Congressmember Zoe Lofgren is shown on the left of the image, with her political challenger, Charlene Nijmeh shown on the right.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and challenger Charlene Nijmeh, chairperson of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe.

The unsuccessful March primary challenger to Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is facing a federal election complaint for connections to a fake newspaper that appeared on the doorsteps of South Bay residents earlier this year.

A political action committee known as Defend the Vote is calling on the Federal Election Commission to investigate the South Bay Chronicle, which San José Spotlight first reported as promoting candidate Charlene Nijmeh, a Democrat, without any political disclaimers required by federal law. Political consultant Matthew Ricchiazzi published the paper, which mirrors several other websites he runs that mimic major publications while spreading right-wing political messages.

“While the publication resembles a traditional newspaper in appearance, it is anything but,” the complaint reads. “Unlike a traditional newspaper, this newspaper does not include a ‘masthead’ that lists the publisher, editor or contact information for the publication.”

Nijmeh, chair of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area, called the complaint a political attack.

“This FEC complaint has no merit and is just another example of Zoe Lofgren using her powerful allies in the Democratic Party establishment and in the media to attack her political rivals,” Nijmeh told San José Spotlight.

Ricchiazzi told San José Spotlight he would need more time to review the complaint before commenting.

Defend the Vote Founder and Executive Director Brian Lemek said the South Bay Chronicle’s promotion of Nijmeh created a “complete facade” of real newspaper support.

“It’s dangerous. It’s lying to voters to directly influence the election. It’s an impossible thing for us to ignore,” Lemek told San José Spotlight. “It’s important that candidates — both Democrats and Republicans — know there is no party allegiance when it comes to the rule of law or enforcing the FEC.”

The South Bay Chronicle has drawn attention to election transparency rules and how interest groups can make political messages without disclosing to readers that it’s campaign material. Ricchiazzi, who maintained the paper, did so as unpaid voluntary work — thus, he said it was not considered a political ad for Nijmeh’s campaign that required disclosure.

Defend the Vote’s complaint argues the South Bay Chronicle amounted to an in-kind contribution — a non-monetary campaign service offered for free or at less than the usual charge. Those are required to be disclosed by federal election laws.

The complaint also accuses Ricchiazzi of paying for a separate campaign mailer that invoked Roger Stone, the conservative lobbyist and political consultant for former President Donald Trump, and urged Republican voters to vote for Nijmeh. The complaint said Nijmeh’s campaign never reported that mailer — also an in-kind contribution — and Ricchiazzi didn’t file an independent expenditure report for it. The complaint further alleges Nijmeh distributed two of her own mailers without saying who paid for them.

Ricchiazzi is known for creating sites that promote misinformation, including The Buffalo Chronicle and San Francisco Inquirer. The Muwekma Ohlone tribe is one of Ricchiazzi’s clients, and he calls himself the “chief of staff to the chairwoman” in emails sent to federal lawmakers, previously obtained by San José Spotlight.

The South Bay Chronicle — which doesn’t appear to have a website — featured more than 20 pages in its February edition accusing Lofgren of thwarting regulations to protect children from online predators because of support from “Big Tech,” orchestrating the housing crisis, voting against immigration measures and claiming her “crusade for abortion” and “transgendering” children without consent is alienating conservative Latinos, among other claims.

Articles in a publication called the The South Bay Chronicle peddled false information on San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren and her husband John Collins benefitting from a housing crisis. Screenshot.

Ricchiazzi previously told San José Spotlight he volunteered his time to help with Nijmeh’s campaign, but did not work for her. He claimed the publication is not paid political advertising and is not affiliated with Nijmeh’s campaign. He said his publications are a counter reaction to what he called the corporate media agenda.

“It’s an independent hobby project of mine,” he previously told San José Spotlight. “It’s not campaign material. It wasn’t produced or authorized by the (Nijmeh) campaign. It wasn’t funded by the campaign. I produce my independent journalism, independently. I’ve done this for many years under many different mastheads.”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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