financing for capital projects. They charge a fee for issuing the bonds, and a portion of the fees that they collect are returned to the communities they serve by giving out grants to other non-profits in the community. Steve Vaus applied for $5000 to buy tickets for veterans to attend Carols by Candlelight. Vaus could have given the tickets away for free, but he would rather get CMFA and others to pay for them.”
Cruse continued to ask where the “community sponsorship” money went. She accused Vaus of misrepresenting these as a tax-deductible donation to Rady Children’s Hospital:
“Where did the Carols by Candlelight donations from Edco, SDG&E, Poway Toyota, Kristin Gaspar’s husband and others go? 4Community Solutions or Steve Vaus Productions? Shouldn’t Steve Vaus be reporting these donations as gifts on his Form 700? How do we know how much Edco gave to Steve Vaus. How much of that donation ended up at Rady’s and how much ended up in Steve Vaus’ pocket?”
Cruse shines the light on a for-profit event with a charitable component to it. That is no crime nor is it shady. But Cruse’s investigative reporting shows that Vaus may have muddied the waters with patrons and sponsors, soliciting funds that may have been intended for Rady Children’s Hospital, but actually went to his production company. Soliciting city vendors, as an elected official, certainly doesn’t make things less muddy.
Cruse may be way off base. She may be an angry political opponent to Vaus who is throwing anything against the wall to see what sticks. But Cruse has been making these allegations, along with supporting documentation, for close to ten years. To the best of my knowledge, Vaus has never addressed nor refuted them. This might be a good time for Vaus to set the record straight.