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The Fair Political Practices Commission is relying on more than the threat of fines after ballots are in to enforce California campaign laws well before the Nov. 6 election.

Officials at the state political watchdog agency have been sending cease-and-desist letters to campaigns violating the Political Reform Act, advising them that they could face fines or other penalties if they don't change their actions.

"You can pay a fine after Election Day, but the damages are already done," Enforcement Division Chief Gary Winuk said. "This way, the public has the information before they decide -- the election is fair."

It's worked four times so far.

The latest case involved contributions that a committee controlled by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed gave to an independent expenditure committee supporting Rose Herrera, who's running for San Jose City Council. Such a transaction isn't allowed under campaign finance laws.

The cash had already been spent, so it was too late for the independent committee to return the contribution. But the committee's lawyer detailed in a letter to the FPPC the efforts his clients made to keep the mailers funded by the illegal donations out of voters' homes. That included sending a representative to stop the presses at the political mail printer.

"The Committee representative was successful in stopping the distribution of two of the pieces," the letter reads, "though one piece had already been sent to the post office this afternoon."


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