The California Strategies public affairs firm and three of its partners will pay a combined $40,500 fine for breaking the state's political ethics laws under a settlement the Fair Political Practices Commission approved today.
The commission voted 4-0 to approve the agreement made public last week that requires Jason Kinney, Rusty Areias and Winston Hickox to pay the fine, register as lobbyists and disclose their clients. In the agreement, the three well-connected Democrats admit they lobbied the Legislature and the Air Resources Board without disclosing themselves as lobbyists and filing disclosure documents, as state law requires.
"This is the first time that the commission has ever dealt with an issue like this, of shadow lobbying," said FPPC chair Ann Ravel.
"It's something that is very significant, and is part of our emphasis now on looking at more significant matters that impact the public trust. This is exactly that kind of a case."
The commission voted to approve the settlement over objections from environmental activists who said it doesn't go far enough in requiring California Strategies to disclose all its clients.
"We are particularly concerned that the failure by Mr. Hickox and California Strategies to disclose apparent lobbying on behalf of the Boeing company is not addressed in the decision," said Daniel Palay of Consumer Watchdog.
He alleged that Hickox, a former secretary of the state Environmental Protection Agency, used his influence at the agency to help Boeing get out of cleaning up a toxic site near Los Angeles called Santa Susana.
California Strategies declined to respond to the allegation or answer The Bee's question about whether the firm represents Boeing.
Boeing is not listed as a California Strategies lobbying client but the aviation company could hire the firm without publicly disclosing it for consulting work that does not meet the legal definition of lobbying.
Lobbying is defined by California's Political Reform Act, which says lobbyists must register with the secretary of state if they spend more than a third of their time or are paid at least $2,000 a month to influence state government decisions on behalf of a client. Once registered, lobbyists must disclose who's paying them to lobby - and how much.
Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement, said he had reviewed California Strategies' work for Boeing as part of his review of the firm.
"In our estimation, from what we were able to determine, there was not lobbying happening on that specific issue," Winuk said.
The FPPC's settlement with California Strategies requires Kinney to register as a lobbyist for real estate developer Focil-MB, which is managed by the Mission Bay Development Group in San Francisco; Areias to register as a lobbyist for Kaiser Ventures, a mining company trying to sell its land at Eagle Mountain in Riverside County; and Hickox to register as a lobbyist for investment company CE2 Carbon Capital.
PHOTO: Winston H. Hickox, former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is a principal with the consulting firm California Strategies.