Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 9, 2014
Jones-Sawyer agrees to $10,000 FPPC fine


Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer has agreed to pay California's political watchdog a $10,000 fine for hiding the source of a $50,000 loan to his 2012 campaign.

The Los Angeles Democrat accepted the loan from his girlfriend, Maria Ann Chachere, in December 2011, according to a proposed settlement he reached with the Fair Political Practices Commission. Jones-Sawyer deposited the money into his personal checking account and then wrote a $50,000 check in his own name to his campaign committee, the agreement says.

The transaction amounts to two violations of the state's Political Reform Act, the settlement says -- first for accepting a political contribution above the $3,900 limit in effect that year, and second for hiding the source of the funds.

The FPPC is recommending the maximum penalty of $10,000 arguing that Jones-Sawyer should have known the $50,000 loan went beyond legal limits and that the source of political contributions must be disclosed.

The commission meets June 19 to vote on the proposed penalty. At the same meeting it will also consider:

- A $2,000 fine for Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, for late reporting of 11 campaign contributions in 2011

- A $3,600 fine for lobbyist Marcie Berman for late filing of four quarterly financial reports

- A $400 fine for former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado's ballot measure committee for failure to file a 2013 campaign statement

- A $200 fine for Assemblyman Tim Donnelley's California Patriots PAC for late filing of a 2013 campaign statement

- A $200 fine for Dan Schnur, a former FPPC chairman and former candidate for Secretary of State, for not reporting a gift of travel expenses on his statement of economic interest

PHOTO: Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 21, 2014
Schools chief candidate files ethics complaint against teacher union

Marshall_Tuck.JPGMarshall Tuck, one of two challengers in this year's race for state superintendent of public instruction, has filed an ethics complaint against the California Teachers Association for a series of television ads supporting incumbent Tom Torlakson.

The complaint filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission, California's political ethics enforcement agency, alleges that CTA misleadingly characterized the ads as "issue advocacy" rather a campaign expenditure, which involves more financial disclosure, in violation of the "transparency required by the letter and spirit of the Political Reform Act."

The trio of ads applaud Torlakson for his work as state schools chief and encourage the viewer to "tell Tom Torlakson to keep fighting" for either local control of school funding decisions or career training. (One ad is in Spanish.)

FPPC regulations specify that any political spending to influence voters for or against a particular candidate qualifies as an expenditure, but among the exceptions is spending "urging the public to adopt a particular position and to contact the candidate with respect to the matter or issue."

"Unlike true issue advocacy, no specific legislation which is currently pending before the State Legislature or the State Office of Education is mentioned," Tuck's complaint reads. The ads are "unmistakably, unambiguously suggestive of only one meaning -- to urge viewers to re-elect Torlakson"

CTA spokeswoman Becky Zoglman called the complaint "frivolous." She said CTA decided at its state council meeting in March to support several ongoing legislative efforts and that the $1.95 million ad buy, which aired for three weeks in late April and early May, was unrelated to June's primary election.

"This is a political stunt by the Tuck campaign," Zoglman said. "If this was actually a concern, why didn't they file the complaint back in April?"

Spokesman Jay Wierenga confirmed that the FPPC had received the complaint and is reviewing whether to pursue an investigation.

Within 60 days of an election, the commission can consider not just the text of the advertisement, but also its tenor and timing, to determine whether the ad "unambiguously urges a particular result" in a race.

Tuck and Torlakson are locked in a heated battle for state superintendent that has attracted big money from labor unions and the private sector. In early May, an independent expenditure supported primarily by CTA spent more than $2 million on radio ads supporting Torlakson and opposing Tuck, while Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield has poured more than $700,000 into slate mailers and campaign literature in favor of Tuck.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Marshall Tuck

May 14, 2014
Jerry Brown signs law requiring political nonprofits identify donors


Nonprofit organizations that make political contributions in California will have to disclose more information about the source of their money under a law Gov. Jerry Brown signed Wednesday.

Senate Bill 27 was inspired by the 2012 ballot measure wars in California, when two out-of-state nonprofit groups poured $15 million into fighting Proposition 30 and supporting Proposition 32. Because of the groups' nonprofit status, they were not required to report where their donations originally came from, leading some to describe the contributions as "dark money."

The state's political watchdog went after the groups and secured a $1 million settlement last fall when the Arizona nonprofits acknowledged an error in campaign finance reporting. But requiring politically-active nonprofits to disclose their donors required a change of state law.

And that's where Sen. Lou Correa's SB 27 comes in. The bill by the Santa Ana Democrat requires nonprofit groups disclose the names of donors who give them $1,000 or more to spend on political activity in California, if the group makes contributions of more than $50,000 in a year, or $100,000 over four years. The disclosure requirement kicks in with donations made after July 1 of this year.

The bill was sponsored by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission and supported by many open-government groups, including the California Clean Money Campaign, California Common Cause, California Forward, California Voter Foundation, and the League of Women Voters of California. Supporters hope the bill will have a ripple effect nationwide.

"Governor Brown's signature of SB 27 marks a turning point in the fight to reveal secret funders of political campaigns. It starts to shed light on dark money in California and serves as an example for the entire nation," said a statement from Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign. "We must strengthen disclosure laws even further, because voters deserve to know who's trying to influence their votes."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, hugs Senator Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, as the Senates passes the California State budget plan. Photo taken Thursday Feb. 19, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer.

April 24, 2014
FPPC upholds $40,000 penalty against Sen. Tom Berryhill


California's political-ethics panel Thursday unanimously approved a $40,000 money-laundering penalty against state Sen. Tom Berryhill, agreeing with an administrative law judge's recommended decision that the Twain Harte Republican committed "serious and deliberate" violations of campaign-finance rules.

The Fair Political Practices Commission announced the fine after a brief special meeting in Oakland conducted by telephone. Last week, the panel took the case under submission after hearing from the commission's enforcement chief and Berryhill's attorney.

Authorities allege that Berryhill, seeking to bypass contribution limits, colluded with his brother — former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill — and GOP central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties to move $40,000 in Tom Berryhill campaign money into Bill Berryhill's campaign in the days before the November 2008 election.

"The commission has unanimously voted to adopt the ALJ's proposed decision with limited, minor and technical changes noted by the enforcement division," Commissioner Eric Casher said after the closed session.

Chuck Bell, Berryhill's attorney, called Thursday's decision disappointing. The Berryhills and county committees never engaged in contribution earmarking and the administrative law judge applied the law incorrectly, he said.

Bell said his clients will decide whether to appeal to the Superior Court in the coming weeks.

Thursday's outcome has significant implications for campaign finance, especially for the millions of political dollars that flow through Republican and Democratic committees before arriving in candidates' treasuries. Commission enforcement chief Gary Winuk said the ruling makes it clear that coordinating money moves is illegal. But Bell called the decision vague and "will leave donors and party committees highly uncertain about what they can and can do in this environment."

Berryhill is the fourth senator facing serious ethical problems. State sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee have been indicted on corruption and other charges, and state Sen. Rod Wright was found guilty of lying about his residence when he ran for office in 2008. The Senate has suspended the other three senators.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:06 p.m. April 24 to include comment from Charles Bell.

PHOTO: State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, far right, with (left to right), brother Bill Berryhill, attorney Charles Bell, and Tony Amador, chairman of the San Joaquin County GOP, outside the FPPC meeting April 17, 2014 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Jim Miller

April 23, 2014
Jerry Brown appoints Jodi Remke new FPPC chair

brownmics.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has appointed Jodi Remke, presiding judge of the State Bar Court of California, chairwoman of the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, his office announced Wednesday.

Remke replaces Ann Ravel, who left the commission for the Federal Election Commission in October.

Remke, 48, takes over a commission that has risen in prominence in recent years, including prosecutions of money laundering and conflict-of-interest cases. Ravel gained national attention for her agency's probe last year of out-of-state groups that funneled money into California's initiative wars in 2012. A $1 million fine against two Arizona-based groups announced in October was the largest ever levied by the FPPC for a campaign violation.

Remke, of Oakland has been presiding judge of the State Bar Court, which rules on attorney discipline cases, since 2006. She was first appointed to the court as a hearing judge in 2000.

Like Brown, she is a Democrat.

According to the governor's office, Remke was a lawyer with the state Senate Judiciary Committee from 1997 to 2000 and worked at the Montana Legal Services Association from 1994 to 1996.

She is a graduate of University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law.

Remke's appointment comes nearly six months after Ravel left the FPPC for Washington, despite a rule in California's Political Reform Act requiring vacancies to be filled within 30 days.

Remke will be paid $136,144 a year.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown talks to members of the press after speaking at a rally for crime victims in Sacramento on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 17, 2014
FPPC delays decision on Berryhill money-laundering case


The board of California's political ethics watchdog Thursday postponed action on a recommended $40,000 money-laundering penalty against state Sen. Tom Berryhill, his brother and Republican central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

After meeting in closed session for about an hour, the Fair Political Practices Commission announced that it would take the case under submission. The move came after the Berryhills' attorneys argued that an administrative law judge incorrectly interpreted campaign-finance rules when he concluded that the senator and others committed "serious and deliberate" violations of the Political Reform Act.

The commission now has until mid-May to announce whether it will accept the $40,000 penalty recommended in January by Administrative Law Judge Jonathan Lew, reject it, or take a different approach.

Thursday's hearing comes five-and-a-half years after the November 2008 election, when commission investigators contend that then-Assemblyman Tom Berryhill funneled more than $40,000 through the central committees to help his brother Bill Berryhill's campaign. Candidates can accept much more money from party committees than individuals, $30,200 per election compared to $3,600 at the time, but any collusion is prohibited.

Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, testified in December that he gave the money to the central committees with no strings attached. He only hoped that local GOP leaders would pass it on to his brother's campaign for an adjacent Assembly district, which Democrats had targeted with a late push. Other Republican officials vouched for Berryhill.

Lew's decision clearly showed that he didn't buy the senator's' version of events, commission investigators wrote in a staff report. "The real problem respondents have with Judge Lew is that he did not believe the untruthful defense he was forced to listen to for almost six days," they wrote.

Both sides said the commission's ultimate decision will have far-reaching implications. Enforcement chief Gary Winuk said rejecting Lew's recommendation would "eviscerate" campaign contribution limits. But attorney Charles Bell, who represented the Berryhills and the central committees, said upholding the judge's decision would "throw a big rock in the pond of campaign financing" and put some common campaign-finance transactions under legal scrutiny.

PHOTO: State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, far right, with (left to right), brother Bill Berryhill, attorney Charles Bell, and Tony Amador, chairman of the San Joaquin County GOP, outside the FPPC meeting April 17, 2014 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Jim Miller

April 7, 2014
Sean Noble talks about $1 million FPPC fine, ties to Kochs


Sean Noble, the man who operated an Arizona nonprofit group that channeled millions of dollars in anonymous donations to two California ballot measures in 2012, said in a television interview Sunday that the investigation he faced by California's political watchdog was "a complete over-reach."

In October, Noble's group, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and another Arizona nonprofit agreed to pay California's Fair Political Practices Commission a $1 million fine for not properly reporting the source of their contributions to groups that were working to support Proposition 32 and oppose Proposition 30. Those measures sought, respectively, to weaken union influence and raise taxes.

The fine set the record as the stiffest penalty the state has ever levied for a violation of campaign finance laws, and made national news as a rare case of regulators successfully shining more light on the practices that allow donors to shield their identities while giving big money to political campaigns.

"It was an example where government has a tremendous amount of authority to do things that violate the rights of individuals. And the investigation that led them to levy this fine was a complete over-reach," Noble said in an interview with News 12, the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, Arizona.

Noble also talked about his relationship with the Koch brothers and his new political nonprofit group called American Encore, which you can watch here. The discussion about California's FPPC investigation starts around the 5:35 minute mark.

Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement, responded to Noble's comments with this prepared statement:

"Sean Noble agreed to and paid a record fine on behalf of the Koch network for a reason. It was the largest amount of undisclosed dark money in the history of California. His vain attempts to try to minimize the case should not serve to give comfort to anyone who tries to hide money in California, because we are prepared to confront them at every turn."

PHOTO: Ann Ravel, then-chairwoman of the California FPPC, announces October 24, 2013, a $1 million fine against Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:23 p.m. to include a comment from the FPPC's Gary Winuk.

March 5, 2014
Verizon, Accenture drop Kevin Sloat's lobbying firm


Sacramento's Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates lobbying firm lost three prominent clients last month as revelations surfaced that founder Kevin Sloat would pay a record-breaking fine for giving prohibited campaign contributions to California officials.

Sloat lost contracts with Accenture, the San Francisco 49ers and Verizon, according to the latest filings with the Secretary of State's Office. Verizon was Sloat's most lucrative client last year, paying his firm $352,000 in 2013. Accenture paid the firm $179,000 last year and the 49ers paid it $105,000.

A fourth client — the Orange County Transportation Agency — publicly discussed this week whether to drop Sloat's firm, according to a report in the Voice of OC. The agency paid Sloat Higgins $258,000 last year.

The report quotes Jeff Lalloway, an Irvine councilman, and Todd Spitzer, an Orange County supervisor, saying they want the agency to cut ties with Sloat because of his violations of state lobbying ethics laws. Spitzer said he hopes lobbyist Moira Topp will continue to represent the transportation agency by leaving Sloat's firm, the Voice of OC reported.

Sloat paid a $133,500 fine to the Fair Political Practices Commission last month for hosting dozens of lavish campaign fundraisers at his home that included pricey wine, cigars and liquor in excess of what California law allows lobbyists to give state officials. Nearly 40 politicians — including Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders in both houses — received warning letters for participating in the events. Sloat's fine set the record as the largest a lobbyist has paid the state for violating political ethics laws.


Sacramento lobbying firm fined for lavish fundraisers with lawmakers

Sacramento lobbyists can make politicians feel at home - for $500

Record-setting fine hits Sacramento lobbyist Kevin Sloat

PHOTO: Aji Japanese Bistro in El Dorado Hills offers 17 wines and champagne by the glass on January 21, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas

February 11, 2014
Kevin Sloat fallout hits California Secretary of State race


The political fallout from the record-breaking fine of lobbyist Kevin Sloat has begun, with a candidate for Secretary of State calling on an opponent to return money he has raised from clients of the embattled lobbyist.

Sloat reached a settlement with the Fair Political Practices Commission to pay a $133,500 fine for contributing liquor, cigar and other items toward lavish political fundraisers in his home. The hospitality amounted to non-monetary campaign contributions beyond what the law allows lobbyists to give.

Sen. Alex Padilla, who is running for Secretary of State, was one of 37 politicians who received warning letters from the FPPC for holding political fundraisers at Sloat's home that included non-monetary contributions from Sloat that they were unaware of. The fine against Sloat and the list of politicians who benefited from his hospitality were made public by the FPPC on Monday in a document that says Sloat hosted a fundraiser for Padilla and then-Sen. Michael Rubio in June 2011.

One of Padilla's opponents, fellow Democrat Derek Cressman, seized on Monday's news by sending a letter to Padilla asking him to give back the money related to Sloat.

"I am writing to ask that you return any campaign contributions you have received from events at Mr. Sloat's home or from any of the clients of Sloat Higgens Jensen & Associates," Cressman's letter to Padilla says.

February 10, 2014
Sacramento lobbyist Kevin Sloat faces $133,500 FPPC fine


Lobbyist Kevin Sloat has set a new record in California, agreeing to pay the state a fine of $133,500 -- the largest ever for violating state laws that regulate lobbyists.

Sloat's agreement with staff of the Fair Political Practices Commission says he acknowledges hosting numerous political fundraisers that counted as prohibited campaign contributions, and arranging and giving gifts to California lawmakers in violation of state law. The state's Political Reform Act prohibits lobbyists from giving campaign contributions to officials they are registered to lobby, and limits gifts they can give to $10 a month.

"Contributions and gifts from lobbyists may influence an official to make decisions based on the interest of the lobbyist's clients, instead of, and potentially in conflict with, the interests of the public whom the official represents," says the negotiated settlement between Sloat and the FPPC, which became public today.

Sloat, who lobbies for the San Francisco 49ers among other clients, arranged more than $600 worth of 49er tickets for former Republican Assemblyman Jeff Miller of Corona and for Debra Gravert, chief of staff to Democratic Assemblyman Jim Frazier of Oakley, according to the agreement.

He also arranged for Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, to receive $420 worth of tickets to an NBA basketball game featuring the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers, the agreement says. Sloat acknowledged that his firm, Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates, bought a $52.36 lunch at the Esquire Grill for Joe Coto when he was a Democratic member of the state Assembly from San Jose.

The settlement lists 26 fundraising parties Sloat held for California candidates at his home in Sacramento between 2009 and 2012. The events benefited 37 current and former elected officials and political candidates, including the most powerful in California: Democrats Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez; and Republican leaders Sen. Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Connie Conway. He also held fundraisers for Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, the agreement says.

While state law allows lobbyists to host political fundraisers at their homes and offices, it limits the total cost of permissible events to $500. Sloat's settlement with the FPPC says he thought he was following the law by limiting his own expenditures for wine, liquor and cigars to $500. But the rule concerns the total cost of the event -- not only what the lobbyist spent -- and with catering, floral arrangements and other expenses, the events at Sloat's house exceeded the $500 limit.

Sloat issued a prepared statement on behalf of his firm, Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates, saying it had "failed in our obligations to be as vigilant as possible in complying with state political reform laws."

"We take this matter seriously and have already put in place enhanced internal measures designed to prevent any future administrative violations. We regret these mistakes and look forward to developing the best compliance standards in the business," Sloat's statement says.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposed fine at its meeting on Feb. 20.

January 24, 2014
California ethics panel collects $300,000 from Small Business Action Committee

fox.jpgWhen California's political watchdog fined two conservative groups $1 million last year for not properly reporting $15 million in campaign contributions, it also told the recipients of the money to turn it over to the state.

At the time, one of the recipients -- the Small Business Action Committee -- put up a fight and said it had spent up all the money it had received and didn't plan to pay the state a dime.

The group is now changing course.

Today, the Fair Political Practices Commission announced that the Small Business Action Committee headed by Joel Fox has paid the state $300,000.

The money amounts to less than 3 percent of the $11 million the group received from Americans for Responsible Leadership, the Arizona-based group that admitted in October it had not properly reported its donations. Still, the FPPC's chief of enforcement said the payment is significant -- the second largest California has ever collected.

"$300,000 is a lot of money to any committee," said Gary Winuk.

"The purpose of the disgorgement law is to make sure even if you give a contribution and don't disclose the true source that every party down the chain is going to suffer the consequences, and I think that happened here."

The FPPC's pursuit of the campaign finance case has been watched around the country.

The Small Business Action Committee and another group called the California Future Fund were raising money to support Proposition 32 and oppose Proposition 30 on the November 2012 ballot. They received money from groups that acted as intermediaries in a large network of conservative fundraising groups with ties to industrialists Charles and David Koch, though the FPPC never uncovered evidence that the Koch brothers were themselves donors to the California effort.

By passing the money through several nonprofits, the groups were able to shield individual donors from being publicly identified as backing the effort to defeat Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure and pass one that would make it harder for labor unions to mount political campaigns.

The California Future Fund is supposed to pay the state $4.08 million it received from a group that improperly reported its contribution. But Winuk said he thinks it's "extremely unlikely" that California will collect any more money in this case.

Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee, said his group did nothing wrong in accepting the $11 million contribution but decided to pay some money to the state to put the issue to rest.

"We understood that fighting this lawsuit would incur large attorney fees and could be tied up in court for years," Fox said in a statement.

"Given that this is an election year with important issues we want to be engaged in, SBAC chose to put this lawsuit behind us."

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to include a response from Fox, clarify the Koch brothers' connection to the case and clarify that the the $300,000 is not a fine under the law.

PHOTO: Joel Fox. Courtesy of the Small Business Action Committee.

January 10, 2014
Hernandez's lawyer says FPPC 'engaging in unethical behavior'

Roger Hernandez.JPG

Assemblyman Roger Hernández's former lawyer accuses the Fair Political Practices Commission of trying to intimidate and harass him as the watchdog agency investigates whether money laundering occurred in the assemblyman's 2010 campaign, according to court filings The Sacramento Bee obtained Friday.

Aldo A. Flores, who has represented Hernández in earlier brushes with the law, sued the FPPC in September in an attempt to block subpoenas requesting his bank records.

"I tried to reason with them. I contacted them in several instances prior to the lawsuit. They blew me off," Flores said in an interview with The Bee.

"I specifically stated I was trying to avoid litigation. But I had no choice."

Flores made a $3,900 contribution to Hernandez's campaign in late 2009. The FPPC argues that its subpoenas may unveil evidence that someone reimbursed Flores for the donation. Hiding the identity of a donor by passing money through someone else amounts to political money laundering and violates the law.

The FPPC subpoenas — included in Flores's lawsuit — seek monthly statements, copies of checks worth $2,000 or more and various other transaction records from two of his bank accounts during late 2009 and early 2010.

"The subpoenas are overbroad and violative of Plaintiff's rights and lawful privileges," says Flores's suit against the FPPC.

"Defendant FPPC is engaging in frivolous and vexatious tactics, as well as engaging in unethical behavior hoping to intimidate Plaintiff into providing his private bank records."

A hearing to determine whether Flores must comply with the subpoenas is scheduled in Los Angeles Superior Court on January 16.

Hernández issued a statement earlier this week saying "the FPPC has no information that the check was improper."

"Since the beginning of this investigation I have fully cooperated with the FPPC and as such provided all records that have been requested of me. In the 5 years since these allegations were raised, the FPPC has not prompted any official letter of accusation," the statement from Hernandez says.

Hernández has faced allegations of wrongdoing in recent years, but has never been found guilty.

Flores represented Hernández last year when a former girlfriend filed a civil suit alleging that Hernández had hit her with a belt and slammed her into a wall. The woman's lawyers eventually asked the court to dismiss the suit, and Los Angeles County prosecutors decided not to charge Hernández with domestic violence.

Flores also represented Hernández in two lawsuits brought by employees of the City of West Covina, where Hernández served on the city council before being elected to the Assembly in 2010.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Roger Hernández speaks during an Assembly session in 2012. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

January 8, 2014
FPPC investigating Roger Hernandez campaign for money laundering

RogerHernandez4.JPGCalifornia's political watchdog agency is investigating whether money laundering took place during Assemblyman Roger Hernandez's 2010 campaign and is fighting with his lawyer to get access to bank records, according to a filing this week in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The document says the Fair Political Practices Commission subpoenaed Hernadez's lawyer, Aldo A. Flores, for information about a $3,900 contribution he made to the assemblyman's campaign in 2009. The matter landed in court this fall when Flores challenged the FPPC's requests for his bank records.

"Evidence from the bank records may show (Flores) was reimbursed for his payment to the Hernandez for Assembly 2010 campaign committee," says the FPPC's filing that asks the court to uphold the subpoenas that are part of a "larger investigation."

"The FPPC is actively investigating political money laundering," the filing says, adding that "evidence uncovered thus far provides sufficient grounds to support the subpoenas."

State law limits the amount donors can give to candidates. The limit for contributions to legislative candidates is $4,100 now but was $3,900 in 2009, when Flores made the donation to Hernandez, a Democrat from West Covina.

Hiding the identity of a donor by passing the money through someone else amounts to political money laundering and violates state law.

"Making a contribution in another person's name is one of the most serious types of violations of the (Political Reform) Act, because it denies the public of information about where a candidate receives his or her financial support," the FPPC's filing says.

Hernandez issued a statement late Wednesday, suggesting the FPPC's case is "about one very old fact" and that "the FPPC has no information that the check was improper...This blanket attack is nothing more than an attempt to tarnish my name by powerful interest groups that see me as a threat for the work that I am doing on behalf of hard-working Californians."

The agency said last year that it was investigating two complaints against Hernandez. One questions a $100,000 loan he made to his campaign in 2009. The other alleges that spending on some campaign fliers in West Covina was not properly reported. Those investigations remain open, said Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement.

Messages The Sacramento Bee left for Flores have not been returned.

A hearing is scheduled for January 16.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Roger Hernandez at the California State Capitol in Sacramento in January 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

Editor's Note: This post was updated at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 8, 2014 to include Hernandez's statement.

November 4, 2013
FPPC fines ex-lawmaker Mike Roos for improper contributions

MikeRoosWillieBrown.JPGCalifornia lobbyists can play a big role in helping political candidates raise the money they need to run for office. Lobbyists registered with the state can advise their clients on which campaigns they should support, and they frequently attend swanky fundraising events on their clients' dime.

But one thing California lobbyists can't do is personally write checks to state-level campaigns. (Federal campaigns are another story, as we explored in this story last election season.)

It's a rule Mike Roos is now likely to remember.

The 14-year assemblyman, who was a registered lobbyist from 2007 to 2012, has agreed to pay a $3,000 fine to the California Fair Political Practices Commission for personally making three political contributions while he was a lobbyist.

Roos made a $250 contribution to the Jerry Brown for Governor 2010 Exploratory Committee in December 2009; a $1,000 contribution to state Sen. Darrell Steinberg in February 2010;
and $465.14 in non-monetary contributions to state Sen. Alex Padilla in October 2010, according to his proposed settlement with the FPPC.

The commission is scheduled to vote on the fine at its Nov. 14 meeting.

PHOTO: Filmmaker Rob Reiner, center, with then-mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown, right, and former Assemblyman Mike Roos, left, announce details of the California Children and Families First initiative during a news conference in January 1998. Associated Press/Ben Margot

October 24, 2013
FPPC seeks repayment of $15 million in mystery money

Ravel.jpgIn a campaign finance case watched around the country, California's political watchdog has levied a $1 million fine against two non-profit groups for inappropriately laundering money during last year's ballot initiative wars.

The Fair Political Practices Commission announced the settlement with the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership, two groups based in Arizona that the FPPC describes as part of a network operated by the conservative Koch brothers.

The groups acknowledge they broke California law by not appropriately reporting two campaign contributions.

The commission also sent letters to two California committees demanding they pay the state general fund more than $15 million they received from groups that didn't properly report the source of their funds.

Actually getting the money, however, will likely be a challenge.

Despite the size of the fine, the settlement brings Californians no closer to knowing the identities of the original individual donors.

Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement, said the case highlights the need to change California law to reflect that political spending is now largely being funneled through nonprofit organizations.

"They are being used to hide donors," he said.

The Arizona groups had not been active in California politics until last fall, when Democrats led by Gov. Jerry Brown were pushing for a tax increase known as Proposition 30, and Republicans were pushing Proposition 32 to limit how labor unions use the dues they collect. A few weeks before the November election, Americans for Responsible Leadership gave $11 million to the Small Business Action Committee, which was working to oppose Proposition 30 and support Proposition 32.

In September, a related group called the American Future Fund gave $4.08 million to something called the California Future Fund, which was also giving money to oppose Proposition 30 and support Proposition 32.

The FPPC and the Attorney General's Office set out to determine who was behind the mysterious donations.

Today's settlement answers part of the question, revealing that the money for the two donations came from the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which acknowledges that it should have reported its contribution last year. But it does not compel the groups to report which individuals gave them the money.

The lawyer representing the Center to Protect Patient Rights said his client's lack of reporting amounted to a mistake.

"This was the first contribution they had ever made in the state of California," Malcolm Segal said, adding that the state's campaign finance laws amount to a "very complicated environment with many, many regulations."

"They believed they were in compliance," Segal said. "But the FPPC believed they were mistaken about their compliance and (under state law) even a mistake is punishable conduct."

The FPPC says the Center to Protect Patient Rights is affiliated with billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch, who run a network of nonprofit groups around the country that solicit donations and then use the money to support Republican causes. The format allows donors to support political causes without being identified. When donors give directly to a political cause, their identities are reported in campaign finance reports. But when donors give to a nonprofit, the law does not require their identities be disclosed.

Because the groups acknowledge they did not report contributions as they should have, the FPPC can now go after the recipients of the money to pay the funds to the state. The agency sent letters today to Barbara Smeltzer, head of the California Future Fund, and Joel Fox of the the Small Business Action Committee, directing them, respectively, to pay $4.08 million and $11 million to California's general fund.

"It's required under state law," Winuk said. "Just receiving a contribution where the true source is not disclosed means you have to give it up."

But the attorney for the Small Business Action Committee said his group is not required to pay the money, arguing that the California laws governing so-called "disgorgement" apply to political candidates -- not ballot measures.

Furthermore, attorney Steve Churchwell said, his client was not found guilty of any violations and doesn't have $11 million anyway.

"Not one dime of this money is sitting in a bank account," Churchwell said.

"It all was spent on Props 30 and 32."

Here is the stipulation.

Here is the letter to the Small Business Action Committee.

Here is the letter to the California Future Fund.

PHOTO: FPPC Chair Ann Ravel in her office on Tuesday September 17, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Renee C. Byer

Editor's note: This post was updated at 2:10 p.m. with a reaction from the Small Business Action Committee.

October 8, 2013
Brown signs three FPPC bills, vetoes campaign finance bill

20110914_ha_jerry_brown_bills_31994.JPGGov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a handful of bills designed to promote government transparency, and vetoed one that would have required more training for people who manage finances for political campaigns.

Brown signed three bills sponsored by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission:

Assembly Bill 409 by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, creates an electronic filing system for public officials who report annual statements of economic interest, known as Form 700s. The new online system will replace an old paper system, allowing greater ability for the public to review the financial interests of hundreds of thousands of government officials in California.

September 23, 2013
FPPC's Ravel confirmed to Federal Election Commission

RCB_20130917 FPPC CHAIR 0921_0121 (2).JPGAnn Ravel, chair of the state's ethics watchdog, today received unanimous confirmation to serve on the Federal Election Commission.

The U.S. Senate's vote to confirm Ravel, a Democrat, and Lee Goodman, a Republican, gives the six-member panel their first new commissioners since President Barack Obama took office.

Ellen L. Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission, congratulated the pair in a tweet.

Ravel's departure from the FPPC would clear the way for Gov. Jerry Brown to appoint the agency's second chair of his third term.

As The Bee reported last weekend, the 64-year-old Los Gatos resident has received a fresh wave of attention after delivering on an early promise to focus on major offenses rather than targeting less-significant transgressions. Last week, the FPPC settled with a trio of consultants who agreed that they should have registered as lobbyists.

Ravel also has pursed cases more quickly, particularly on the eve of elections. Last fall, she sued to unmask the source of an $11 million donation from an unknown Arizona group to oppose Brown's Proposition 30 and support Proposition 32.

"If you don't have the ability and the gumption to actually enforce your laws that are significant and go to the heart of the trust prior to an election, then you might as well not be in business," Ravel said in an interview last week.

Ravel and Goodman were nominated by Obama in June.

Ravel worked as a U.S. Justice Department official in Washington when Brown appointed her chair three years ago. The Federal Election Commission -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- administers and enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act.

FPPC Chair Ann Ravel gestures during an interview in her office last week. The Sacramento Bee / Renée C. Byer

September 19, 2013
FPPC approves new rules for political bloggers

MaviglioFPPC.jpgBloggers and others who are paid to post political messages online are subject to new disclosure rules under regulations the Fair Political Practices Commission approved Thursday.

Campaign committees will now have to report who they pay to post "favorable or unfavorable" content on blogs, social media or online videos on their campaign finance statements, and report the name of the website where the content appears.

"The purpose overall is to let the public know that they can go compare what the campaign is paying for to what is showing up online," said FPPC attorney Heather Rowan.

"I think that's going to help people see through a lot of these names and/or alert them that there's maybe something they should look at, or take with a grain of salt," she said.

Another FPPC lawyer, Zackery Morazzini, said the new reports would help the public discern between genuine opinions and campaign material.

"What the commission's concern is, is people thinking they're reading a neutral posting when in fact it's the furthest thing from it -- the individual is getting paid to sway a voter one way or another," Morazzini said.

Democratic campaign consultant Steven Maviglio, who writes for the California Majority Report blog and has been working with the FPPC on the regulations for more than a year, said he was unhappy with the final product.

"The goal has always been righteous. Implementation is going to be an avalanche of paperwork that is unenforceable," he said.

"Technology is going to leave this regulation behind before the next election season begins."

GOP consultant Rob Stutzman saw it the same way.

"If that's distasteful to people that a blogger is paid to opine in a certain way, this regulation is not going to stop that," he said. "It just creates this ridiculous regulatory road block for basic communication like tweeting."

PHOTO: Steve Maviglio, a political consultant and co-publisher of a Democratic blog, speaks at the Fair Political Practices Commission meeting on Sept. 19, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

September 9, 2013
FPPC fines Kinney, Areias and Hickox for covert lobbying

RCB_20100324_BROWN_ 060_b.JPG

Three well-connected partners in the prominent California Strategies public affairs firm have agreed to pay fines to California's political watchdog agency for trying to influence state government decisions without registering as lobbyists.

Jason Kinney, Rusty Areias and Winston Hickox violated state law when they "crossed over the line which separates policy consultants from lobbyists," says a proposed settlement the Fair Political Practices Commission released today.

It's just the second time in recent history that the FPPC has prosecuted anyone for failing to register as a lobbyist, the settlement says. But it reveals a practice many Sacramento lobbyists say has become pervasive at the Capitol: "shadow lobbying" by former politicians and high-level staff members who leave government to consult for private industry without disclosing themselves as lobbyists.

California Strategies released a statement saying the business "has already put stronger internal reporting controls in place."

"The firm takes full responsibility for this matter and all of our principals are committed
to ensuring it never happens again," said a prepared statement emailed by managing partner Camden S. McEfee.

The settlement follows an investigation by The Bee earlier this year that documented a severe lack of detail in California's lobbying reports. Interest groups that spend the most money to influence policy in the Capitol spend the bulk of it in secret, The Bee found, including hiring former politicians as consultants and launching ad campaigns to push their agenda with virtually no financial disclosure.

Areias was a state legislator for 12 years who then headed the state Parks Department; Hickox was an adviser during Gov. Jerry Brown's prior administration and secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Gov. Gray Davis; Kinney was communications director for Senate leader Don Perata, then Davis' speechwriter and is now a political consultant to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

In settling with the FPPC, the three acknowledge that over the last two years they lobbied the Legislature and Air Resources Board without publicly reporting their clients and income, as state law requires of lobbyists.

"This activity violates one of the (Political Reform) Act's central purposes - the activities of lobbyists should be regulated and their finances disclosed in order that improper influences will not be directed at public officials," the FPPC settlement says.

"The public harm inherent in these violations is that the public is deprived of important and timely information... such as the identity of the person ultimately seeking to influence legislative or administrative action and the amount of money expended by that person to influence such action."

Kinney, Areias and Hickox will register as lobbyists and pay a combined fine of $40,500, according to the proposed settlement, which is scheduled for a vote by the Commission on Sept. 19.

August 22, 2013
Could online disclosure rule out Sutter Brown?

sutterbrown.jpgThe state's Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday put off until next month a proposal to make it easier to identify bloggers and social media users who get paid by campaigns for their posts.

The regulation, which is likely to be adopted in some form, would require campaigns to disclose the names of people paid to post online content and say where it appears, unless the post itself mentions the author is being paid.

The purpose, said Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the FPPC, is to inform the public when online content "is masquerading as someone's opinion, as opposed to paid opinion."

Steve Maviglio, a political consultant and co-publisher of the California Majority Report, a Democratic blog, spoke against the measure at the commission meeting. He said it is unnecessary, unenforceable and overly broad.

He mused about the potential effect of the regulation on one Twitter account, in particular - that of Gov. Jerry Brown's dog.

The person who runs the account is a mystery, but that could change depending on who the handler is and how the account is used, if at all, in a future campaign.

"Sutter Brown will be outed by this regulation," Maviglio said, adding he doesn't know if that is a good or bad thing.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sutter Brown makes an appearance at the Capitol on Feb. 14, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

July 5, 2013
Fair Political Practices Commission names executive director

erinpeth1.jpgErin V. Peth will serve as the California Fair Political Practice Commission's new executive director, the campaign finance watchdog decided in a closed session meeting today.

Peth will take over a position that has been filled on an interim basis since Roman Porter stepped down back in 2011. Peth has been working as a deputy legal affairs secretary in the governor's office. Before that, she was a deputy attorney general in the California Department of Justice.

"The Commission has appointed an outstanding person to the position of executive director," FPPC Chair Ann Ravel said in a statement. "Her years of experience with the Political Reform Act and with state government will serve the FPPC well."

Ravel herself could be on the way out. President Barack Obama announced in June that he would nominate Ravel for a spot on the Federal Elections Commission, a post that would require a Senate confirmation.

PHOTO: New FPPC Executive Director Erin Peth. Photo courtesy FPPC.

June 21, 2013
Obama taps Ann Ravel for Federal Election Commission post

ravel.jpgPresident Barack Obama will nominate Ann Ravel, the combative chairwoman of California's Fair Political Practices Commission, to the Federal Election Commission, the White House announced Friday.

Ravel gained prominence during California's initiative campaigns last year, waging a legal battle to identify the source of an $11 million donation from a secretive Arizona group. That entity donated money to a committee opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's measure to raise taxes and supporting a controversial campaign finance measure.

The full-time, six-member Federal Election Commission administers and enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act. Ravel's appointment requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Ravel has experience in Washington, D.C. She was working as a U.S. Justice Department official when Brown appointed her chairwoman of the FPPC in 2011.

Ravel declined to comment about her nomination.

PHOTO: Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, in her office in December 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

June 11, 2013
Campaigns funded holiday gifts between Calderon brothers

christmas.JPGChristmas presents don't typically show up on California state disclosure forms, but they do when brothers exchange gifts using campaign funds. Such is the case with Montebello Sen. Ron Calderon, who is the subject of an FBI investigation, and his brother Charles Calderon, a former state legislator.

On Christmas Day in 2010, Charles Calderon's campaign account for his Assembly run that year gave Ron Calderon a $420 "holiday gift," according to his statement of economic interests. The $420 price tag happens to have been the state's limit on gifts to legislators that year. This year, it is $440.

On Christmas Eve in 2009, Charles Calderon's campaign for the Assembly gave Ron Calderon a $400 "holiday gift card." That gift came three days after Ron Calderon's Senate campaign account gave then Assemblyman Charles Calderon a $182.70 pair of shoes for a golf event.

State campaign finance laws exempt gifts among family members from having to be reported by state lawmakers on annual disclosure forms. That is, unless campaign funds are used.

"We looked into the gifts between the two brothers," said Gary Winuk, the enforcement division chief of the Fair Political Practices Commission. "Their claim was that the gift was to improve legislative relations between brothers, which meets the technical legal standard."

April 24, 2013
Smartphone app lets CA lawmakers track special interest gifts

Screenshot_2013-04-12-12-09-39.pngHaving trouble keeping track of all those concert tickets, reception tabs and bottles of wine you have to report as gifts as a California elected official or legislative staffer?

There's an app for that.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is set to unveil a new smartphone app to let officials record receipts of reportable gifts from special interests in real time. The log could be exported when the time comes to file an annual statement of economic interest form detailing all the gifts from the past year, a function FPPC officials hope will make complying with the disclosure rules easier.

"If you're at an event, if you're at a meeting, if you're giving a speech, if you're in a reception, you can just log in what the gift is," FPPC Enforcement Division Chief Gary Winuk said.

The Gift Tracker app was built by a staff member who joined the agency after participating in a "hackathon" event promoting open government data. The app allows the user to enter information about the gift and the giver and track how close they are to hitting the $440 annual limit on gifts from that specific source.

While the logs won't be available for public review immediately, Winuk said the app goes a long way in reaching the commission's goal of using technology to increase disclosure and make it easier for people to meet requirements of the state Political Reform Act.

The app is initially available only for Google devices, but Winuk said the FPPC is hoping to have an iPhone and iPad version approved and available through the Apple store soon.

FPPC Chair Ann Ravel called the app "a win for everyone" in a statement.

"It is important that it is not too burdensome to comply with our rules, so that people are encouraged to participate in government," she said. "And, it is important for the public that the information disclosed to them is accurate."

Trips, beer and crystal ducks: California lawmakers report gifts
DATABASE: See every gift given to state leaders, aides

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:27 to include a quote from Ravel.

PHOTO CREDIT: Screenshot of the new FPPC app. Courtesy of the FPPC.

April 10, 2013
FPPC solidifies stance on campaign finance bills

ravel.jpgThe California Fair Political Practices Commission on Wednesday morning formally backed several bills aimed at strengthening the state's campaign finance rules.

Members of the political watchdog examined proposals before the Legislature to change the scope of the Political Reform Act of 1974, which is the source of the commission's authority.

The panel voted unanimously to sponsor Senate Bill 27, by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, to require more disclosure in certain situations from donors who make contributions intended to influence California politics.

The bill is an attempt to expose to sunlight the increasingly murky world of political spending, where out-of-state organizations have poured money into California through intermediary entities, concealing the original source of the funds. One notorious example involved an Arizona-based nonprofit called Americans for Responsible Leadership, which deployed $11 million during the last election cycle in an effort to defeat some key Democratic initiatives.

Also receiving unanimous votes for sponsorship were Assembly Bill 552 and Assembly Bill 1090, by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino and Assembly Bill 914, by Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park.

AB 552 would fortify FPPC's enforcement authority by giving it more power to collect unpaid fines and penalties. AB 914 would have the FPPC develop a new disclosure form to track the money certain politically active nonprofits take in and spend, and AB 1090 would crack down on conflicts of interest.

The FPPC also voted 5-0 to support Gordon's Assembly Bill 800 and Assembly Bill 45, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento. Supporting is not as strong an endorsement as sponsoring.

All of the bills require a two-thirds vote for passage.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, testifies at a hearing in Sacramento, on Dec. 8, 2011. Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press file.

March 14, 2013
Ravel talks about FPPC's plans for tracking political money


California Fair Political Practices Commission chairwoman Ann Ravel spoke to The Bee's editorial board Thursday about how she plans to use the remainder of her tenure tracking money in California politics.

The FPPC has its eye on a few bills that could bolster the 1974 Political Reform Act, which lays out the contours of the FPPC's authority. Ravel said it is focused in particular on bills by Assemblyman Roger Dicksinon, D-Sacramento, Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, that would tighten disclosure requirements.

The language in those bills is still developing, but Ravel said she is interested in measures that could require more information about "independent expenditures," the third-party dollars that have flooded into elections in the last few years, and more clearly define what it means to say those independent organizations are prohibited from "coordinating" with campaigns.

March 11, 2013
Longtime Democratic political aide appointed to FPPC

Tricia Wynne Photo.jpgA longtime aide to Democratic politicians has been added to the state panel tasked with enforcing California's campaign and political conflict-of-interest laws.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced today that she is appointing Patricia Wynne to the Fair Political Practices Commission. Wynne, who currently serves as deputy state treasurer at the California State Treasurer's Office, has also worked for the attorney general's office and the state Senate in her 30-year career in state government.

"It's hard to overstate the importance of having an aggressive, proactive, independent political watchdog, which is why I am so pleased Tricia has accepted this appointment to the FPPC," Bowen said in a statement. "Tricia has a keen understanding of the fair and practical application of complex laws and regulations, and her devotion to integrity, transparency and independence will serve all Californians well."

Wynne, who will start her new job in April, replaces Elizabeth Garret, a University of Southern California provost who was previously appointed by Bowen to a four-year term. She is one of three new members filling vacancies on the commission this spring. All the posts were open because of term limits.


Oakland attorney Eric Casher named to state watchdog panel

Attorney Gavin Wasserman named to political watchdog panel

PHOTO: FPPC Commissioner Patricia Wynne. California Department of Justice.

March 11, 2013
Oakland attorney Eric Casher named to state watchdog panel

Eric Casher 5x7.jpgCalifornia Attorney General Kamala Harris has named Oakland attorney Eric Casher to a vacant spot on the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.

Casher is an associate in the Oakland office of Meyer Nave, where he has represented "public and private developers, design professionals, general contractors, subcontractors, as well as, government agencies and municipalities," according to his online biography. He was named one of the National Bar Association's 40 best advocates under 40 in 2011.

"Eric's commitment to justice, fairness and the rule of law will make him a strong asset on the Fair Political Practices Commission," Harris said in a statement. "The people of California will be well-served by his diligence and his judgment."

February 1, 2013
Attorney Gavin Wasserman named to political watchdog panel

California Controller John Chiang has named Torrance attorney Gavin Wasserman to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Wasserman, who runs his own firm in Southern California, replaces termed-out Commissioner Ronald Rotunda on the political ethics agency's panel, which enforces the state campaign laws.

The Torrance Republican was selected from a list of candidates recommended by the California Republican Party, an arrangement required by law because Chiang and two other officials naming appointees are from the same party.

Wasserman fills one of three commission spots that open up this month. The other two appointees will be chosen by Attorney General Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

January 31, 2013
FPPC examining changes to California lobbyist disclosure

RCB_20121205 ANN RAVEL 0091.JPGCalifornia's political watchdog agency is moving to crack down on loose lobbying reporting requirements that have allowed interest groups to hire former politicians as consultants and launch ad campaigns to push their agenda with virtually no financial disclosure.

Ann Ravel, chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission said today that she has assigned a working group to take on issues raised by a Bee investigation earlier this month. Interest groups that spend the most money trying to influence policy in California's Capitol spend the bulk of it in secret, The Bee found, because disclosure forms allow them to report huge sums in a catch-all "other" category that requires no detailed reporting to authorities.

"We're going to make it a fairly broad mission to look at any issues relating to lobbying that should be cleaned up with respect to the payments -- things included that shouldn't be, and lack of clarification -- as well as any other matters that are in the scope of the FPPC's authority," Ravel said.

"We're happy to talk about making recommendations for legislation as well," she added.

The FPPC could require more detailed disclosure by lobbyists and the groups that hire them, but other aspects involved in regulating the lobbying industry -- such as changing the definition of who must register with the state as a lobbyist -- would have to be changed by the state Legislature.

Ravel said the working group would include representatives of various Capitol interests, including lobbyists, watchdogs and political lawyers. Jim Cassie, president of the Institute of Governmental Advocates, the association that represents Sacramento lobbyists, said his group would be happy to participate.

"We think we can make a difference in this debate," Cassie said. "Clearly we're part of it."

December 14, 2012
FPPC fines treasurer for loaning committee funds to strip club dancer

GivingMoney.JPGCalifornia campaign treasurers, take note: Your love interest's plastic surgery isn't an acceptable use of the political cash you control.

That message was made clear Thursday, when California's political watchdog agency fined a treasurer of a committee supporting decriminalization of prostitution $9,500 for violations of the state political laws that included improperly loaning committee funds to a strip club dancer with whom he had fallen in love.

The treasurer who made the loan, Luke Breit, said he believed at the time that his amour would use the money to pay an attorney for a child support case. He told investigators with the Fair Political Practices Commission in an interview that the woman, who he had met at a club called Centerfolds, "got a boob job and had another kid" and later denied he had loaned her $3,000 in cash. The money was never repaid.

A second treasurer managing the Californians for Privacy Committee, Michael Gunter, received an additional fine of $7,500 for using $10,000 of the committee's money to start his own business. He told investigators that he was having financial difficulties, according to a document outlining the circumstances of a case.

The investigation, which started when the secretary of state referred the committee to the agency for failing to file its financial statements, also found other issues with the group's bookkeeping. Breit addressed some of the inconsistencies in his interview with FPPC investigators, saying the committee did not identify contributors because its money was raised at cash-only "mixers" where "working ladies would come and, you know, the guys would come to meet them."

FPPC Chair Ann Ravel called the action "FPPC Staff's vote for the most amazing case involving improper use of campaign funds this year" in a tweet posted today.

The chief of the agency's enforcement division agreed.

"Actually, I think it is," Gary Winuk said in an interview. "I'd be hard-pressed to come up with another example."

PHOTO CREDIT: Associated Press file photo illustration

December 3, 2012
Bills to target disclosure by nonprofits giving to CA campaigns

A pair of Democratic state senators announced today plans to introduce legislation aimed at requiring more disclosure of campaign contributions made by nonprofits.

Senate Bills 2 and 3, by Sens. Ted Lieu and Leland Yee, are being crafted in response to an $11 million contribution an Arizona-based nonprofit made to influence two November ballot measure campaigns in the state. The Fair Political Practices Commission's efforts to force the group to reveal the source of the funds, which were used to support Proposition 32 and oppose Proposition 30, led to transactions involving two additional nonprofits that do not have to disclose their donors. Current law requires disclosure only when the donation is given to the nonprofit for the purpose of becoming a campaign contribution.

"Laundering money through nonprofits in an attempt to avoid transparency is fundamentally undemocratic," Yee said in a statement. "Our democracy should not be bought and sold in shady backroom deals."

November 28, 2012
Campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee gets eight years in fraud case

Durkee.JPGU.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller today ordered Kinde Durkee to serve eight years in prison for what has been called California's biggest case of campaign treasurer fraud.

Durkee pleaded guilty in March to mail fraud for taking more than $7 million from campaign accounts she controlled on behalf of Democratic politicians and other clients over a 12-year period. The hundreds of unauthorized transfers she made over that time resulted in six- and seven-figure losses for some clients, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, and outgoing state Assemblyman Jose Solorio, and wiped out the accounts of some smaller committees and nonprofits she controlled.

In addition to the prison sentence, Mueller ordered Durkee to pay more than $10.5 million in restitution. She is turning over a 401(k) account worth about $90,000 and the government is auctioning of her office building later this week to raise more money

"I want to take this opportunity to apologize for my actions," Durkee said in a brief statement to the court. "To those who trusted me and I betrayed, to those who counted on me and I let down, to those who depended on me and I disappointed, I take full and compete responsibility for what I have done. I'm truly sorry for the hurt I caused to my former clients, my former employees, my friends and my family."

November 21, 2012
FPPC: Berryhill brothers illegally laundered $40,000 for campaign

The Fair Political Practices Commission has accused GOP state legislators Bill and Tom Berryhill of violating state campaign laws by laundering $40,000 to help Bill Berryhill's 2008 Assembly bid.

California Watch's Lance Williams reports:

The commission said that less than a week before the election, Tom Berryhill gave his brother's campaign $40,000 - more than 11 times the $3,600 donation limit set by state law - to pay for television advertising.

To mask the true source of the funds, the commission contended that Tom Berryhill steered the money through Republican central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, which by law could accept as much as $30,200 per donor.

As soon as they got the money, the county committees funneled it to Bill Berryhill's campaign, according to the commission. Bill Berryhill then filed reports falsely claiming that the money came from the county committees and not his brother, the commission said.

The lawyer for Tom Berryhill, who now serves in the state Senate, and the GOP committees allegedly involved in the scheme told California Watch that his clients didn't break the law. He said the committees independently decided to give the money to Bill Berryhill's campaign. A hearing on the charges is set for June.

Bill Berryhill is now locked in a too-close-to-call race with Democratic Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani for a Stockton-based Senate seat. He currently leads by about 1,500 votes, according to results posted by the Secretary of State.

Click here to read the full California Watch report.

November 2, 2012
Appeals court denies California's attempt at Arizona donor audit

California's 3rd District Court of Appeal today denied the state's emergency request to force an Arizona nonprofit to submit information related to its recent $11 million political contribution.

The decision makes it even less likely that Americans for Responsible Leadership will disclose its donors before Tuesday's election.

Ann Ravel, who heads the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said her agency will now ask the state Supreme Court to force ARL to comply. FPPC has requested emails, texts and financial transactions data related to the $11 million check the group gave a business committee last month. Funds have gone toward fighting Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30, and to support a measure restricting union dues collection, Proposition 32.

October 31, 2012
Judge confirms ruling against mystery donor to ballot campaigns

A Sacramento Superior Court judge confirmed tonight her ruling against an obscure Arizona campaign group, saying the failure to investigate the source of its funds would cause irreparable harm to California voters.

Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang's final ruling ordered Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership, which donated $11 million to kill Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increase in Proposition 30 and support the campaign finance measure Prop. 32, to turn over information to state regulators on Thursday.

It's still far from certain, however, that voters will learn of the group's donors before Tuesday's election. The group said it will appeal, and it is unclear whether the courts can sort out the issues in expedited fashion or, even if they do, whether the state Fair Political Practices Commission will determine that donor disclosure is warranted..

"We are disappointed in the today's court ruling," Matt Ross, the Sacramento-based spokesman for the group's Virginia legal team, said in a prepared statement. "We have asserted all along that the FPPC does not have the authority to issue an audit in advance of the election. We continue to believe so and will appeal this case."

October 31, 2012
Final decision delayed in $11 million donor disclosure case

A Sacramento Superior Court judge withheld her final ruling this afternoon after listening to attorneys debate whether an out-of-state group must subject itself to an audit of its donors.

Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang could issue her decision later today.

Attorneys for the state's campaign watchdog agency and Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership debated whether the state could immediately audit the obscure group.

October 19, 2012
FPPC focusing on getting violations fixed before Election Day

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."

October 19, 2012
Group calls for FPPC investigation of mystery Arizona money

121019 cressman.JPGAs details emerge about an out-of-state group that dumped $11 million into California politics this week, a good-government organization this morning called for an investigation into who is behind the money.

California Common Cause has asked the state's political watchdog commission to examine Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership and its contribution to an independent committee backing a controversial campaign finance measure on the Nov. 6 ballot, Proposition 32, and opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's tax proposal, Proposition 30.

"You know, $11 million doesn't just drop out of the sky," said Derek Cressman, Western regional director for Common Cause.

August 16, 2012
Prop. 8 campaign slapped with $49,000 fine

The campaign that successfully backed an initiative banning same-sex marriage received a $49,000 fine today from the California Fair Political Practices Commission for violating state campaign finance disclosure laws.

Commission investigators, prompted by a state audit of the Yes on 8 campaign's 2007 and 2008 records, found the organization and its treasurer, David Bauer, failed to report $1,169,292 in contributions before the legal deadline, including $508,150 in late contributions of $1,000 or more. Investigators also found that the campaign committee didn't disclose who made a $10,000 wire transfer.

The Fair Political Practices Commission's enforcement division recommended the fine. The Proposition 8 campaign had already stipulated to the penalty before the commission sealed the deal with a 4-0 vote today.

Proposition 8, enacted by 52 percent of voters statewide in 2008, says that "only marriage between a man and woman is valid or recognized in California."

Federal trial and appellate courts ruled the measure unconstitutional, but the law has remained in effect as the case travels the court system. Proposition 8 supporters on July 31 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

Related posts:
Update: Federal appeals court decision clears way for U.S. Supreme Court to take up gay marriage ban
Dan Walters: Proposition 8 ruling is aimed at U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

August 7, 2012
Prop. 8 campaign faces fines for violating campaign disclosures

The Proposition 8 campaign is facing a $49,000 fine for for violating campaign disclosure laws during the 2008 election.

The Fair Political Practices Commission enforcement division recommended the fine based on finding that the committee formed in support of the voter-approved ballot measure banning same-sex marriage failed to report $1,169,292 in contributions under the timelines required by state law, including $508,150 in late contributions of $1,000 or more given in the final days of the campaign. It also found that the committee failed to identify the donor behind a $10,000 wire transfer.

The investigation was triggered by a campaign committee filing audit by the Franchise Tax Board.

The commission will vote on whether to approve the proposed fine during its August 16 meeting in Sacramento.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 9:17 a.m. with added contribution numbers.

May 17, 2012
FPPC: California judges must post financial disclosures online

The state political watchdog agency moved today to post financial disclosure forms submitted by California judges online.

The California Judges Association has fought for months for an exemption to a 2010 regulation requiring that the statement of economic interest forms filed by certain elected officials, including the governor, legislators and county supervisors, are posted on the Internet.

The association argued that information contained in the forms, such as property ownership or a spouse's place of work, could jeopardize the safety of their families if it was available on a smartphone or in just a few clicks online.

"We see this as an issue of life and limb," California Judges Association President David Rubin, a San Diego judge, said in an interview today. "We don't want people beaten, murdered, raped, what have you, because of an irate litigant."

Instead of carving out an exception for judges, the Fair Political Practices Commission voted today to approve a new policy that allows all filers subject to online posting to request redaction of sensitive information, such as the name of a family member or the address of their workplace.

May 3, 2012
FPPC shelves plan to require disclosure by California political bloggers

The director of California's political watchdog agency is shelving her proposal to require bloggers to disclose payments they receive from political campaigns.

Chairwoman Ann Ravel of the Fair Political Practices Commission said she remains committed to holding public debate over mandatory disclosure with the hope that a plan could emerge in the future.

Meanwhile, Ravel said she wants to seek voluntary disclosure by bloggers for the November election, though she conceded, "I don't think there's going to be a large amount of voluntary disclosure."

To supplement voluntary disclosure, Ravel said she may ask the FPPC to consider requiring political candidates to publicize in a distinct format any money they pay to bloggers and provide a link to that information on their website.

April 20, 2012
FPPC pushing for personal liability when IEs break elections law

Bracing for a flood of independent expenditures for candidates or causes in this year's elections, California's political watchdog agency is seeking to tighten state law to require more personal liability.

FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel said that legislation is being drafted, at the agency's behest, to require that principal officers of independent expenditure committees be held personally responsible for violations of election law.

The bill would take effect immediately if passed by a two-thirds supermajority of each legislative house and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

April 19, 2012
FPPC leader to seek blogger disclosure of campaign payments

California would push political bloggers to disclose payments they receive from campaigns under a proposal that the state Fair Political Practices Commission will consider in coming months.

In closing remarks Thursday at a Sacramento symposium on a wide range of political and campaign issues, FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel announced plans to seek a vote by her commission on blogger disclosure.

Details of the proposal have not yet been worked out, such as what level of payments would trigger disclosure to readers on websites where bloggers post their political or campaign-related opinions

Ravel said she initially plans to ask the FPPC to pass an advisory measure, meaning that disclosure by bloggers would be suggested but not required for the November election. Her goal for future elections is mandatory disclosure, she said.

Under current state law, campaigns are required to report any payments they make to bloggers, but the latter need not report.

FPPC officials said they believe that passage of a mandate would make California the first state to require blogger disclosure of political payments.

April 12, 2012
California watchdog warns fish and game chief, closes case

The state's political watchdog arm warned Fish and Game Commission head Dan Richards that his guided mountain lion hunt in Idaho violated the state's gift laws, but it closed the case today without a penalty.

In a letter, the Fair Political Practices Commission said it decided to end its review with a warning because Richards recently paid the Flying B Ranch $6,812.50 for the hunting trip, albeit after the 30-day period prescribed in the state's Political Reform Act. The law limits gifts for certain public officials at $420 a year from any one donor.

Richards drew attention in February after the trip when a photo cropped up online depicting him holding a dead mountain lion. Killing a mountain lion is illegal in California, but legal in Idaho. Forty Assembly Democrats signed a letter calling for his resignation, but Richards refused to step down and defended his out-of-state actions as perfectly legal.

Former California Democratic Party head Kathy Bowler, who was copied on today's FPPC letter, filed the initial complaint with the state agency.

"Your actions violated the Act because you received a gift over the limit," wrote FPPC enforcement chief Gary S. Winuk. "However, because you did repay the donor relatively soon after receipt of the gift, although after the 30-day window for repayment prescribed by the Act, we have decided to close the case."

Winuk added that future violations by Richards would result in penalties up to $5,000 per violation.

Richards' attorney, Stephen Larson, said the commissioner paid for the hunting trip on March 5.

"We don't believe technically it was a gift, but be that as it may, we're happy to have this resolved," Larson said.

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to correct the amount Richards paid for the trip, due to incorrect information initially provided by the FPPC. Updated at 3:36 p.m. April 12, 2012. Also updated at 5:50 p.m. to include comments from Richards' attorney.

March 26, 2012
FPPC launches online disclosure of city, county ticket handouts

California's political watchdog agency has begun ramping up an online service that will itemize concert, sporting event, banquet and entertainment tickets distributed through cities and counties.

The Fair Political Practices Commission launched the program this month with 2012 ticket distribution by the cities of San Diego, Ontario and Dana Point, along with the counties of Alameda and San Francisco.

All cities and counties that engage in ticket distribution are required to report to the FPPC, however, so more local governments are expected to be added to the online site soon, officials said. Businesses can provide tickets to local government for distribution to nonprofit groups, elected officials or other officials.

March 15, 2012
FPPC holds off on posting disclosure forms for California judges

California judges seeking to keep their financial disclosure forms off the Internet scored a temporary victory Thursday.

After a lengthy discussion that included testimony from judges opposing the posting and government watchdog groups, the Fair Political Practices Commission decided to continue to hold off on posting the forms while staff drafts guidelines for redacting information that could present a security threat. Those guidelines are expected to come up at the May meeting.

The California Judges Association is fighting implementation of a 2010 regulation requiring that the forms filed by certain elected officials, including the governor, legislators and county supervisors, are posted online. While the forms of other officeholders are already online, the posting of disclosures by judicial officers had been delayed due to concerns expressed by the judges.

The association argues that online posting of the Form 700s could put the judiciary and their families in jeopardy if some information included in the disclosures, such as a spouse's place of business or a property rented by a child, could be accessed with a click of a mouse. The group rejected a proposal by the Administrative Office of the Courts to allow judicial officers subject to the disclosure rules to submit a second copy of their form that omits information for online posting.

CJA President David Rubin, a San Diego judge, told commissioners that the association feels that keeping the forms offline, where they are still available as public records, strikes the right balance between "the public right to know and the security of judicial officers and their families."

Rubin and other judges appearing in front of the commission said limiting access to paper filings would ensure a "cooling-off" period and other safeguards to prevent disgruntled litigants or their family members from using information from the forms to seek vengeance.

"My address or the address of our spouses at work or at home or our kids addresses can get us killed," said Sacramento Judge Ben Davidian, a former FPPC chair. "And that's not just a joke and its not said lightly. It's true."

But Commissioner Ronald Rotunda questioned why a change to the current practices, which allow redaction of sensitive information such as home addresses, phone numbers and signatures in online postings, is needed. Given the current redaction policies, he said a change in regulation would only make access to financial disclosures contained in the form, such as stockholdings and other business interests, more difficult.

"It looks like this is more of a situation where the judges don't want the voters to know how rich they are... because it's the financial information that is going to be disclosed," he said.

California judges fight online posting of their financial statements

February 3, 2012
FPPC attorney John Wallace picked for executive director post

California's political watchdog agency has filled its vacant executive director post for now.

Fair Political Practices Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel announced today that John W. Wallace, a longtime attorney with the agency, has been selected for to serve in the position as acting executive director.

Wallace, who has been an assistant general counsel in the agency's legal division for 10 years, served as the commission's acting general counsel for several months last year.

"John is perfect for this job," Ravel said in a statement. "He has a great deal of experience in the Act, he has management and personnel experience, and he is committed to the FPPC."

The appointment was approved by the five-member commission during a closed-session meeting conducted via phone Thursday, FPPC spokeswoman Tara Stock said.

The executive director duties had been delegated to various members of the FPPC staff, including Ravel and the commission's general counsel, since former Executive Director Roman Porter stepped down in October. Ravel had previously said that the commission did not have enough money to hire someone new for the post. It was not immediately clear whether the commission is still searching for a permanent executive director.

Wallace's salary has not changed, a spokeswoman for the commission said. The commission says his current salary is $103,000.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to clarify that Wallace is serving as acting executive director. His salary has also been added to the post.

January 13, 2012
FPPC sues United States Postal Service over records request

The state political watchdog agency has delivered a lawsuit to the United States Postal Service in an ongoing dispute over public records.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, stems from a Fair Political Practices Commission investigation into whether a campaign mailing sent in a 2008 local recall campaign violated the state Political Reform Act.

The agency sought to obtain from the USPS records showing how many mail pieces were sent to determine whether the mailing was large enough to trigger mandatory disclosures.Though it has provided similar information in the past, according to the FPPC, the USPS denied the agency's request.

FPPC Chair Ann Ravel said in a statement that the agency felt "compelled to take action" out of concern that the USPS' "refusal to provide this simple information will result in shutting down the enforcement of all similar laws in every State."

"The Post Office's unreasonable refusal to provide the information and bizarre use of FOIA to prevent the release of basic information prohibits the Commission from executing its mission," she said in a statement. "The Commission is left with no other choice but to bring a cause of action against the Post Office to compel disclosure."

A spokesman for the postal service declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying attorneys are still reviewing the complaint.

USPS FOIA Complaint 1-5-12

Editor's note: This post has been updated with the USPS response.

December 8, 2011
California FPPC remembers former commissioner Tim Hodson

Tim Hodson photo1.JPGThe state Fair Political Practices Commission took several moments before tackling a long agenda today to remember the contributions of former Commissioner Tim Hodson.

Hodson, the longtime director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento, died in October after a battle with cancer. The 61-year-old former legislative staffer served on the commission until earlier this year.

FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel, who was appointed to her post just as Hodson's term expired, honored Hodson at the start of today's meeting as a "revered member of this commission because of his gentlemanly manner and his thoughtfulness."

Members who served alongside Hodson echoed those remarks, noting his ability to thoroughly analyze and understand complex issues in front of the commission.

Commissioner Elizabeth Garrett said she often thinks of how Hodson would approach an issue in her own deliberations.

"Tim was an amazing colleague and somebody whose judgment I miss," she said.

Republican political attorney Chuck Bell praised Hodson as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "best appointment to this commission."

"I appreciated his ability to listen and discern and to express his wisdom as a commissioner based on the substantial and deep and amazing political knowledge and experience that he had in all of his service to the state and at the university as an academic," he said.

Center for California Studies director Tim Hodson dies

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of California State University, Sacramento.

November 10, 2011
California FPPC delays vote on overhaul of gift rules

Update 3:43 p.m.: After announcing that the adoption of the regulations would be delayed, the FPPC reconvened from a recess break and voted to adopt several of the regulations.

The Fair Political Practices Commission has delayed a planned vote to overhaul rules on gifts to lawmakers and other state officials, continuing discussion of proposed regulatory changes until next month.

The proposed changes would regulate situations in which gifts do not need to be reported or counted towards the $420 annual limit for gifts from an individual source. Some of the exceptions, including carve-outs for gifts received in the context of dating relationships and funerals, would apply to registered lobbyists, who are otherwise prohibited on spending more than $10 on gifts.

The draft regulations also address rules governing acceptance of free tickets to events, determining the value of travel on corporate jets and allowing lobbyists and others hosting lawmakers in their homes.

Commissioners and staff considered minor and technical changes to the 78-page draft regulations for more than two hours Thursday. They voted on some provisions, including one affecting home hospitality rules, but decided to put off full discussions and final vote on other changes until next month to accommodate the travel plans of two commissioners who were scheduled to leave Sacramento in the early afternoon.

FPPC Chair Ann Ravel had at first suggested that the commission -- which is set to meet next in about a month -- schedule a second meeting in December focused solely on wrapping up its work on the gift regulations.

But after one commissioner was able to change travel plans during a recess, the four remaining commissioners decided to discuss and vote on some regulations they had previously decided to table until the December meeting.

"Instead of making December a really difficult meeting and then not being able to get to the other issues that we wanted to discuss I thought it would be best... that we should go forward (with some votes)," Ravel said.

Regulatory changes not addressed today, including the exceptions for lobbyists dating legislators, are currently set to be considered at the commission's Dec. 8 meeting.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect a later vote by the commission.

November 10, 2011
FPPC sticks with $30,000 fine for lobbyist Frank Molina

By Laurel Rosenhall and Torey Van Oot

The Fair Political Practices Commission decided today to levy a $30,000 fine against lobbyist Frank Molina , scrapping an earlier proposal to increase his penalty to $50,000.

Molina, a former legislative staffer who opened his own lobbying firm in 2007, is being punished for failing to report $840,000 in lobbying income between 2007 and 2009 when he was representing several Indian tribes and the Deloitte Consulting firm. State law requires that lobbyists file quarterly reports disclosing their clients, income and issues lobbied.

FPPC staff originally recommended that the commission fine Molina $30,000 -- or $2,500 for each of the 12 quarterly reports he failed to file as the sole lobbyist at Strategic Solutions Advisors. But at the watchdog agency's meeting in February, commissioners rejected the $30,000 fine and instead said Molina deserved a stiffer penalty of $50,000.

October 27, 2011
California GOP disclosed donors late, Common Cause says

California Common Cause said today that it has filed a complaint with the state's watchdog agency alleging the state GOP violated disclosure laws in connection with a referendum drive to kill the state's newly drawn Senate districts.

The California Republican Party has made numerous contributions, totaling $936,000, to the referendum drive since late September, state records show. The goal is to qualify a ballot measure aimed at overturning Senate maps created by a state citizens commission.

Common Cause contends that the state GOP failed to comply with laws requiring it to disclose within 10 days the source of money used to make contributions of $5,000 or more to the referendum effort -- or to any state ballot measure.

The party ultimately made the public disclosures -- Tuesday it itemized $1.86 million in donations received. But state records suggest the paperwork for roughly $800,000 of that amount was tardy by days or weeks.

"This is a major party that understands disclosure laws, so the way we look at it, they're either purposely doing this or they have really sloppy bookkeeping," said Phillip Ung of Common Cause. "We think it's more the former than the latter."

Mark Standriff, state GOP spokesman, said the party moved quickly to make the required disclosures once it realized its contributions to the referendum drive triggered a 10-day window for reporting.

"It's very common for major political committees to file amendments on very complex reporting regulations on a regular basis," Standriff said. "In fact, what this frivolous complaint by Common Cause brings to light is the fact that, if anything, they should be commending us for being transparent and proactive. ... It's always our intent to be fully compliant."

Common Cause released a copy of its allegations and documentation to the media. Spokeswoman Tara Stock confirmed this afternoon that the Fair Political Practices Commission had received the complaint and would have two weeks to respond to it.

In a related matter, Common Cause said it filed a complaint with the FPPC alleging that the Republican-backed coalition leading the referendum drive -- Fairness & Accountability in Redistricting -- is legally required to identify itself with a name or phrase that discloses donors of $50,000 or more.

Standriff and Dave Gilliard, a political strategist leading FAIR, declined comment today on Common Cause's allegation.

Editor's note, 4:50 p.m.: This post was updated to reflect that the FPPC confirmed receiving the complaint.

September 30, 2011
California political attorneys urge action to help Durkee victims

Campaign attorneys and representatives from various political organizations today urged the state campaign watchdog agency to take immediate action to aid candidates and committees affected by alleged fraud committed by prominent Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee.

"People have been scrambling over the last three weeks to try and get their paperwork changed, change their treasurer obviously, and get new bank accounts open so they can start receiving some money to start to rebuild their campaign accounts," attorney Stephen Kafuman said at a Fair Political Practices Commission meeting to collect public comment on the impact of the alleged fraud.

Attendees asked FPPC officials to consider waiving campaign contribution limits in certain cases and broadening the requirements for legal defense funds to help candidates and committees recoup funds they say were stolen by Durkee, who was arrested earlier this month on federal mail fraud charges.

They also also asked the panel to extend disclosure filing deadlines for affected accounts and offer immunity from violations caused by reports falsified by Durkee.

"Contributions weren't contributions. Expenditures weren't expenditures. It was all just bank transactions conducted by Kinde Durkee," said attorney Karen Getman, who estimated $700,000 is missing from the the bank account of one client, Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio.

September 28, 2011
Kinde Durkee's clients include nonprofits with political ties

The Fair Political Practices Commission will meet Friday to discuss options for helping political committees affected by the arrest of Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee.

But political candidates aren't the only ones facing uncertainty in light of the federal mail fraud charges filed against the longtime campaign treasurer. Durkee, who has been accused of stealing large sums of money from political committees she managed, also handled the books in recent years for dozens of nonprofit organizations.

The nonprofits leaving their cash in Durkee's hands tackled a variety of causes, including promoting online poker and combating diabetes among Latinos. But many of the organizations listing the Burbank-based treasurer or her office address in their tax filings in recent years have something in common: ties to the political world.

September 14, 2011
Lobbyist Frank Molina to get second hearing before FPPC

The Fair Political Practices Commission is hearing the case against lobbyist Frank Molina for the second time next week because his lawyer missed the last hearing while serving jury duty.

Molina's case first went to the commission back in February. The commission's enforcement wing alleged that between 2007 and 2009, Molina had been paid $840,000 as a lobbyist for several Indian tribes and the Deloitte Consulting firm -- but never reported the income. State law requires lobbyists to file quarterly reports disclosing their clients, income and issues lobbied.

FPPC staff recommended that the commission fine Molina $30,000 -- or $2,500 for each of the 12 quarterly reports he failed to file as the sole lobbyist at Strategic Solutions Advisors, which he opened after working in the Legislature for several years. But at the meeting in February, commissioners rejected the $30,000 fine and instead said Molina deserved a stiffer penalty. His violations carry a maximum penalty of $60,000. According to an FPPC memo, commissioners asked staff to seek a $50,000 fine.

Problem was, Molina never got the chance to defend himself before the commission because his attorney was serving jury duty instead of attending the hearing.

"I did not expect this would present a problem since in my experience it is rare that enforcement matters are pulled from the consent calendar and even rarer that the proposed stipulation is not approved," Molina's lawyer, Lance Olson, wrote in a letter to the FPPC in April.

Olson requested that Molina's case be heard again so that he can address the commission. That hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 22, at 10 a.m. The commission will reconsider the original proposal of a $30,000 fine against Molina.

September 7, 2011
Affidavit: FPPC alerted FBI after its own Kinde Durkee inquiry

A Fair Political Practices Commission complaint helped launch the Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into Burbank-based consultant Kinde Durkee, according to a federal affidavit filed this week.

The FBI's Sacramento public corruption squad started its investigation into the Democratic campaign treasurer after the FPPC's enforcement division conducted its own financial investigation into Durkee and her firm, the FBI special agent's affidavit says.

Durkee is accused of committing mail fraud by siphoning hundreds of thousands of dollars from Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio of Santa Ana and the Solorio for Assembly 2010 account over the course of the past year.

Solorio issued a statement over the weekend saying the FBI had notified him that he was a victim of the alleged mail fraud.

Read the special agent's 17-page affidavit below.
FBI Affidavit Kinde Durkee 9-6-2011

August 16, 2011
FPPC executive director Roman Porter announces departure

The executive director of the Fair Political Practices Commission has announced plans to leave the state's campaign watchdog agency in the coming months, saying he feels ready to "pursue other career opportunities" now that FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel has settled into her new role.

Roman Porter has served as the executive director of the FPPC for three years, working under two commission chairs appointed by former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Ross Johnson and Dan Schnur ) before Ravel was appointed to the post by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year. Porter started his career at the agency as an intern in the early 2000s and was hired as a full-time staff member in 2007. Roughly a year and a half later, he was promoted to executive director.

"My time at the FPPC and the opportunities provided to me has exceeded my wildest expectations, as only a few years ago I sat as the Communications Director, working to ensure the public better understood our value to the state," Porter wrote in an email today. "I will always look back on this time with great fondness."

The policy advocate for the California arm of one good government watchdog group released a statement praising Porter as "a consistent champion of government reform and accountability."

"Under his leadership, the FPPC has increased their responsiveness and openness with watchdog and good government groups," California Common Cause policy advocate Phillip Ung said. "It was his leadership that made the Commission more accessible for regular Californians. We urge the Commission to find an equally qualified executive director who can continue Mr. Porter's success."

Porter, whose current role includes serving as the commission's spokesman, said he plans to leave the agency within the next two months. A successor for the executive director, whom the commission appoints, has not been announced.

July 27, 2011
FPPC chairwoman takes to Twitter, judicial races

Ann Ravel, the new chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, is taking to Twitter, writing in her first post, on Monday, that she is "bringing the FPPC into the 21st century."

"I'll be tweeting on political topics that will interest you," she wrote.

Ravel's initial posts indicate an interest in judicial races, often a political backwater. Ravel tweeted Tuesday that two judicial campaign committees for 2012 already have banked more than $100,000.

The commission will report on judicial races next year, she wrote, calling disclosure "very important to assure unbiased justice."

June 15, 2011
FPPC seeks debts owed by ex legislator filing for bankruptcy

The state political watchdog agency has asked a bankruptcy court to ensure former Republican Assemblyman Mike Briggs pays up on more than $40,000 in outstanding fines.

The Fresno Bee reports:

Briggs, a local Republican who also served a term on the Fresno City Council in the 1990s, in February filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fresno. His petition lists $418,825 in assets, and more than $1.4 million in liabilities.

The money owed to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, however, is listed as an "unsecured nonpriority claim." Last week, the agency filed a complaint in bankruptcy court asking that the debt be made "non-dischargeable."

In December 2009, the Fair Political Practices Commission recommended a $34,000 fine against Briggs, his campaign, and campaign treasurer Sharron Nisbett for violations related to his unsuccessful 2004 bid for the state Assembly.

Earlier this year, the agency tacked on an additional $9,500 in fines related to Briggs' failed Fresno City Council bid last year.

To date, the agency noted in its court papers, Briggs has paid none of the fines. The agency claims that under federal bankruptcy code, "penalties imposed by the Commission, a state agency, are nondischargeable."

Read the full story at this link.

May 23, 2011
FPPC has new approach: getting rid of the gorilla

fppc-final.jpgThe chairwoman of the state's political watchdog agency wants to clean up confusing regulations and reverse what she called "unprofessional" practices in favor of aggressive crackdowns on the biggest scofflaws.

Ann Ravel, the new chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said in an interview with The Bee Capitol Bureau that she saw "an attitude and approach of vilification of potential violators" when she came on board to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger-appointee Dan Schnur as chair.

She was particularly unhappy with an image of a gorilla clawing at the Capitol on the commission's website, which she has had removed. She's also taken down a list of open investigations from the site, saying she was concerned that posting implies that the FPPC sees some merit to the complaint.

Ravel said she wants the commission to focus on restoring public confidence in government by spending less time on minor and unintentional violations.

"We don't want to scare people to think that every politician is crooked," she said.

Instead, she's assembled a group of auditors, lawyers and investigators from a staff of about 80 to seek out willful inconsistencies and more serious violations.

"It should be us doing more aggressive (work)...looking around to see what we can sniff out," she said. "There is an opportunity to go after serious violators There's certainly people out there who are using their position for improper things."

Since her appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown in Feb., she's launched an initiative to make the FPPC's regulations more consistent. She said the next step would be to educate local candidates and officials at the start of their political careers about what they have to report and what they don't, helping prevent future issues.

"We can have a profound impact on the local level by keeping them from tripping up at the beginning," Ravel said.

The commission is expected to adopt a new regulation at its June 9 meeting that will allow subjects of investigations to be notified before the public. Ravel said it is an important part of bringing more fairness and due process to FPPC policies.

The FPPC fields, investigates and prosecutes complaints about politicians, candidates for office and government officials, relating to everything from gifts from lobbyists to stock ownership.

May 11, 2011
FPPC to consider delay in confirming investigations

California's political watchdog agency will consider at its next meeting instituting a five-day delay in publicly releasing information about new investigations and enforcement actions.

The proposed amendment to Fair Political Practices Commission regulations would instruct staff to hold off on telling the public when they've opened an investigation or related enforcement actions until five days after notification is sent to the subject of the probe. The staff would continue to publicly confirm complaints that have been filed alleging violations of the Political Reform Act .

FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said the move is consistent with new commission Chair Ann Ravel's "efforts to ensure due process for the accused and to institute some fundamental fairness relative to the commission's enforcement actions." Since Ravel was appointed to the post by Gov. Jerry Brown in February, the commission has also rescinded a policy enacted last year to post all investigation notices online.

Porter said the policy is also part of a broader effort to better utilize staff time and other resources amid budget cuts.

"This is in conjunction with other internal efforts to prioritize enforcement issues so that we are able to spend our limited resources on the most egregious violations of the (Political Reform Act)," he said.

The FPPC's current policy to confirm probes once they are launched has been targeted by legislation to require 24 hours notice for investigations subjects. Democratic Sen. Rod Wright, who authored the bill, argued that it is a matter of fairness that a person is aware of the charges he or she faces before being questioned by the press or general public.

The five-member commission will vote on the proposed regulation change at a June 9 meeting in Los Angeles.

February 22, 2011
Jerry Brown taps Los Gatos lawyer to chair watchdog agency

Ann Ravel.JPGGov. Jerry Brown this morning appointed a U.S. Department of Justice lawyer as chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission and suggested in another appointment that the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board is not among the agencies he is considering eliminating.

Ann Ravel, 61, of Los Gatos, was appointed chairwoman of the watchdog agency, replacing Dan Schnur. Ravel has been deputy assistant attorney general for torts and consumer litigation in the Department of Justice's civil division since 2009. She was previously county counsel in Santa Clara County.

Brown appointed Robert Dresser, 69, of Sacramento, chairman of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. He has been enforcement counsel for the Contractors State License Board since 2007 and was previously general counsel of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

Like Brown, Both Ravel and Dresser are Democrats. The pay for each position is $132,179 a year.

Brown also filled an expired position on the Fair Political Practices Commission, appointing Republican Sean Eskovitz, 40, of Santa Monica. Eskovitz, a lawyer, was an assistant United States attorney in New York from 1999 to 2003.

In other appointments announced today, Brown:

• reappointed Wylie Aitken, 69, of Anaheim, to the California Arts Council;

• reappointed Mark Steven Andre, 55, of Arcata, to the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection;

• appointed Carl W. "Chip" Robertson, 39, to the Board of Directors of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law;

• re-appointed Genevieve Shiroma, 56, of Sacramento, to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board; and

• appointed Julie Su, 41, of Cerritos, chief of the Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement.

All are Democrats.

PHOTO: Ann Ravel. Courtesy of Santa Clara County

February 14, 2011
Michael Allen to stay on ethics committee after FPPC violation

jl0910_Michael_Allen.jpgAssemblyman Michael Allen will remain on the Assembly Legislative Ethics Committee despite conceding a violation of the state's Political Reform Act and accepting a $3,000 fine from the state's political watchdog agency.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said last week that the first-year legislator's violation was unintentional, occurred prior to his election to the Assembly, and that he will not be replaced on the six-member ethics panel.

"He has accepted responsibility for his mistake, which is why he agreed with the (Fair Political Practices Commission) with respect to their decision," Pérez said in a written statement.

"He will continue to serve on the Ethics Committee knowing that this episode will help to remind every member to remain constantly vigilant against taking actions that could be perceived as a conflict of interest," Pérez said.

Allen and the FPPC negotiated a settlement in which the lawmaker conceded last week that he had "violated the Political Reform Act by failing to disqualify himself from two governmental decisions in which he had a financial interest."

February 10, 2011
FPPC seeks higher penalties for lobbyist, Assembly aide

The Fair Political Practices Commission today rejected proposed fines for a Sacramento lobbyist and an Assembly chief of staff accused of separate financial reporting violations, saying the cases merited higher penalties.

Lobbyist Frank J. Molina, a former Assembly chief of staff, had agreed to pay a $30,000 fine for failing to report $840,000 in lobbying activities from 2007 through 2009. Clients at his firm, Strategic Solutions Advisors, include the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the Tule River Indian Tribe and Deloitte Consulting LLP, according to the FPPC.

Commissioners rejected the stipulated agreement Molina had reached with the enforcement arm of the agency, citing the amount of money and length of the violation as well as Molina's experience working in the Legislature, FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said.

Commissioners also directed enforcement staff to seek a higher fine for Assembly aide Sean MacNeil, who had agreed to pay $2,000 for failing to report income he earned from the campaign committee of his former boss.

MacNeil, who was chief of staff to Democratic state Sen. Pat Wiggins, now works in the same capacity for Democratic Assemblyman Michael Allen, also of Santa Rosa. Porter said the commissioners indicated that MacNeil's two previous Political Reform Act violations should be taken into consideration and result in a higher fine.

In both cases, enforcement staff will attempt to negotiate a new settlement. If the respondents do not agree to a revised stipulated agreement, the matter will go to a hearing before an administrative law judge. Any fine proposed by the judge would also be subject to approval by the commission.

Commissioners approved fining Allen $3,000 for a violation of conflict-of-interest laws in his previous post as Santa Rosa planning commissioner.

Click here for the full list of enforcement actions taken by the commission today.

February 3, 2011
Sacramento lobbyist to be fined $30,000 by FPPC

The owner of a one-man Sacramento lobbying firm is being fined $30,000 by the state's political watchdog agency for failing to disclose advocacy activities for which he was paid nearly a million dollars.

Frank J. Molina, a former Assembly chief of staff, has agreed to pay the fine as a stipulated settlement, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is scheduled to consider the matter Feb. 10.

Molina could not immediately be reached for comment today through his firm, Strategic Solutions Advisors. He left the Capitol in January 2007 to become owner of the lobbying firm, the FPPC said.

Molina failed to report $840,000 in lobbying activities from 2007 through 2009 for clients that included the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the Tule River Indian Tribe and Deloitte Consulting LLP, the FPPC said.

In setting the fine at $30,000, the FPPC said that Molina was not very cooperative with its investigation and caused significant delays in obtaining information. He also should have known about his reporting obligations because he had worked at the Capitol for nearly nine years, the agency said.

In his favor, Molina had no prior record of violating state disclosure law, the agency said. He was accused of failing to file 12 consecutive quarterly disclosure statements as a lobbyist and as owner of the firm. The violations are punishable by a fine of up to $60,000.

Molina's website described him as a former chief of staff to Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas. His resume also includes service as a senior adviser to majority leaders of the Assembly and Senate, and as chief consultant to the leader of the Latino Legislative Caucus.

February 1, 2011
Assembly aide slapped by FPPC for violating disclosure law

Assembly aide Sean MacNeil will be fined $2,000 for failing to report income received in 2007 from the campaign committee of former Democratic state Sen. Pat Wiggins, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

MacNeil was chief of staff to the Santa Rosa Democrat when the violation occurred and currently serves in the same capacity for Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, the FPPC said.

The agency is scheduled to approve the fine Feb. 10 as part of a stipulated agreement with MacNeil.

The fine amounts to the same sum that MacNeil received in March 2007 from Wiggins' Senate campaign committee and failed to report on that year's required statement of economic interest, according to the FPPC.

Six years ago, MacNeil was fined $4,000 by the watchdog agency for signing two of Wiggins' financial disclosure statements when he was not authorized to do so.

February 1, 2011
Allen to pay $3,000 fine for actions before election to Assembly

jl0910_Michael_Allen.jpgAssemblyman Michael Allen will be fined $3,000 for violating state conflict-of-interest law while serving as a Santa Rosa planning commissioner, according to an agreement reached between Allen and the state's political watchdog agency.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is scheduled to act Feb. 10 on its agreement with the Santa Rosa Democrat.

The violations occurred in August 2009 when Allen, district director for former Sen. Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, voted as a city planning commissioner to adopt two resolutions supporting rezoning of Sonoma County Water Agency property on West College Avenue in Santa Rosa, according to the FPPC.

Allen had served as a paid consultant for the Sonoma water agency to study the feasibility of converting buildings on its 7.4-acre West College property into housing, to conduct outreach efforts, and to work with the city of Santa Rosa in targeting the property for rezoning, the FPPC said.

Allen's votes "directly advanced the goal of" getting the West College property rezoned, according to the FPPC.

Allen was elected to the Assembly last November, more than a year after the incident.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Allen, Sept. 10, 2008. The Press Democrat file photo / Jeff Kan Lee

January 31, 2011
With no replacements named, Schnur, Hodson remain at FPPC

ha_schnur7656.JPGFair Political Practices Commission Chairman Dan Schnur isn't stepping down just yet.

The terms of Schnur, who was appointed to the post by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in June, and commission Vice Chairman Tim Hodson, also a Schwarzenegger appointee, expire today. But both have agreed to stay on board until Gov. Jerry Brown names their replacements on the five-member panel.

"While Tim and I have been told that the governor is progressing expeditiously on the appointments, we have both indicated to him and his staff that we would be pleased to continue serving as much time as he desires," Schnur said at Friday's meeting.

That could be a while, warned one former Brown appointee attending the meeting.

"If past, represented by his earlier terms as governor, are prologue to what we can expect in his present term, your prediction that you will not be the longest serving chairman is one that I would not want to invest much money in," said UCLA law professor and attorney Daniel Lowenstein, whom Brown appointed as the commission's first chairman in 1975.

Schnur, who has resumed teaching at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, acknowledged that the slow trickle of appointment announcements during the transition caused him to wonder how long he would be asked to stay on board.

"I did some math and realized at that rate I will be chair of the FPPC until the year 2073," Schnur joked, adding that he and Hodson "have been assured that these are appointments that the governor takes very seriously."

Lowenstein suggested that could be part of what's prolonged the process.

"The more seriously he takes them, the longer it will take," Lowenstein quipped.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Schnur, of the FPPC talks about his plans while in the office during a meeting at The Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau on Wednesday, September 8, 2010. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

January 28, 2011
FPPC targets slate mailers

The Fair Political Practices Commission today adopted new rules to strengthen disclosure requirements for slate mailers.

The mass-produced mail pieces, often labeled as "voter guides," urge support or opposition for a series of candidates or issues on the ballot, many of whom pay to be included on the slate.

The adopted regulations seek to ensure disclaimers designating paid placement and disclosing that the slate mailer organizations are not tied to official political parties are clearly identifiable and easy-to-read.

Center for Governmental Studies President Bob Stern, co-chair of an FPPC-created task force that recommended the changes, said seeing a politically involved colleague mistakenly believe a slate she received was showcasing official party-endorsed candidates reinforced in his mind the need for the changes.

"If somebody as aware as that is not aware of the fact that these slate mailers are not necessarily Democratic- or Republican-endorsed candidates, then we have a problem," said Stern, who helped craft the original Political Reform Act. "There are some people who are clearly misled by slate mailers."

Under the new rules, disclaimers must be written in the same language as the content of the mail piece and printed in colors that are legible in a color contrasting a plain background. The new rules, which would also apply to slate mailers distributed electronically, extend disclosure requirements for slate placements purchased on behalf of a candidate or ballot measure.

Commissioners also adopted several other regulation changes addressing electronic filing deadlines, committee terminations and language for disclosures on paid political advertisements.

Stern and political attorney Chuck Bell, co-chairman of the Chairman's Advisory Task Force on the Political Reform Act, outlined a series of additional recommendations for updating the 1974 Political Reform Act. Those proposals, which would require action by the Legislature, include giving the FPPC jurisdiction to regulate political robocalls, creating a statewide electronic filing system for campaign finance reports and extending to staff restrictions barring elected officials from lobbying their former office for a period after leaving office.

Assemblymen Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, have agreed to take the lead in advancing legislation based on the task force proposals, staff said.

"Our primary goal and the goal of our members is really to restore public confidence overall," Huffman senior consultant Andi Liebenbaum told the commission.

FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur, who created the task force last year, applauded the work of the task force members and commission staff.

"Most of the changes that were adopted today are not the stuff of headlines but they are a critical components both to disclosure and to making it easier, rather than harder, for Californians to participate in the political process," he said.

Speaking at what could be the final meeting of his tenure as chair, Schnur said he believed the task force recommendations and the commissions' actions regarding online political communications and issue amounted to "very, very important steps" to increase transparency and participation in the state political process.

January 27, 2011
On FPPC probe, Norby says marital spat spurred homeless study

ha_CHRIS_NORBY 8198.JPGA Fair Political Practices Commission investigation into whether one Republican lawmaker improperly used campaign funds for personal benefit has produced a somewhat unusual explanation to justify use of the account.

The Los Angeles Times sums up the case involving Fullerton Assemblyman Chris Norby this way:

The director of the state Fair Political Practices Commission has accused Norby of using $340 in campaign funds for personal benefit when he stayed in a Fullerton motel in 2007 during a dispute with his wife, according to the lawmaker.

Norby vows to fight the accusation. He said he did leave his home for a resident motel on Orangethorpe Avenue after a quarrel with his wife. They have since divorced.

But he said he decided to use the cooling-off time away from home to study the use of the motel to shelter homeless people. At the time, he was a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

"I was doing a homeless study," Norby said this week. "We have a lot of homeless people in motels. I think I learned a lot from it. I will stand by it."

Norby's attempt to turn lemons into lemonade could have a sour outcome. If found in violation of the law, Norby could face a fine of up to $5,000.

Click here to read the full story.

PHOTO CREDIT: In this file photo, Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, is sworn in by Assembly Republican leader Martin Garrick, R-Solana Beach as he is accompanied by wife Martha Norby on Friday, Jan. 29, 2010. Norby replaced Mike Duvall, who abandoned the seat the previous September after his private boasts of sexual conquest were captured on audiotape at a public meeting. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee

October 26, 2010
FPPC dismisses complaint against anti-Kamala Harris TV ad

California's political watchdog agency has dismissed a complaint by Democrat Kamala Harris, candidate for attorney general, that a national Republican group is conducting an illegal $1.6 million advertising campaign against her.

Harris' complained Monday that the 30-second attack ad by the Republican State Leadership Committee was required to contain a disclaimer listing their top two donors and failed to do so.

The Fair Political Practices Commission tossed the complaint out Tuesday, ruling that the ad is exempt from the requirement because it is "issue advocacy" that does not specifically encourage a vote for or against a candidate.

The FPPC already has decided to tighten standards for issue advocacy, but not until after the Nov. 2 election.

Until then, an attack ad that criticizes a candidate's performance can qualify as issue advocacy if it does not specifically encourage a vote for or against a particular person.

October 25, 2010
Fight breaks out over GOP attack ad targeting Kamala Harris

Democrat Kamala Harris, candidate for attorney general, filed a complaint with the state's political watchdog agency today charging that a national Republican group is leading an illegal $1.6 million advertising attack against her, campaign officials announced.

Harris is targeting the lack of financial disclosure in a massive advertising blitz by the Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee during the final week of campaigning.

Harris, San Francisco district attorney, contends the GOP ad is required to list the group's top two donors.

Besides asking the Fair Political Practices Commission to intervene, the Harris campaign has sent letters asking television stations airing the 30-second ads to stop doing so voluntarily, attorney James Sutton said.

Adam Temple, spokesman for the Republican State Leadership Committee, denied the allegations today, saying that "we've taken all measures to ensure that it's legal."

The group is led by Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and counselor to President George W. Bush.

The controversial 30-second ad criticizes Harris' personal opposition to the death penalty and her decision in 2004 not to seek capital punishment for the killer of San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza.

"Tell Kamala Harris - California's worst criminals deserve the toughest punishment the law allows," the ad concludes. "No excuses. No exceptions."

Kevin Spillane, spokesman for Republican candidate Steve Cooley, said that he has had nothing to do with the GOP group's ad but that Harris' reaction shows she "doesn't want the voters to know the truth about her record."

"The facts of the ad are truthful," Spillane said.

Under current California campaign laws, groups' ads are not required to report donors if they are "issue advocacy" spots that criticize performance but do not directly urge viewers to vote for or against someone. The FPPC has decided to tighten those rules after the Nov. 2 election.

October 15, 2010
FPPC approves stricter disclosure requirements for political ads

The state campaign watchdog agency yesterday approved a regulation that requires more groups running political advertisements identify their funding sources.

The Fair Political Practices Commission voted to update the definition of "express advocacy" to include paid political communication "susceptible of no reasonable interpretation, other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate or measure."

Currently, political ads must include "magic words," such as "vote for" or "reject," to trigger express advocacy disclosure requirements mandated for independent expenditures. As a result, groups that run ads on a state candidate or issue that do not use those words to urge a particular outcome -- called "issue advocacy" -- do not have to report their donors.

"By forcing the disclosure of those who truly attempt to influence the outcome of an election, we have put an end to the most egregious of campaign tactics. Now, when groups try to stay in the shadows by sending out carefully crafted campaign messages in the days and months before an election that are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to sway the electorate, the public will know who is behind them," FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur said in a statement.

The change, which FPPC staff said was sparked by recent Supreme Court rulings, takes effect after the Nov. 2 election. Political attorneys opposed the new rule, saying a state Supreme Court decision upholds the "magic words" requirement.

October 11, 2010
FPPC: Big money flowing to ballot measure campaigns

Companies and individuals are writing big checks to boost campaigns for and against the nine propositions slated for the November ballot.

Committees for and against the ballot measures have raised more than $84.25 million in contributions of $100,000 or more since the beginning of the year, according to an analysis released today by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

The most active big-money fundraisers were the campaigns surrounding Proposition 24, which would repeal corporate tax benefits approved by the Legislature, and Proposition 23, which would suspend the state's greenhouse gas reduction law until the unemployment rate drops.

Proposition 24 pits the California Teachers Association, which poured $6.5 million into the initiative campaign, against 15 companies writing checks of $100,000 or more.

Oil companies have been the major funders of Proposition 23, with the 10 opposition committees raising their cash mostly from small donors (with the exception of a $5 million contribution from San Francisco hedge fund manager Thomas Steyer, the co-chair of the opposition effort).

FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur called the findings "the big story when it comes to the influence of big money in California politics."

"Once again, 2010 is destined to be a record-setting year in the annals of big-dollar spending on California initiatives. I predict this record will stand until 2012," he said in a statement.

The FPPC is tracking contributions of $100,000 or more to all the ballot measure campaign committees. See the full list here.

September 14, 2010
Political attorneys pan FPPC's 'scarlet letter' probe posting

Political attorneys are seeing red over the Fair Political Practices Commission's decision to post notices of pending investigations online, calling the practice a "'scarlet letter' approach to enforcement."

California Political Attorneys Association President James Harrison wrote a letter yesterday to FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur asking that the full commission reconsider the move, which was announced last week.

Though it is already FPPC policy to confirm ongoing investigations to the public and media, the letter argues that the heightened publicity of proactively posting investigation confirmations online "creates a risk that allegations, which after a thorough investigation conducted post-election are deemed to be unfounded, could have a determinative effect on the outcome of an election."

"It is not difficult to conceive of future mailers and television ads that feature a screen print from the 'investigations' page of the FPPC's website with a banner headline 'Candidate X is under investigation for misusing campaign funds. If we can't trust him with his own money, how can we trust him with ours?,'" reads the letter, which was signed by members of the CPAA executive board.

The letter continues to express concern that more campaigns will turn to alleging unfounded campaign law violations as a vehicle for attacking their opponent if they know the probe will get public attention.

Schnur addressed that concern in an interview with The Bee last week, pledging to publicly admonish campaigns that file "frivolous" complaints. He said the threat of those banner headlines in the heat of an election would have a positive effect by encouraging campaigns to steer clear of violating state campaign laws.

FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said today that there were no plans to add discussion of the issue to the next meeting agenda and that commission staff "has merely chosen to provide another method of making these public documents available to the public and media."

"There has been no change in policy relative to deciding what constitutes a case that should be investigated nor has there been a change in policy regarding what kind of documents are public documents," he said.

Click here to read the letter.

September 8, 2010
FPPC to start posting online public notices of its investigations

ha_schnur7656.JPGIn an effort to shine a spotlight on possible campaign law violations in real time, the Fair Political Practices Commission this week will begin posting online public notices of its investigations.

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.

August 24, 2010
Bell, Stern to lead task force on updating Political Reform Act

MAJ STATE CAPITAL.JPGThe Fair Political Practices Commission today announced the members of a new panel tasked with revamping the state's campaign finance laws.

Center for Governmental Studies President Bob Stern, a former FPPC counsel who helped draft the initiative to create the agency, and Republican political attorney Chuck Bell have been selected to chair the FPPC's Chairman's Advisory Task Force.

The directive of the 25-member panel is to make the state's lengthy and complicated Political Reform Act clearer and more accessible for candidates and the public.

"The Act has provided an invaluable service to our state's voters since its passage in 1974 and has provided necessary guidance to those candidates, donors, and citizens interested in participating in the political process. But after 36 years of faithful service, it has become clear that the Act is in need of an overhaul," FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur said in a statement.

The task force is scheduled to unveil its proposals at the commission's January meeting. Schnur has said his goal is that the Legislature put the suggested revisions to the law on the 2012 ballot.

Its first meeting will be held next Monday at 1 p.m. in Room E of the USC State Capital Center at 1800 I St. The full list of members and bios provided by the FPPC is posted after the jump.

August 2, 2010
FPPC to consider broader independent ad disclosure definition

The state campaign watchdog agency will consider next week approving a staff recommendation that would effectively broaden the scope of advertisements subject to independent expenditure disclosure requirements.

Current rules require groups to disclose the sources and contributors of political advertising that meets the definition for "express advocacy," communication that advocates for the election or defeat of a candidate or measure. Ads that focus on a specific issue without specifically advocating for a particular vote are not subject to the same requirements, even if the issue relates to the candidate or election.

Though current regulations leave the door open for speech that, "taken as a whole and in context... unambiguously urges" a result in an election, the regulations have been restricted by the court rulings interpreted as limiting the definition to speech that contains "magic words," such as "vote for" or "reject."

But Fair Political Practices Commission officials say recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including a line in this year's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, allows enforcement officials to look beyond the "magic words" requirement, suggesting that they direct staff to once again consider the full regulation in its enforcement efforts.

"These recent Supreme Court decisions establish beyond doubt that 'magic words' are not a constitutionally mandated component of an advertisement that may lawfully be regulated, if the ad constitutes the 'functional equivalent of express advocacy' as that term is used by the court," FPPC senior counsel wrote in a memo to the commission.

Under that change, some communication that currently falls under the "issue advocacy" definition would be subject to disclosure requirements for express advocacy independent expenditures.

Campaign attorneys argued at a recent public hearing on the proposed change that the Supreme Court ruling was specifically targeting the practice of "electioneering" and would not trump a 2002 state Supreme Court decision interpreted as directing the commission to look for the "magic words." They also argued that the definition used by enforcement officials should not be changed to close to an election.

The commission will take up the recommendation at its Aug. 12 meeting. Read the full memo here.

Commissioners will also take up recommendations by a subcommittee on online political activity. The committee issued today a 20-page report calling for new rules for disclosure and reporting requirements for paid political communications on the web, including e-mails, Twitter and Facebook. Read that report here.

July 7, 2010
FPPC plans task force to update Political Reform Act

MAJ STATE CAPITOL.JPGThe Fair Political Practices Commission plans to create a task force to recommend updates and clarifications to the state's lengthy and complicated campaign laws, agency Chairman Dan Schnur announced today.

Schnur said the move is intended to ensure the 1974 Political Reform Act can "meet the challenges of the 21st Century" and is clear and accessible for candidates and the public.

The task force, which will focus on updating aspects of the law governing campaign activities, will be asked to present its recommendations at the commission's January meeting, with the intention that the Legislature put the suggested revisions to the law on the 2012 ballot.

The co-chairs of the bipartisan panel, which Schnur said would include "reformers and practitioners," will likely be announced later this month.

The announcement was made as Schnur, who was appointed last month to fill the remainder of the term started by former Chairman Ross Johnson, met with reporters to outline his priorities for his remaining six months on the job.

Schnur said the commission will also look to bring more attention to the agency's enforcement activities, pledging to "shine light in real time" on both the potential violations of the campaign laws and frivolous complaints filed as ammo by rival campaigns or interests. The potential for more publicity of FPPC actions during a high-stakes campaign season, Schnur said, would cause potential violators of the law to think twice before crossing the line.

The commission will also tackle clarifying regulations surrounding issue advocacy, which is not subject to the same disclosure requirements as campaign activity expressly advocating for or against a candidate or measure, as well as disclosure for online campaign communications at a meeting next month. Schnur said he also wants the commission to consider modifying disclosure requirements for independent expenditures.

PHOTO CAPTION: California State Capitol in Sacramento, Dec. 25, 2008. Michael Allen Jones / Sacramento Bee file photo

June 30, 2010
Independent groups report spending nearly $17 million on races

The state political watchdog agency is considering reevaluating regulations of independent expenditure committees as a result of the continued high level and concentrated nature of spending in the 2009-2010 cycle so far.

Independent expenditure committees dropped nearly $17 million on primary races, according to an analysis released today by the Fair Political Practices Commission. Such committees can raise and spend unlimited amounts but are prohibited from coordinating with campaigns. Since tighter contribution limits for legislative and statewide candidates were enacted in 2000, these committees have spent more than $127 million.

"This level of uncontrolled special interest spending on both sides of the aisle has made the legal limits on contributions to candidates almost completely irrelevant," FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur said in a statement.

"It may be time for us to take a much closer look at the rules governing the use of independent committees," Schnur continued. "Those who are planning on funding these types of activities in the general election should consider this as their advance notice."

June 10, 2010
Dan Schnur takes gavel as FPPC chairman

Dan Schnur took the gavel as chairman Fair Political Practices Commission today, saying at his first meeting that the agency will "rain hell down on" anyone who blatantly breaks the state's campaign laws.

But Schnur, repeating a pledge to "make you famous" if you violate the law, said first he wants to make sure the rules themselves are clear.

"The first necessary step before you get to enforcement is education and more specifically clarification to make sure that people who want to do the right thing understand how to do the right thing," he said. "It is my judgment that if we expand every possible effort to clarify those rules that, in my mind, eliminates any excuse for inadvertent violation of those rules."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced June 1 that Schnur, a veteran GOP strategist and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, was his pick to replace former Chairman Ross Johnson, who resigned in April because of health issues.

Schnur's appointment spans the remainder of Johnson's term, which ends in January 2011. He said today that he does not plan to seek appointment to a full term from the next governor.

June 8, 2010
FPPC proposes to fine Mormon church for Prop. 8 donations

California's political watchdog agency is proposing to fine the Mormon church $5,539 for contributions to help pass the state's gay-marriage ban two years ago.

Roman Porter, executive director of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said the agency is scheduled to act Thursday on the monetary penalty, which already has been agreed to by the church.

The fine stems from 17 non-monetary contributions totaling $36,928 that were made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints within about two weeks of the November 2008 election, an FPPC report said.

The watchdog agency concluded that timely disclosure was not made of the Proposition 8 contributions as required by state elections law.

In a written statement Tuesday, the Mormon church said it had not misrepresented contributions but had erred in timeliness of reporting.

June 7, 2010
FPPC dismisses stock-sale complaint against Chris Kelly

ha_kelly22837.JPGA complaint alleging that Democrat Chris Kelly, candidate for attorney general, violated state election law in donating $12 million to his campaign was dismissed Monday by the state's political watchdog agency.

Opponent Kamala Harris, San Francisco's district attorney, filed the complaint last month against Facebook's former chief privacy officer in connection with his sale of stock in the social networking website to raise millions for his campaign.

"After review of the complaint and material provided by Chris Kelly, we have found insufficient evidence to warrant further investigation," the Fair Political Practices Commission ruled. "We are closing this matter without further action."

June 1, 2010
Dan Schnur tapped as Fair Political Practices Commission chair

DanS_photo.jpgGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed Dan Schnur as chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Schnur, the director of University of Southern California's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, is a veteran GOP strategist who served as communications director for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and for GOP Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential bid. Over the past 10 years, he has worked for a variety of political communication and reform groups and as a lecturer at USC and UC Berkeley.

"The people of California deserve a political environment that is fair and puts their needs first," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "Dan Schnur has spent years teaching and advocating for equality in California politics and I am grateful that he will continue his service to our state in this new role."

Schnur, 46, replaces Republican Ross Johnson, who stepped down in April due to health issues.

April 8, 2010
Bill would have FPPC post lists of gifts lawmakers should report

Here's one way for lawmakers and their staff to avoid paying fines for failing to report gifts from interest groups: Have the political watchdog agency that administers those penalties post the lobbyists' lists of gifts before the politicos' disclosures are due.

Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, has scrapped a spot bill to amend the elections code this week and replaced it with legislation to do just that.

April 5, 2010
FPPC lists top independent expenditure spending for legislative races

The Fair Political Practices Commission has ranked which legislative campaigns got the greatest big-dollar boost from independent expenditure committees since 2001.

Independent expenditure committees can spend and raise unlimited funds to support or oppose a candidate, as long as the committee's actions are not coordinated with the candidate's campaign.

Democratic Sen. Lou Correa's 2006 Senate bid topped the rankings, making the Santa Ana lawmaker one of eight Democrats to land a spot on the list. Six of the top campaigns to get help from the committees are from the 2008 cycle.

The list looks back at independent expenditure spending since 2001, when the Proposition 34-mandated limits on campaign spending and contributions took effect. See which campaigns benefited the most from the spending (and how much was spent on each race) after the jump.

February 10, 2010
Bill would boost CalPERS, CalSTRS election transparency

Candidates running for spots on the boards of California's two largest public employee pension funds would be required to complete and publicly file more detailed campaign finance information under a bill introduced in the Senate today.

Senate Bill 1007, by Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock of Berkeley, would require candidates for board seats with the California Public Employees' Retirement System and the California State Teachers' Retirement System to file ongoing campaign contribution and spending reports during and after an election.

The bill would make pension-fund board candidates comply with reporting rules that already exist for other elected officials in the state, Hancock said.

February 9, 2010
Schwarzenegger, Whitman & Poizner make Top 10 donor list

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and two current Republican candidates for governor - Meg Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner -- are among the "Top 10" contributors to state candidates, committees or ballot measures during the past decade, according to the state's political watchdog agency.

Steve Bing, a Southern California businessman, was the most generous campaign contributor, at $58.05 million, between January 2000 and Dec. 31, 2009, the Fair Political Practices Commission said.

See who rounded out the "Top 10" of donors to their own or other state campaigns or committees after the jump.

February 2, 2010
Price agrees to pay $4,900 for campaign disclosure violations

Sen. Curren Price and his campaign treasurer have agreed to pay a $4,900 fine for failing to make timely disclosure of three contributions from his campaign coffers - including a $25,000 donation to a failed ballot initiative meant to alter legislative term limits two years ago.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is scheduled to vote on the stipulated settlement Feb. 11, according to a report released by the watchdog political agency this week.

The Inglewood Democrat has conceded, by agreeing to the settlement, that he and his treasurer violated state elections law by late reporting of a $25,000 donation to Yes on Proposition 93, made Jan. 23, 2008; $10,000 to the Democratic State Central Committee, made Oct. 28, 2008; and $1,000 to Paulette Simpson, a Compton school board candidate, made Oct. 29, 2007.

February 1, 2010
The list of lawmakers to pay fines for gift-reporting violations

After the jump see a list of the California lawmakers who have agreed to pay fines for not reporting gifts received from lobbyist employers in 2008.

February 1, 2010
Lawmakers agree to combined $9,000 in fines for not reporting gifts

Thirty-one state lawmakers have agreed to pay a grand total of more than $9,000 in fines for failing to disclose concert tickets, pricey meals and other gifts from interest groups.

The individual proposed fines, which range from $200 to $600, are the result of the state political watchdog agency's review of whether required gift disclosures by state legislators matched up with reports submitted by the interest groups. In all, the Fair Political Practices Commission found that lawmakers failed to report 66 gifts worth $8,500.

Click here for more from Bee colleague Jim Sanders. The settlements are detailed in the agenda for the FPPC's upcoming Feb. 11 meeting. You can check out the full agenda here.

January 21, 2010
Bottom line in FPPC probe: 66 gifts worth $8,500

The grand total in alleged public disclosure violations by dozens of California lawmakers is 66 gifts valued at more than $8,500, according to a review of Fair Political Practices Commission documents.

The gifts ranged from $390 for a Holiday Bowl college football game to $250 in green fees, $195 for admission to Sea World San Diego, $282 in Disneyland park-hopper tickets and numerous meals, receptions, beverage, parking or other tabs.

The FPPC revealed last week that 38 legislators had been sent notification letters of discrepancies in gifts they reported receiving and those that interest groups reported giving in 2008. A full list of legislators sent letters is posted after the jump.

The totals do not include alleged gift-disclosure violations by 15 legislative staff members.

Roman Porter, FPPC executive director, said Thursday that no conclusion has been reached that violations have occurred. His agency is reviewing written responses from legislators.

"It is important for the public to know who is attempting to influence elected officials and high-level government officials," Porter said, "so the public can determine for themselves whether there is a real or perceived conflict of interest."

January 7, 2010
Berryhill brothers, Sac Dems targets of FPPC probes

The Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating whether two state legislators -- Republican Assemblymen Tom Berryhill and Bill Berryhill -- violated campaign contribution limits by funneling large sums of cash through central party committees.

The news of the probe comes on the heels of a California Watch investigation that showed how party committees are used to route large sums of money to campaigns, circumventing contribution limits set for individual donors.

Click here for more on that investigation and several other FPPC probes into the financial activities of party committees from California Watch. The Modesto Bee has more on the Berryhill investigation here.

December 3, 2009
FPPC launches probe of Wright's legal defense fund

Fair Political Practices Commission officials have opened an investigation into the formation of a legal defense fund created by Sen. Rod Wright last month.

FPPC officials had said earlier this week that they were looking into whether Wright, whose residency claims are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, "accurately and appropriately filed" the paperwork to establish the account.

Legal Defense Funds, which are not subject to contribution limits, can be used to pay for attorneys' fees and other costs that arise from legal challenges. According to current regulations, lawmakers must specify the legal challenge they are facing when they open the account. The Statement of Organization establishing Wright's account does not list why the account is needed, but says that surplus funds will be used for "any lawful purpose."

Wright told The Bee Tuesday that he was unaware of any issues with the filing and would update the paperwork if necessary.

Click here to read our earlier post on Wright's fund catching the eye of the FPPC.

December 1, 2009
FPPC eyeing Sen. Rod Wright's legal defense fund

wrightmug.jpgA legal defense fund recently opened by Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, has caught the eye of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Wright, whose residency claims are the subject of an investigation by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, last month opened a campaign account to cover potential legal costs .

Lawmakers can use such accounts to raise unlimited funds to pay for attorney fees and other legal costs, but are required to identify why the funds are needed and return excess funds once the case or challenge in question is resolved. The statement of organization establishing "Taxpayers for Rod Wright Legal Defense Fund," stops short of listing the reason for opening the account, saying only that surplus funds will be used for "any lawful purpose."

FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said commission staff is looking into whether Wright "accurately and appropriately filed" the paperwork to establish a legal defense fund.

Wright said he was unaware of any issues with the account paperwork and that he would ask his treasurer to amend the filing if necessary.

"I thought it was done properly," he said.

Wright declined to identify specific legal cases or fees the account would be used for, saying the fund would be used for "any legal fees that I incur in connection with any legal issue." When asked whether he anticipated any legal issues or challenges in addition to the pending LA District Attorney's probe, Wright said, "not that I would discuss in the paper."

December 1, 2009
FPPC eyes tightening rules for gifts to officials' families

The Fair Political Practice Commission will consider at its Dec. 10 meeting tightening gift disclosure rules to prevent lobbyists from currying favor by giving freebies and presents to elected officials' spouses and children.

Susan Ferriss has more on the staff recommendation that the commission expands gift disclosure and limit rules to include gifts to elected officials' families in today's Bee:

"What we're looking at is the attempt to influence" state legislators, their aides and certain other local and state officials in California, Roman Porter, executive director of the commission, said Monday ...

The recommendation stems from concerns about "the uses and abuses of gifts," Porter said. It also stems from a staff review of the ethics of a retired Orange County Superior Court judge donating $25,000 in college tuition to the son of a local government employee and a court commissioner.

A Bee analysis conducted earlier this year showed that leaders, their staff and family had accepted more than 12,000 gifts worth more than $833,000. Click here to search The Bee's interactive database of reported gifts.

Related: Click here to read about the FPPC's $12,500 settlement with CalPERS board member Charles Valdes over campaign contribution limit violations. You can read about the commission's recommended fines for Assemblyman Joel Anderson and the Fresno County Republican Central Committee here.

November 30, 2009
Anderson, Fresno GOP to pay fines for violating contribution caps

The Fair Political Practices Commission has proposed fining Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, $20,000 for violating campaign contribution limits.

The agency also recommended issuing a $29,000 penalty against the Fresno County Republican Central Committee in the case.

The proposed fines, which must be approved by commission members at their Dec. 10 meeting, are a result of the FPPC's investigation into a series of transactions in which Anderson and his supporters wrote large checks to county Republican committees days before the committees deposited similar amounts into Anderson's campaign coffers.

The FPPC decision, issued today on the agency's Web site, found five instances in which Anderson violated the Political Reform Act by accepting donations over the contribution limits through the party committee. The Fresno County Republican Central Committee was fined for six counts of making contributions in excess of the limits to Anderson's account, one count of failing to report a contribution and one count of failing to report an expenditure.

Anderson, who reportedly returned more than $100,000 in contributions earlier this month, and the central party committee have agreed to pay the stipulated fines as part of the settlement, according to the FPPC order.

Click here to read the FPPC's orders and supporting documents in the case.

November 30, 2009
CalPERS board member faces $12,500 fine

CalPERS board member Charles Valdes has admitted he violated state campaign finance laws by accepting contributions that exceeded legal limits and will pay a $12,500 fine to settle the case, the state's political watchdog said Monday.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission announced details of its settlement with Valdes and his campaign treasurer, Billy Joe Hughes, by posting them on the Web.

FPPC commissioners must still approve the agreement and fine at a Dec. 10 meeting.

In late 2005, the Valdes campaign accepted five contributions that exceeded limits from people employed by or associated with Nevada-based pension fund placement agent Alfred Villalobos, who has earned more than $60 million for securing deals with CalPERS for investment firms across the country.

Dealings by pension fund placement agents like Villalobos are now under investigation by attorneys general in at least three states, while Villalobos's dealings with CalPERS are the subject of a review by an outside law firm hired by the giant public pension fund.

November 13, 2009
Anderson returns cash to GOP committees

The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, has returned more than $100,000 in contributions that are the center of a probe into his campaign-related financial transactions.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating a series of transactions in which Anderson and his supporters wrote large checks to county Republican committees days before the committees deposited similar amounts into Anderson's campaign coffers.

There is no legal cap on on how much cash a candidate or individual donor can give to a county party committee or how much a committee can donate to a candidate's campaign chest, but advance coordination on such contributions is illegal.

October 28, 2009
FPPC won't investigate Duvall's alleged mistresses

The state's political watchdog agency today rejected a request that it investigate the actions of two female lobbyists who allegedly engaged in affairs with ex-Assemblyman Mike Duvall.

Duvall, a married Republican, resigned last month after a tape surfaced of him boasting in graphic detail about his sexual trysts with two women. Both of the women referred to in the July conversation, which was recorded by a hot mic during an Assembly committee hearing, are reportedly lobbyists. One has been identified in media reports as a lobbyist for Sempra Energy, a utility company that Duvall was assigned to regulate as vice chairman of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.

Common Cause, a government watchdog group, filed a complaint earlier this month asking the Fair Political Practices Commission to look into whether the relationships detailed in the tape violated a section of the Political Reform Act that prohibits lobbyists from performing acts that place elected officials "under personal obligation to the lobbyist."

FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter responded to the Common Cause complaint today, writing in a letter that the FPPC's interpretation of "personal obligation" involves a financial arrangement. Common Cause had argued in its complaint that fear that a partner would publicly disclose or end the extramarital affair could render a lawmaker beholden to the lobbyist.

Porter also wrote that the media reports about the taped comments referenced in the complaint were not sufficient evidence to "provide a factual basis for finding that a violation of the (Political Reform Act) occurred."

"The Commission takes very seriously its role in upholding the public's trust and its officials, whether elected or appointed. However, it does not have the statutory authority to investigate the personal relationships between lobbyists and elected officials," Porter wrote.

The FPPC's decision not to investigate the actions exhausts one of the last remaining avenues for determining whether the behavior alleged in the tapes constitutes any legal or ethical violations.

Duvall's resignation, which he said in a statement is not an admission that he had affairs but a reflection of "inappropriate storytelling," severed any authority the Assembly Ethics Committee had to investigate the matter, according to an opinion by the Legislature's attorney. The Sempra lobbyist identified in the complaint has also denied an affair, and Sempra officials have said they are conducting an internal investigation into the allegations. The Attorney General's Office has said there is not sufficient evidence to pursue a criminal investigation.

Common Cause Executive Director Kathay Feng lamented the FPPC's decision and renewed her organization's call for lawmakers to enact new codes of ethics governing the relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers.

"We're now looking at the travesty that a lawmaker can engage in this type of behavior and there is apparently not a single law or entity that will even be able to investigate the situation," Feng said. "The Legislature needs to step up to the plate and look at itself and pass appropriate code of ethics for requiring lawmakers to refrain from legislating under the influence."

Feng also said she has concerns about how effective Assembly Speaker Karen Bass's call for the ethics panel to propose new guidelines for keeping relationships between legislators and lobbyists, "totally above-board and consistent with the public's best interests" will ultimately prove.

"I think that there's going to be a need for a lot of pressure to ensure that the Assembly and Senate lives up to that promise because there's every reason to stay on good terms with the lobby core," she said. "We have a lot of legislators who are privately acknowledging that this is bad behavior but publicly being very reluctant to call on increased lobbyist disclosure ... because unfortunately their bread is still buttered by the lobbyists."

Read the complaint here.

October 19, 2009
This Tweet is paid for by the Committee to Re-Elect....

Wondering who's behind the latest campaign smear video gone viral or candidate-touting tweet?

The Fair Political Practices Commission announced today the creation of a subcommittee to explore whether the Political Reform Act should be updated to include regulation of electronic communications used by political campaigns.

While the PRA mandates that tried-and-true campaign materials (think television spots and direct mail) disclose the source and funding for the piece, the surge of Tweets, YouTube videos and Web sites driving campaign messages go largely unregulated. The main reason for the discrepancy: the Internet, let alone viral videos and hashtag campaigns, just wasn't in the political communications picture back when the act was established in 1974.

"Political campaigning has changed a great deal since the creation of the Political Reform Act," FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson said in a statement. "We created this subcommittee to help the Commission determine if we should be doing more to help inform the public of who is paying to send out political messages."

The subcommittee, led by Commissioners Elizabeth Garrett and Timothy A. Hodson, is being launched as part of the Bipartisan California Commission on Internet Political Practices, which was created in 2000 to evaluate the expanding role of electronic communication in campaigns and, when deemed necessary and within its statutory authority, submit recommendations for legislative changes.

It plans to hold at least two informational hearings on the issue, according to the release.

Prolific political tweeters shouldn't worry about squeezing a "paid4by" into every 140-character blast, though. The commission notes in a press release that any new regulations adopted would only affect parties or individuals who are already subject to FPPC regulation and required to submit financial disclosures to the agency.

Update 6:03 p.m.: California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring issued a statement saying he is "skeptical of any attempt by government to start regulating online content in the name of campaign finance."

"An attempt by government to impose restrictions on Facebook pages, tweets, websites hosted on servers elsewhere on the globe, and the like promises to be an exercise in futility," he said in the statement. "Government will never be able to keep up with changes in online communications, and its attempt to do so will only have a chilling effect on political discourse."

October 14, 2009
Complaint filed against alleged Duvall mistresses

A government watchdog group filed today a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission against the lobbyists who reportedly engaged in extramarital affairs with ex-Assemblyman Mike Duvall .

Duvall, a Republican, resigned in September after a video tape surfaced in which he was caught on a hot microphone bragging about his sexual trysts with two women. One woman named in the complaint is Heidi DeJong Barsuglia, a lobbyist for Sempra Energy, a utility company that Duvall was assigned to regulate as vice-chair of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. The second woman named in the complaint, referred to as "Char" in the recorded conversation, is also reported to be a lobbyist.

Common Cause, the group that is filing the complaint, says the women who allegedly engaged in the affairs violated a section of the Political Reform Act that prohibits lobbyists from performing acts that place elected officials "under personal obligation to the lobbyist."

"We certainly believe that engaging in an ongoing sexual affairs with a married man places you under an obligation in two different ways. One is feeling beholden to that person in order to maintain the relationship, and secondly, being beholden to that person in order to keep them quiet," said Derek Cressman, western regional director for Common Cause, which is filing the complaint.

Duvall said in a statement posted to his Web site last month that his resignation is not an admission that he had affairs, instead identifying his offense as "inappropriate storytelling." Barsuglia has also denied an affair, and Sempra officials are continuing to conduct an investigation into the allegations made in the tape. She is on a leave of absence for the duration of the investigation, a Sempra spokesman said.

Cressman said the recorded conversation, in which Duvall dished graphic and lewd details of his sexual encounters, is evidence enough that the affair took place, but added that they believe the FPPC could depose both Duvall and Assemblyman Jeff Miller, who was at the receiving end of the recorded conversation, to confirm the identity of the women mentioned and the actions described. Miller has told The Bee that he "wasn't paying attention" during the conversation.

FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter confirmed that the complaint was filed and said the commission has 14 days to determine whether it will open an investigation into the claims.

If the commission, which enforces the PRA, determines that the law was broken, it can issue a penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation. Violations of the PRA are punishable as misdemeanors, but that action would have to be brought by the attorney general, district attorney or city attorney, Porter said.

Sempra spokesman Art Larson issued a written response to the complaint, echoing the company's previous commitment to comply with any authorities who decide to investigate the matter.

"Sempra Energy takes very seriously any reports involving the conduct of our employees," he wrote, adding that the employee has denied the "speculative allegations' referenced in the complaint.

Common Cause has also called for the Attorney General's office to launch a criminal investigation into the actions alleged in the tapes, but the agency has said there is not sufficient evidence to merit an investigation.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass had also directed the Assembly Ethics Committee to conduct an inquiry into the tapes, but the investigation was halted after a lawyer for the Assembly said the committee does not have authority to investigate a former lawmaker once he or she has resigned.

Read the complaint, which was filed today, here.

Post updated at 1:16 p.m. with response from Sempra.

October 8, 2009
FPPC launches probe into Anderson money trail

The Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating campaign-related financial transactions of Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, in the wake of a San Diego Union-Tribune investigation that revealed an unusual pattern of transactions between the assemblyman, his supporters and several campaign committees.

The U-T's John Marelius and Michele Clock have more in today's paper:

"The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week that supporters of the La Mesa Republican, who is expected to run for state Senate, donated money to the Fresno County Republican Central Committee, which in turn donated a like amount to Anderson within days. The amounts were well in excess of the $3,900 that candidates for the Legislature can legally accept from individuals.

The newspaper also reported that Anderson sent identical contributions of $32,400 from his 2008 campaign to three Republican county committees in Central and Northern California, which sent similar amounts to his 2010 campaign fund. ....

"Candidates are permitted to give unlimited amounts to political party committees, and political party committees can give unlimited amounts to candidates.

Any coordination in advance would be a violation of the law, and the principals involved could be subject to a fine by the commission."

Click here to read today's U-T story on the investigation.

September 22, 2009
FPPC launches probe of Wiggins' chief of staff

The Fair Political Practices Commission has launched an investigation into allegations that Sen. Pat Wiggins' chief of staff misused a legislative database to gather personal contact information for campaign solicitations.

FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter declined to comment Tuesday except to confirm the probe.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat published an account of the complaint by former Wiggins' staffer Dave Kinst, who claims that the senator's chief of staff, Sean MacNeil, directed him to cull a legislative database for personal contact information of officials in Napa and elsewhere in Wiggins' district.

Kinst claims that he started culling the database in 2007 and did so this year as well. He said the personal contact information was used to solicit campaign support for Wiggins, whom he contends was not aware that the information came from a legislative database.

David MIller, Wiggins' spokesman, declined comment Tuesday.

Wiggins, a Santa Rosa Democrat who represents an area stretching from Napa to Humboldt counties, announced last month that she would not seek re-election next year.

September 16, 2009
Capital flush with fundraisers in 2009

The country was rocked by recession this year and the state was crippled by an ongoing cash crunch, but lawmakers still managed to keep the money flowing to their campaign coffers.

The Fair Political Practices Commission released a tally today showing that incumbent lawmakers held more than 325 money-raising mixers in Sacramento this year. And we're not talking chump change -- giving the maximum requested contribution at every event would have set you back $1.26 million.

In typical Capitol fashion, the end-of-session stretch was stacked with pricey pushes to boost those campaign war chests. More than 25 percent of the 2009 fundraisers were crammed into the final three weeks of the session. The combined cash requested for events on the two busiest days of the year -- Aug. 25 and 26 -- totaled nearly $130,000 per contributor. (Check out a map of the Aug. 26 events here).

FPPC also found that incumbents are looking well beyond 2010 and getting a head start fundraising for future bids. More than 20 percent of the events in Sacramento this year were raising dough for causes and campaigns other than 2010 runs, according to the release.

Read the FPPC's release here.

September 11, 2009
FPPC complaint filed against Wiggins' top aide

A legislative aide for Sen. Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, has filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that the senator's chief of staff directed him to use legislative resources for campaign purposes.

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reports:

"In his sworn affidavit to the FPPC, (Legislative Aide David) Kinst says (Chief of Staff Sean) MacNeil directed him on numerous occasions to gather personal information on officials across the North Coast using the Legislative Constituent Management System. He said this data was put into call sheets that Wiggins then used to invite people to campaign fund-raising events. ...

"The legislative database can include a person's home address, home and cell phone numbers, e-mail address and date of birth. Using such information for campaign purposes could violate the state's Political Reform Act governing the proper use of public resources."

Wiggins announced last month that she wouldn't run for re-election because of health issues. MacNeil and a Wiggins spokesman have not returned a request for comment on the complaint.

September 11, 2009
FPPC to continue posting 'warning letters' online

The Fair Political Practices Commission said Thursday that it won't stop its new practice of publishing warning letters to its Web site.

The state's political watchdog agency announced late last month that it would post the letters, which are sent in cases where the commission rules that the subject violated state campaign laws, but decides not to issue a fine.

Since posting the letters, the commission has received calls to take the letters down from parties who say it was unfair to post the letters without prior notice and that some letters incorrectly stated that subjects violated state law when they did not.

The Bee's Andrew McIntosh has the full scoop here.

August 31, 2009
FPPC posts 'warning' letters to Web site

The state's political watchdog agency announced today that it will post on its Web site warning letters issued in cases where the subject is found to have violated state campaign laws, but is not issued a fine.

The Fair Political Practices Commission has posted "warning letters" issued between July 1 and Aug. 24. Starting Sept. 1, it will also post advisory letters, which are issued in cases where commission does not have enough evidence to prove a violation, and 'no violation' findings one week after those letters are issued.

The letters have been available in the past through public records requests, but this is the first time the commission's Enforcement Division has decided to automatically make the documents public, FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said.

"The issuance of these letters by our Enforcement Division is a function that many just don't know about," FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson said in a statement. "The public and media should have access to this information, which details not only those that have violated the Political Reform Act and not received a fine, but instances where the FPPC has found no evidence of wrongdoing."

Porter said the majority of complaints investigated by the FPPC are resolved by issuing a warning letter, which also informs the subject that repeated or future violations will result in a fine.

Read the letters here.

August 17, 2009
Cash flow woes? Not for candidates

Sure, Californians (and the state) are cutting back to cope with ongoing economic hardship.

But it doesn't appear that pinching pennies has curtailed contributions to potential candidates' campaign coffers.

The Fair Political Practices Commission released an analysis today showing that close to $61 million was raised in the first six months of 2009 by candidates considering a run for office in 2010, 2012 and as far out as 2014.

As FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson noted in a statement, many candidates who are current officeholders spread the wealth across several committees, legally raising money for multiple possible bids at once.

"California's tough economic times haven't slowed the flow of campaign contributions. Millions of dollars have been raised for races to be held one, three, or even five years in the future," he said.

FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said because this is the first off-year analysis report of this nature compiled by the commission, it's hard to say whether fundraising figures are higher or lower than this point in the cycle in past years, but FPPC's Billion Dollar Money Train report shows fundraising totals for past cycles to give a sense of the total cash being raised for campaigns.

You can see a list of candidates and what they have raised in their various accounts here.

August 13, 2009
What do FPPC's three new deciders face? Big backlog

Today's Bee reports that the state's Fair Political Practices Commission has three new faces as it gears up for its fall meetings.

What will they have to deal with when they arrive for the independent political watchdog's public meetings next month?

Elizabeth Garrett, a University of Southern California law professor, Chapman University law professor Ronald Rotunda, and Lynn Montgomery, a veteran Sacramento political hand and ex-FPPC spokeswoman, join a watchdog that has been hampered in its efforts to bring more criminal prosecutions over the years though it remains the envy of other states, said Robert Stern, president of the Center For Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.

Stern says that since its creation following a ballot initiative in 1974, the commission has been stretched by its heavy dual burden of handling both local and state government cases. It has racked up a hefty backlog.

August 12, 2009
Top USC professor becomes third new face at FPPC

Elizabeth Garrett, a top law professor and vice-president at the University of Southern California, was today appointed to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.

Garrett, a vice president of budget at the USC Gould School of Law becomes the third new face to join the five-member FPPC this summer. 

garrett_beth jpeg.jpg

Garrett was selected by Secretary of State Debra Bowen. 

The series of new FPPC appointments began in early June, when  Lynn Montgomery, a former chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, was named a commissioner 

Attorney General Jerry Brown picked Montgomery, who was a political reform consultant and one-time FPPC media director earlier in her government career.

To read our report about that appointment, click here.

The second new face came a few weeks later, when  Orange law professor Ronald D. Rotunda, a Harvard Law School graduate, was appointed to the FPPC.

Rotunda was a pick made by state Controller John Chiang.

Rotunda teaches legal ethics and constitutional law at Chapman University, where he is the Doy and Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence.

To read our report about him,  click here.

Seats on the commission are part-time jobs, which do not require Senate confirmation. The job pays $100 per day plus travel expenses.

All three appointees will serve on the five-member commission until 2013.

Read more of Garrett's bio after the jump.

Photo courtesy of USC media relations 

June 17, 2009
Veteran law professor and ethics expert appointed to FPPC

Orange law professor Ronald D. Rotunda, a Harvard Law School graduate, has been appointed to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.

Rotunda's appointment to the politcs and money watchdog agency was announced today by state Controller John Chiang and the FPPC.

Rotunda replaces former Commissioner Ray Remy, who was appointed by former Controller Steve Westly. Rotunda serves on the commission until Jan. 31, 2013.

"The FPPC is fortunate to have such a distinguished legal scholar join the Commission," FPPC chairman Ross Johnson said in a statement.

For more on Rotunda's background, click here. 

Rotunda teaches legal ethics and constitutional law at Chapman University in Orange, where he is the Doy and Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence.

Note to political wrong-doers: Years ago, before his time in the faculties of several distinguished law schools, including the University of Illinois, Rotunda served as assistant majority counsel for the Watergate Committee.

Yes, that Watergate.


Capitol Alert Staff

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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