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California Democrats Fined, But Allegations Involving Oil Money Fall Apart

SACRAMENTO BEE
http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article150690462.html

The California Democratic Party will pay $3,500 in fines for reporting violations, but was largely cleared of headline-grabbing allegations that it illegally funneled large donations from oil companies to Gov. Jerry Brown’s re-election campaign.

The Fair Political Practices Commission opened its probe after Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog issued a report alleging energy companies contributed $4.4 million to the Democratic Party, and that the party gave $4.7 million to Brown’s re-election between 2011 and 2014.

While the commission found no evidence of the improper activity, it announced Monday an agreement to accept $3,500 in fines from the Democratic Party for what amounts to clerical errors: Failure to identify the committee bank accounts as “all purpose,” as required, failure to tell a contribution recipient which account the money came from and for depositing $450,000 into the wrong account.

Also Monday, the FPPC issued a warning letter to Brown, saying he did not deposit $1.3 million into a designated campaign bank account, and instead deposited the money into the campaign’s savings account. Some $35,357 in credit card processing fees were paid from the savings account without first transferring the funds into the designated campaign bank account. The committee also received $3,700 in non-monetary contributions after the Nov. 4, 2014 election, despite having no net debt remaining.

But, the watchdog agency concluded, “insufficient evidence was found to substantiate the other allegations in the complaint regarding this committee.”

Jamie Court, the president of Consumer Watchdog, was disappointed with the results of the state agency’s investigation, and what he views generally as lax campaign finance laws.

“The big problem is we have campaign finance laws that require a handwritten note or a wiretap to prove a quid pro quo,” Court said.

Court’s organization has been critical of Brown’s administration for some time.

Last year, following an unsubstantiated conflict-of-interest complaint by the group against Brown’s executive secretary, Nancy McFadden, the FPPC agreed to look into what it described as her apparent failure to disclose required information about the status of her stock ownership in Pacific Gas and Electric, a former employer.

The FPPC announced that McFadden has agreed to $300 in penalties for not properly disclosing investments in annual statement of economic interest statements from 2012, 2013 and 2014. FPPC officials said they found no evidence of a conflict of interest resulting from this interest, as well as finding no evidence of intent to conceal.

Court, contending the FPPC refused to consult his witnesses in the conflict-of-interest complaint, dismissed the fines as “not a slap on the wrist, but a pat on the pocketbook.”

“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,” Brown spokesman Evan Westrup 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.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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