City Beat

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December 3, 2012
California watchdog agency fines Mayor Kevin Johnson $37,500

The state's political watchdog group announced today it has fined Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson $37,500 for failing to report millions of dollars in donations he solicited for various non-profits, including the group he tasked with developing a financing plan for a new arena.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission said it found 25 cases in which Johnson failed to report what are called behest payments within the required 30 days of securing those donations. The FPPC investigation was sparked by a Bee report in September that revealed thousands of dollars in donations to the mayor's Think Big arena task force had not been reported in a timely matter.

The behests examined by the FPPC totaled more than $3.5 million and were made to the mayor's arena task force and education initiative. Donations secured by the mayor were also made to City Year - a national program Johnson recruited to Sacramento that places young tutors and mentors in schools - and Teach for America, another national education organization.

While the FPPC has placed much higher fines on state politicians for campaign violations, the punishment against Johnson is believed to be one of the largest ethics fines handed out by the commission against an elected official for actions that were not campaign related.

Many of the donations that were reported late went to Johnson's Stand Up education initiative. Those behests included two donations this year totaling $500,000 from the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic organization operated by the family who founded Wal-Mart.

Johnson has agreed to pay the fine, which is scheduled for a hearing by the FPPC next week in San Diego.

FPPC investigators said in a report that Johnson had cooperated with their probe and that the mayor said "the failure to report (the behests) was unintentional, resulting from an administrative lapse and inadequate staff training." They said the mayor did not appear to obtain "any personal monetary benefit as a result of the donations in question."

"While I appreciate acknowledgment in the FPPC report that this error was an unintentional administrative lapse related to efforts to raise resources for charities and civic causes, I take full responsibility," the mayor said in a statement. "At my direction, my administration has improved training and tracking procedures to ensure we are fully compliant moving forward."

FPPC officials declined further comment until the matter is heard by the full commission next week in San Diego.

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

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