Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez’s campaign finance activities have been in the news in recent months. But the Núñez camp said that by early next year the Fair Political Practices Commission will show that the Los Angeles Democrat has done nothing illegal.
That’s because Núñez’s district, AD 46, was one of those randomly chosen for an audit by the FPPC back in February. This list — which includes dozens of lobbying firms and interest groups, as well as 24 other legislators — is then turned over each year to the Franchise Tax Board, which has a year to do the audits. According to FTB spokeswoman Denise Azimi, the tax board expects to turn over its findings to the FPPC before the end of January.
“The speaker has complied with FPPC rules, and we are confident the commission will come to the same conclusion,” said Steve Maviglio, Núñez’s deputy chief of staff. He confirmed this is the first time Núñez has been audited since first being elected to the Assembly in 2002.
Núñez’s expenses will be just one of dozens of reports the FPPC will get back. Eleven of his Democratic Assembly colleagues are having their books looked at, along with four Democratic senators. So are eight Republican assemblymen and one GOP senator. Others on the list include powerhouse lobbying firm Capitol Advocates, the California Medical Association, the Peace Officers Research Association issues committee, and several groups associated with the state’s current disputes over tribal gaming.
“We take a look at them and determine if there is anything that rises to the level where there should be an investigation,” said FPPC spokesman Roman Porter.
However, the GOP isn’t exactly dying of anticipation, said Hector Barajas, communications director for the California Republican Party. Barajas said that while he believes the expenditures exploited loopholes and violated ethical standards, Núñez didn’t necessarily break the law.
“It’s a perception issue,” Barajas said. “While he was sipping $400 bottles of wine, people in his district are suffering. This is money that came from the working poor.”
Barajas was referring to a series of new stories, first reported in the Los Angeles Times, about Núñez spending of campaign funds during a trip to Europe. Much of the money contributed to Núñez’s political fund came from labor unions — the “working poor” Barajas referred to — and his Democratic colleagues.
Núñez, in turn, spent some of the money on what some felt were questionable expenses during visits to Europe. The Times reported that this included $5,149 for a meeting in a wine shop in France’s Bordeaux region and $2,562 for “office expenses” at Louis Vuitton in Paris. Núñez defended the expenditures, saying they were incurred legitimately during a diplomatic trip to Europe and that he did not stick taxpayers with the bill.
Such spending may become illegal in the future, under rules promoted by FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson earlier this month. Under current rules, donated funds can only be spent on items “reasonably” connected to government or political business. The new regulation would impose stricter requirements for listing the dates, reasons and identities for political gifts and meals. Other rules will require greater reporting about loans made between candidates and committees, including the rates of any interest charged.
Porter said the FPPC held a public hearing on the proposed rules last Thursday, but no one spoke for or against them. While some of Johnson’s proposed rules have been linked to Núñez’s expenditures in the media, Porter denied there was any connection.
“He has been out front on campaign finance reform for a number of years,” Porter said of Johnson, who served in the state legislature from 1979 to 2004. “This is something he’s been trying to do for a quarter century.”