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Brown's Top Aide Gets $300 Ethics Fine, Critics Say That's Low

THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/watchdog/sd-me-fppc-mcfadden-20170525-story.html

The California Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday approved a $300 penalty against Nancy McFadden, the former Pacific Gas & Electric executive who serves as Gov. Jerry Brown’s top adviser.

Commissioners approved the fine without debate on a unanimous vote despite the objections of Consumer Watchdog, the Santa Monica advocacy group that filed the original complaint leading to the investigation.

After a yearlong review, the commission noted three separate violations McFadden committed on her state-mandated disclosure forms and imposed a $100 penalty for each transgression.

McFadden admitted the violations and agreed to the fine.

She filed amendments to her state-mandated financial disclosure forms last year, within days of the Consumer Watchdog complaint to the commission.

Governor’s Office spokesman Evan Westrup dismissed the majority of allegations as unfounded and noted that McFadden was quick to amend her statements when those mistakes were identified.

“Inadvertent filing errors were acknowledged and amended Form 700s were voluntarily re-filed with the FPPC to clear this up more than a year ago,” he said. “Contrary to the poppycock some continue to peddle, the FPPC’s findings make it clear there’s no evidence of any conflict of interest or intent to conceal.”

Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said the penalty amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist.

Before the meeting Thursday, he urged the commission to delay the settlement and reopen the case instead. He said state investigators failed to examine all the evidence submitted by the advocacy group and did not interview many witnesses.

“My concern is there was political pressure brought to bear from the Brown appointees to the FPPC to curb the scope of what was being looked at,” Court said. “It’s almost like they didn’t want to look because they were fearful of finding something.”

He said the commission’s decision to close the case without discussing his request was shocking and distressing.

“It wasn't just a whitewash, it was a bleach bomb,” Court said. “This shows that the FPPC is unwilling to even have a conversation about the tough questions when it comes to the governor and his top staff and political party.”

In another stipulation approved Thursday, commissioners fined the state Democratic Party $3,500 for failing to properly account for oil industry contributions.

That investigation rejected separate allegations that the party laundered donations to Brown’s 2014 re-election campaign.

Commission spokesman Jay Wierenga said the criticism from Court was unwarranted.

“After a thorough investigation, all I will say is the vote speaks for itself,” said Wierenga, who declined to address the Consumer Watchdog allegations more specifically.

McFadden is one of several Brown administration officials who previously worked for regulated utilities such as PG&E.

When she left the San Francisco-based utility to become Brown’s chief of staff, McFadden got a $1 million payout and also owned PG&E stock options valued at up to $1 million.

The Consumer Watchdog complaint included hundreds of pages of documents indicating that McFadden did not properly disclose her stock holdings.

It also alleged that McFadden held shares of another energy company that had an interest in legislation she helped draft and wrongly served as a liaison to the Governor’s Office regarding potential appointments to the state utilities commission, among other things.

Court said in his letter to the commissioners that staff conceded to him that some of the emails he provided might have prompted a deeper review if they were not outside the five-year statute of limitations.

Consumer Watchdog has long alleged that Brown and his top officials have cultivated too cozy a relationship with energy companies.

Last year, the group issued a report documenting almost $10 million in political contributions from dozens of oil and energy interests to the governor and his pet causes and to the state Democratic Party.

According to the report, titled “Brown’s Dirty Hands,” some of those donations were made the same day or within days of administration decisions that benefited the donors.

The Governor’s Office said there was no connection between the political contributions and actions taken by the governor.

“The governor’s leadership on climate is unmatched,” Westrup said at the time. “These claims are downright cuckoo.”