By Angela Hart

At a "Gavin for Governor" fundraiser last summer hosted by Republican donors in Newport Beach, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom accepted a $1,000 donation from a controversial Soviet émigré with an extensive history of misrepresenting his business dealings to investors and the U.S. Justice Department.

Yuri Vanetik, a Southern California-based donor with ties to several California House Republicans, gave Newsom $1,000 last June, according to campaign finance records filed with the California Secretary of State's office. It appears Newsom accepted the contribution on June 6, when he was pictured sitting with Vanetik at the GOP-sponsored fundraiser. The campaign cash showed up on his campaign finance filings June 7.

Newsom campaign spokesman Jason Kinney told The Sacramento Bee Saturday that the campaign would return the contribution, "effective immediately."

"We do not know this donor beyond the fact that he is a Republican who attended one event, and we weren't aware of these issues until we were made aware of them by The Bee," Kinney said in an interview. "Out of an abundance of caution, we are returning this contribution."

A former finance co-chair of New York state's Republican Party, Vanetik registered as a lobbyist for a contentious Ukrainian politician after giving money to Newsom, as late as March 2018, according to a report by the McClatchy DC .

He has a questionable history. It appears that Vanetik violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act for conducting work on behalf of Ukrainian politicians without registering as a foreign agent, McClatchy reported. He was required to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department because he lobbies Congress on behalf of a wealthy Ukrainian lawmaker, as well as Ukraine's Agrarian Party.

Newsom's June 2017 fundraiser was hosted by Republican donors, including Vanetik, who have been pictured with and have financial ties to high-profile Republicans in Congress, including Orange County Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Other major GOP donors included Jason Pitkin, the campaign finance director for Rohrabacher, Jim Glidewell, who has contributed heavily to Rohrabacher's political campaigns, Ali Jahangiri, a board member for a members-only think tank called Gen Next, and Hadi and Barbara Makarechian, also associated with the think tank who have given money to Democrats and Republicans, including McCarthy.

Their connection with Newsom apparently was centered around marijuana. All are affiliated with Gen Next, which supports legal marijuana, as does Rohrabacher. Newsom spearheaded California's ballot initiative legalizing marijuana in 2016.

In an interview with The Sacramento Bee Saturday, Newsom said he met Pitkin at a press conference in San Francisco when he launched the campaign in support of Proposition 64, the legalization measure. He said the Republican interests behind Gen Next approached him because of his strong support of decriminalization.

"They connected with me because of my strong advocacy on marijuana legalization. That's why Rohrabacher showed up and supported our cannabis legalization," Newsom said. "I have these guys that have nothing to do with my politics supporting me. I said 'Why are you guys supporting me?'

"They said because the cannabis legalization," Newsom said, noting they brought Rohrabacher to the campaign kickoff. "These guys, it's such a serious issue for them that they said 'we've never supported a Democrat, but you're right on this and so we want to be helpful to you in this campaign.'"

After the fundraiser last summer, Glidewell, one of the Republican donors, told the Southern California-based Daily Pilot that he hosted the fundraiser for Newsom because he "will make an excellent governor of California. The Republican Party, of which I am a staunch supporter, will not have a viable candidate for office this coming election. I feel Gavin is the obvious winner and I'd like to vote for someone who can actually win for a change," according to a September article in the newspaper.

Newsom said he was not aware of Vanetik's questionable past or his connection to Ukraine.

"Oh my God, I'll have to look that up," Newsom said Saturday, when asked about the campaign contribution. "It's inconceivable to me at this stage, with 126,000 individual donors. I don't know anything about it... If there's any issues, I'm happy to send it back.

"One thing I know is no one ever talked to me about Ukrainian issues," Newsom said. "That's for (Special Counsel Robert) Mueller's investigation of Trump."

Kinney addressed questions about Newsom decision to hold a fundraiser with big-money Republican donors.

"This campaign has been blessed with more than 125,000 individual donors, and many are Republicans," Kinney said. "That's a point of pride and a demonstration of Gavin's appeal to Californians of every political stripe. We've had events with donors in every corner of this state from every political background."

(c)2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)