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California's political ethics watchdog continued its proactive approach to enforcing the state's political reform act last year, with prosecutions of serious campaign cases and lobbying violations reaching record highs in 2013.

The Fair Political Practices Commission closed 854 cases with violations, according to its end-of-year report released Monday. The number of cases the agency opened surpassed 350, an increase of more than 300 from 2012.

Under its former chief Ann Ravel, who recently departed for the Federal Election Commission, the FPPC increased its focus on major misbehavior rather than less-significant offenses. Commission-initiated cases were virtually nonexistent before Ravel's tenure.

FPPC officials said they hoped to maintain the more aggressive pursuit, including launching investigations in the midst of elections where they could have a greater impact.

"We're trying to continue that past her tenure," said Gary Winuk, the agency's chief of enforcement.

In 2013, prosecutions into conflicts of interest and compliance with requisite financial disclosure statements both reached all-time highs. Overall, the number of complaints received and cases opened and closed rose significantly over the last year, the report shows.

Among the cases cited were the commission's record $1 million settlement with a pair of nonprofits for failing to disclose the source of contributions to oppose Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 tax increases and support an anti-union measure, Proposition 32.

Other prominent investigations involved leveling $40,500 in fines against three partners in a prominent public affairs firm in Sacramento and fining former Democratic Sen. Dean Florez of Shafter $60,000 for misusing campaign funds.

Of the total cases prosecuted last year, 29 percent involved major campaigns and 7 percent centered on lobbying. At 42 percent, the bulk of the agency's prosecutions involved failures to report required statements of economic interest.

PHOTO: Gary Winuk, the chief of enforcement, speaks in front of the Fair Political Practices Commission meeting in September. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua


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