Former Nevada County ballot Measure S backers cleared of fines, issued warning letter
NOTE: This story was updated on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 to include comments from Patricia Smith.
A state commission has waived all fines against a Measure S-related campaign committee from last fall’s election, but issued a warning letter to group leaders to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
“Citizens for Fair Laws was inexperienced at campaign reporting and the investigation found no evidence it was attempting to deceive the public,” said Dave Bainbridge, senior counsel, enforcement division, for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, referring to some irregularities in reporting between May 28 and June 30, 2014. “Citizens for Fair Laws did file campaign statements properly during the second half of 2014 leading up to the general election, when the vast majority of its activity occurred.”
Bainbridge issued his opinion in a May 15 letter to “Citizens for Fair Laws — Yes on S” principals Patricia Smith of Grass Valley, a leader of Americans for Safe Access — Nevada County, and Craig Marquard of Nevada City.
He added in the letter that the campaign committee disbanded soon after the election.
“For all these reasons, a fine is not justified in this case and we are closing this matter with this warning letter,” Bainbridge states.
Despite the relatively mild outcome, Don Bessee of Alta Sierra, who filed the series of complaints against Citizens for Fair Laws that triggered the investigation, noted that the letter contained strong warning language.
Bessee, a vocal opponent of Measure S, alleged the committee violated several provisions of the Political Reform Act in its campaign support of Measure S, a ballot measure that proposed a revised medical marijuana cultivation ordinance for Nevada County.
The measure failed to win voter support at the November ballot.
“The information in this matter will be retained and may be considered, should an enforcement action become necessary based on newly discovered information or future conduct,” Bainbridge’s letter states. “Failure to comply with the provisions of the Act in the future will result in monetary penalties of up to $5,000 for each violation.”
Bessee had alleged that Citizens for Fair Laws — Yes on S failed to include proper identifying information on ads supporting Measure S. He also alleged that ASA-NC may have paid for some of the ads, and that Citizens for Fair Laws did not file all required campaign statements.
Smith, however, said information submitted by Bessee to the FPPC was incomplete or misleading.
“In his zeal to discredit ASA, Don Bessee submitted incomplete materials to the FPPC that only showed one side of the handbill so it appeared that there wasn’t a proper “paid for” notification,” Smith said. “He also submitted fliers that were produced and distributed by outside splinter groups with no ties to Citizens for Fair Laws. The FPPC looked at all of our materials and found they were in compliance.”
Bainbridge said the committee filed a series of amendments after the election that filled in any gaps in reporting, as well as statements showing that the ads contained identifying information.
Bainbridge said the committee “filed its statement of organization on March 25, 2014, but it did not have any activity until May 5, when it deposited $2,000 into its campaign bank account.”
According to the Reform Act, that meant the committee was supposed to file a finance statement for the period from March 25 to June 30. However, the committee’s statement only ran from April 15 to May 28.
“According to (the committee’s) bank statements, its only activity during the period for which it did not disclose its activity was the purchase of checks for $24 on May 29, and a $50 check written from the account on June 11,” Bainbridge states. “Given the lack of activity, this gap in Citizens for Fair Laws statements caused negligible public harm.”
Bessee said he did not agree with the time line allowed by the system to correct all campaign finance disclosures.
“The FPPC reporting structure is intended to provide the electorate a clear understanding of who is funding campaigns before election day,” Bessee said this week.
“Given the final amendments in this case were not filed until January 2015, the public was not provided the required transparency.”
Bessee also said that the FPPC allowed the committee to present proof of identification that included their name being on the back of ads. He said neither the back of newspaper ads or posters were visible to the public.
“They are very lucky the system allowed them to do all those amendments which let them avoid fines,” he said.
NOTE: This story was updated on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, to add comments from Patricia Smith.
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239
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