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A former state senator and candidate for statewide office has agreed to pay a record $60,000 in penalties to the state's political ethics watchdog for spending campaign contributions for personal use and failing to refund general election donations after abandoning his candidacy for lieutenant governor.

Democrat Dean Florez violated state law by spending $26,541 in campaign funds to make 168 personal purchases, including airfare, dining, concert tickets and more than 100 stops at gasoline stations. He also failed to refund $247,000 in general election contributions stemming from his lieutenant governor bid in 2010.

Florez, who represented the Central Valley town of Shafter, agreed to settle with the California Fair Political Practices Commission for $60,000, the largest combined fine in the state's history for a case involving personal use of campaign funds..

California lawmakers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in campaign contributions on entertainment, fine dining and travel abroad. While state law bars such spending for personal use, lawmakers must only state that the spending was "reasonably" related to political, legislative or government purposes.

Rank-and-file legislators earn $90,526 annually - increasing to $95,291 Dec. 1. Most also accept another roughly $30,000 in annual tax-free per diem payments.

From 2007 through 2010 -- while Florez was still in the Senate -- he raised about $1.5 million for the lieutenant governor's race he abandoned well before the 2010 primary.

The FPPC's investigation into personal use grew out of an audit by the Franchise Tax Board. In examining committees controlled by Florez, the FPPC later found that after pulling out of the race, Florez refunded about $72,500 to all who requested repayment. He then transferred $437,000 - including the $247,000 in general election contributions - to his Dean Florez for State Controller 2014. That account had $9,529 as of the June 30 disclosure report.

Florez told the FPPC his bookkeeper sought the commission's advice before transferring the money, but now understands that his lieutenant governor committee was required to refund all of the remaining general election contributions after he withdrew from the primary, according to FPPC settlement documents.

Among the violations included in the settlement, Florez deposited $5,750 from his lieutenant governor committee into an unrelated bank account. The money was never used for campaign-related expenses. The settlement lists him spending:

• $6,780 for gasoline purchases.
• $5,200 for monthly parking passes.
• $2,608 for personal travel, including airfare, a rental car and dining.
• $1,459 for three personal purchases at Ikea and Beck's Furniture.
• $1,415 for purchases at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Best Buy and a bookstore.
• $1,396 for concert tickets, a golf shirt, fireworks and an annual subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio.
• $1,247 for three personal purchases at Walmart and Home Depot.
• $684 for monthly internet, phone and cable bills.

PHOTO: Former Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, listens to testimony in a senate select hearing Feb. 25, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer.


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