FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur, pictured at right, said he wants to use the "megaphone" that comes with heading the state's political watchdog agency to raise the stakes for candidates and campaigns that might be inclined to run astray of political laws in the heat of the election.
While FPPC enforcement actions are public records, investigations sometimes take months to resolve, with each violation punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.
"The message I'd send to my former colleagues in the political consulting profession is that if you wander close to the line and think that the worse thing that can happen to you is a fine that is imposed later next year, well, that's not the worst thing that can happen," Schnur, a former GOP consultant, said in an interview today with the Bee Capitol Bureau.
"And before straying too close to the line, you should ask your candidate if he or she wants to see their name in a headline with the words 'FPPC investigation' in the closing weeks of the election," Schnur added.
While high-profile campaigns often alert the media to charges of wrongdoing filed against their rivals, recent FPPC policy has been to confirm open investigations when asked, not proactively publicize its enforcement activity.
Under the new directive, which begins this week, all investigations launched by the agency's enforcement staff will be posted on the FPPC website within the 14-day time frame for responding to a complaint. The commission will also continue to publish enforcement decisions on the website once the investigation has concluded, including warning letters and notices that no violation was found.
'It doesn't skew the process, nor does it presume guilt or innocence," Schnur said. "Rather than the onus being on the reporter or a particularly well-connected campaign consultant to trigger public disclosure, we want to standardize it."
To deter campaigns from using complaints as a platform to sling mud at their opponents in the midst of a heated contest, Schnur pledged to publicly admonish campaigns that file "frivolous" complaints.
"If our enforcement team decides charges are filed without merit ... I will go to the district in which that campaign is taking place and announce that it is clear to me that (the candidate's) campaign advisers have so little faith in their candidate and their message that they have instead decided to waste thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to file frivolous charges against (their opponent)," he said.
Schnur also said the FPPC's enforcement staff would refer to the local district attorney's office any signed complaints that were so off-base that the complaining party appeared to commit perjury.
Schnur and FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said staff will prioritize complaints filed in the last two weeks of the election to ensure that as many cases as possible are resolved before voters hit the polls.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Schnur speaks to the Bee Capitol Bureau on Sept. 8, 2010. Hector Amezcua/ Sacramento Bee.