Santa Cruz County Campaign Finance Investigation Remains Unsolved


Included in Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2023-2024 State Budget Funding 13 new staff members of the Fair Political Practices CommissionFPPC president Jay Willenga said that could include seven lawyers, special agents and other enforcement staff. Additional funding was included in the governor’s May budget amendment. 2 staff. As of June 15, the California legislature has not approved a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

“The position is what we requested in our budget, but the position itself is subject to change based on circumstances and needs,” Willenga wrote in an email.

Since 2017, the Enforcement Division has typically handed over about 1,450 cases each year. The Fair Political Practices Commission approved it in January. Enforcement Policy Directive The directive says it aims to reduce the backlog of unresolved cases that are “unacceptably long.”

The Fair Political Practices Commission is called upon to handle complaints of violations of state campaign and campaign finance laws.

Santa Cruz County Election Case

In the June 2022 District 3 Santa Cruz County Supervisor Candidate Primary, Ami Cheng Mills faced Santa Cruz City Councilman Chevre Carantari-Johnson and eventual winner Justin Cummings. . Chen Mills alleged that Karantari Johnson and a group called Santa Cruz Together violated election expense reporting rules. After the Santa Cruz Together event on May 2, 2022 at Stockwell Cellars in Santa Cruz.

At the event, Santa Cruz Together leaders instructed attendees on how to donate to support Santa Cruz Together’s efforts to elect Karantari Johnson, according to an audio recording.

Mr. Chen Mills first filed a complaint in May 2022, which was dismissed by the FPPC the same month. she, Second indictment in June 2022 That sparked an investigation, which is still ongoing.

Karantari Johnson and Santa Cruz Together Chairman Lynn Renshaw said they did not violate the Fair Political Practices Commission’s rules.

Wierenga, head of the Fair Political Practices Commission, declined to comment on the matter earlier this month.

Wierenga said that if a candidate could “coordinate” with a committee regarding spending, the “non-filer” of the campaign would not be allowed because “spending adjustments could raise filing and reporting issues.” He said it was likely to be certified as a case.

Campaign undeclared cases often take less than 100 days to resolve, but some of the commission’s enforcement attorneys say cases involving misreporting of coordination activities as independent expenditures take longer and are more difficult to resolve. It has said.

The largest percentage of “rationalization” cases investigated by the Fair Political Practices Commission’s Enforcement Division concern delays in reporting campaign finance. Other cases may relate to advertising, record keeping, and campaign bank accounts. (Commission on Fair Political Practices)

The median investigation period is 113 days, but some types can take a year or more to resolve. (Commission on Fair Political Practices)

Violation of California’s Political Reform Act can result in fines of up to $5,000 per violation. Warning letters may be issued for minor violations. “Minor technical” violations that do not cause significant public harm typically carry fines of several hundred dollars. Willenga said in 2022:. Factors that determine punishment include public harm, intent and precedent, he said.

Karantari Johnson and Chen Mills said they had not received updates on the case from the FPPC.

Karantari Johnson said earlier this month, “Waiting time has not affected me personally or the office work I have chosen.” Karantari-Johnson remains on the Santa Cruz City Council.

Chen Mills, who has not held an elected office, said the delay in resolving the complaint showed “California doesn’t take election integrity seriously.” “They need to fully fund the FPPC to ensure it is robust and able to address such complaints in a timely manner,” she said. “It’s information that voters should know before the election,” Chen added.

Aside from the delay in the Santa Cruz case, the leaders of the Fair Political Practices Commission recently made some changes to speed up the pace of case resolution.

Changes to the Fair Political Practices Commission

The Fair Practices Political Commission regulates and enforces campaign finance laws, lobbying, and conflicts of interest of government officials.

The Commission consists of five members, a Chairman appointed by the Governor and an Executive Director who oversees four departments, including the Executive Branch. The department will investigate incidents and prosecute violations.

C.FPPC President Jay Willenga said the increase in complaints and referrals to the Fair Political Practices Commission since 2015 is due to increased public awareness and more knowledgeable filing officers stepped up their training. That is one reason. (Commission on Fair Political Practices)

In 2022, FPPC won more awards. 3,000 complaints and referralsoutperforming the years since at least 2015.

The median time to resolve a case is 113 days, but resolution can take a day, or more than two days. Six years, according to Fair Political Practices Commission documents. The statute of limitations for potential violations of state campaign finance rules is five years and can be suspended.

Willenga said election-related cases will be prioritized “as much as possible” during the election period.

Fair Political Practices Commission Chairman Richard Miadich said at a January board meeting that the increased backlog of cases and resolution times was due to several factors.

  • Complaints and referrals to departments increase without proportionate increase in staff.
  • Lack of consistent criteria, priorities and deadlines across executive functions.
  • Recent legislative changes have made the law even more complex.

In November, Miadich submitted proposals for new case completion goals, timelines, and follow-up.

7 Lawyers from the Fair Political Practices Commission wrote a dissenting opinion At Miadich’s suggestion. They wrote in December that “under the current system of rules, unless you actively and decisively roll back the bureaucracy, no matter how many hours you work, lawyers are required to work on cases every other day.” “Policies will not solve unresolved problems.”

Several investigators of the Commission on Fair Political Practices I have written They reportedly managed more than 50 cases.

Lawyers recommended greater powers to dismiss older lawsuits with less social harm. They also expressed concern that mandatory deadlines might reduce the quality of case handling.

Reduce backlog

The Enforcement Policy Directive approved by the Commission in January is similar to the Miadich Proposal in November.of Enforcement Policy Directive Instruct FPPC leaders to reduce current backlogs by 75% by the end of 2024 and not exceed 625 annual backlogs in future years.

FPPC Executive Director Galina West said at a January meeting that fewer settlement proposals and dropping charges in low-pollution cases could help reduce the backlog.

“When you look at these old cases and you think that they are sitting, usually they are not. If you are looking at these old cases and would like to solve them, and if they are only slowing down and less damaging cases, yes, to do the best you can We will need to use more discretion, please offer what we can to resolve these cases,” she said.

“Pollution cases are not compromised that way,” West added.

He was also instructed to set deadlines for each task in all cases and to increase reporting to the Commission on case needs, goals and progress so that most cases would be resolved within two years.

“The Commission does not set one-size-fits-all deadlines for all cases. We do not take a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s common sense to require the executive director to give notice of deadlines throughout the entire process,” said Fair Political Practices Commission chair Miadich.

“I think it’s important that the Commission puts it in clear language to the enforcement department that most cases should be resolved within two years. We know it can be done,” he said. Miadich said.

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