Accusations against a California campaign finance watchdog went undisclosed for months

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A campaign finance investigation against a top official from California’s political watchdog agency has been in limbo and hidden from public view for months, raising questions about whether government organizations allow their own members to campaign for candidates and campaigns across the state. maintains the same standard.

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A complaint was filed with the agency’s enforcement department in April against Katherine Baker, a member of the California Fair Political Practices Commission and former Republican legislator. On 12 November – the same day the Times requested information about the case – the FPPC Enforcement Department withdrew from the investigation and asked Etty. General Rob Bonta to assume control.

“I am very surprised by this,” said former FPPC General Counsel Bob Stern. “The question becomes, what other cases are they not disclosing? Is this a bad example or specific about how they’re working?”

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Richard Miaditch, chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said he had instructed staff members months ago to take the matter to the attorney general and provided a copy of an email dated April 29 confirming that instruction. But he said he did not know why the case was not transferred till a few days back.

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“We have never had a situation where a current commissioner has filed a complaint against him,” Miadich said on Monday. “We need some time to do our homework.”

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A statement from Bonta’s office confirmed receipt of the investigation but did not provide any other details.

Baker was appointed last December to the commission, one of five members overseeing the implementation and enforcement of California campaign finance laws. She represented parts of the East Bay region in the state assembly from 2014 to 2018 and disputed the allegations contained in an anonymous complaint submitted through the FPPC’s online system in April.

“The anonymous complaint is false on both the facts and the law,” Baker said in a phone interview.

The issue is whether she failed to properly file paperwork related to a potential 2030 campaign to the state legislature and whether additional disclosure of donors was required when $125,000 in remaining funding from her 2018 campaign committee was diverted to potential future funding. Was transferred to an account for the campaign.

“Our filing was complete and accurate and was filed in a timely manner with the advice of a legal advisor to ensure full compliance,” she said.

Complaints made against political candidates and campaigns are reviewed by enforcement staff of the State Commission. If an investigation is initiated, FPPC officials notify the parties concerned and disclose the investigation in an online system that the public can access.

But after the investigation began into Baker’s activity, the information was no longer displayed in the online database. Miaditch told The Times that the agency’s “transparency portal” is designed to provide information on matters under the commission’s jurisdiction and that, in this case, the information being collected by FPPC staff members does not fall under that category. Is.

“At no time were we actively investigating this complaint,” he said.

On 12 November, The Times asked the commission’s press office whether the Baker investigation was ongoing and, if so, the status of the investigation. That same day, Chief Enforcement Officer Angela Brereton sent Bonta a letter asking her department to handle the case.

“Since Commissioner Baker is currently in office, the commission is recusing itself from the matter,” Brereton wrote, noting that FPPC staff members “have not made any determination” that Baker has violated state campaign finance regulations. violated or not.

Miaditch said on Monday that Brereton could make it clear that plans to move the case had been in the works for some time.

“I think it would have been helpful for him to refer to that letter,” he said.

Stern, a co-author of California’s Historic Political Reform Act, said the commission’s actions could be regarded as giving Baker special attention and that FPPC investigators should have turned the case over to Bonta quickly.

“It’s all appearances,” he said. “You don’t want to investigate your own agency, especially the commissioners.”

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