2020’s Election Finance Violations Top Records in California

The Fair Political Practices Commission reported a record $1.9 million in penalties last year, one of which amounted to $1.35 million with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors over improper use of public funds.

(TNS) — California's election finance watchdog agency issued a record amount of penalties last year and also received the highest number of allegations during a single election cycle.

The Fair Political Practices Commission, according to a report it published this month, approved 271 settlements, with a record $1,940,107 in penalties. That followed 2019, which saw a record number of settlements — 343 for the year — but which totaled less money in fines, at $797,384.

The commission is a five-member, non-partisan body tasked with enforcing the Political Reform Act, which regulates issues of campaign finance, conflicts of interest and lobbying.

Common allegations range from failing to disclose campaign spending or contributions on time, improperly using campaign funds or violating campaign advertising rules. The commission's enforcement staff in 2020 received nearly 3,000 complaints alleging violations of the Political Reform Act and opened more than 1,000 new cases related to the 2020 election cycle — a record high number of allegations during an election cycle.

"There is a great amount of skepticism about politics these days, and this should help assure the public we work diligently to make sure there's a level playing field for campaigns and there's a price to pay for not following the law," said FPPC Chair Richard Miadich in a written statement.

Miadich wrote in the report that while it is usual for the commission staff to see an increased number of complaints during an election, he attributes the record highs to increased outreach to encourage the public to alert commission staff to campaign violations.

Part of the increase in penalty money is also the result of a large settlement the commission settled with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The commission approved a $1.35 million settlement — one of its largest ever — with the county over using public funds in support of two tax measures and did not comply with the state's filing, disclosure and advertisement disclaimer requirements.

Other penalties levied by the commission are typically much smaller.

For instance, local committee Jumpstart Vallejo was fined a total of $14,500 for failing to file multiple campaign contribution and expenditure statements from 2016 to 2019, and a state general-purpose committee, Transparent Silicon Valley, was fined $9,000 for not filing multiple pre-election campaign statements

Others penalized in the Bay Area this year included San Francisco Bay Area Renters Political Action Committee, a state general-purpose committee, which was fined $9,500 for failing to maintain adequate records for expenditures, not disclosing correct expenditures and commingling contributions to the committee with the personal funds of its treasurer.

In 2019, a major FPPC enforcement case made waves locally in Contra Costa County when the commission fined former Contra Costa County elections chief Joe Canciamilla $150,000 — one of its largest penalties of that year — for illegally spending more than $130,000 of campaign funds on a vacation in Asia, a remodel of his Hawaii home and other personal expenses in the past several years.

The case was referred to the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office, which charged Canciamilla with 30 counts of perjury involving campaign disclosure statements and four counts of personal grand theft of campaign funds. That criminal case is still ongoing.

(c)2021 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.