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Watchdog eyes 2014 activities

State Capitol, Sacramento. (Photo: David Monniaux)

California’s political watchdog, facing 2014’s high-stakes statewide elections in which a relatively small number of donors put in more than $158 million to influence voters on ballot propositions, closed hundreds of cases with settlements – the most in its 40 years of existence.

The Fair Political Practices Commission, the five-member panel that enforces California’s campaign finance laws, said “prosecutions of money laundering violations were at their highest level ever in 2014 and have more than doubled since 2013.” Also, prosecutions of “serious campaign cases were at their highest level in 2014,” the FPPC noted in its annual report, which was released Monday. The report and its appendices can be seen here.

The FPPC said it closed more than 1,000 cases “with proven violations,” which included a record 332 cases with stipulated agreements and some 673 warning letters

The money laundering cases included several involving local Republican Party committees in Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Yolo Counties, the FPPC said, as well as cases involving lobbyists and elected officials.

The latter included a case targeting the 2008 election in the 14th Senate District of Sen. Tom Berryhill, who was fined $40,000 by the commission for routing campaign contributions through the GOP committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties without reporting the true source of the donations.

Ballot measures drew large sums from backers and foes in the Nov. 4 general election. In all, citing figures compiled by the Los Angeles Times, statewide ballot measures sparked more than $206 million in spending. Of that amount, some $158 million came from the top donors to each political committee, “which means that 77 percent of money contributed to influence state ballot measures was given by 78 donors.”

A pair of ballot measures, Propositions 45 and 46, generated the most spending. The former would have authorized the state insurance commissioner to regulate health insurers’ rates; the latter would have raised the cap on medical malpractice awards. Both were defeated. Another high-spending measure, Proposition 48, was referendum to overturn the establishment of a tribal casino-resort complex near Madera off U.S. 99. The casino was blocked.

The FPPC said it closed more than 1,000 cases “with proven violations,” which included a record 332 cases with stipulated agreements and some 673 warning letters.

The FPPC was created by voters in 1974 in the wake of campaign finance scandals during the Watergate. As the annual report was prepared for release, Jerry Brown, who pushed for the creation of the FPPC during his first run for governor in 1974, was being sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term as governor in the Capitol just blocks away from the FPPC headquarters.

 


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