During the June 2010 primary, 36th district State Senate candidate Jeff Stone was caught red-handed failing to comply with campaign finance laws by not reporting contributions over $1,000 within the mandated 24-hour period, all received in the final days of the election. As a reminder, we’re not just talking about a couple of donations here. Stone’s campaign admitted to receiving 69 donations from 57 donors totaling $156,000 that were not disclosed, with compliance only taking place once it was exposed publicly.
See the Press Enterprise Blog post in which the Stone campaign admits the failure to comply.
The purpose of the 24 hour reporting requirement for contributions approaching the election is to provide the public full access to information about campaign activity during a period when millions and millions of dollars are being raised and spent in California. Without a candidate or committee being required to disclose significant activity during this period, it would often leave a vacuum of missing information until after election day.
At times, some committees seem to conveniently “hide” their finances, apparently more willing to face a fine after the fact than provide their political opposition any knowledge of their campaign activity. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) takes this very seriously. Or, so it was thought.
Surprisingly, it turns out the FPPC has decided not to fine the Stone campaign. That’s right, not a dollar or even enough to cover its time to look into the matter.
Sour grapes on my part? Not really, just complete bewilderment. Especially since the FPPC released the following statement just a few months after the Stone incident, but before deciding his fate. Here is a direct quote from a September 10, 2010, FPPC press release:
“Political consultants in both parties too often engage in borderline behavior under the assumption that being fined in the months after the election is the worst thing that can happen to their candidate. Well, that’s not the worst thing that can happen,” said the FPPC’s Dan Schnur. “Before you step too close to the line, ask your candidate if he or she would like their name in a headline along with the words ‘FPPC’ and ‘investigation’ in the weeks before an election.”
Maybe it should have read “the most likely thing that will happen is you don’t get fined at all and we keep completely quiet about it.”
One has to wonder if the FPPC really cares about enforcement. Or is the agency just looking to see how much money it can collect from those with big campaign coffers? Stone lost, so they probably figured he didn’t warrant being fined. Even if it was an honest mistake not to report the contributions promptly, shouldn’t it warrant a nominal fine?
What will all the other candidates who have mistakenly failed to report only a couple of late contributions think when they read this?
So the message has been sent by the FPPC – go ahead and violate the law. If it benefits your campaign and gives you an advantage over your opponent, just ignore the law and suffer the consequences after the election. Odds are you will probably get a warning or a nominal fine.
While I am on my rant about the FPPC, why would the agency remove the link to “Summaries of Past Enforcement Cases” from its website, the database of individuals and committees that have been fined? The information may still be somewhere on the website, but it is certainly not as easy to locate as it was when a direct link existed (see what it used to look like).
Doesn’t the public have the right to know? Maybe the FPPC honchos don’t want to create work for themselves by having to answer more public records requests.