At the very beginning, I said I was going to make them do this in full view of the public. They’re doing it, and I am making it fully public.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission is proposing to fine me $12,500 for late filing of campaign finance reports during a 90-day period in 2013, even though the FPPC acknowledged in writing that the campaign “substantially complied” with the law, and even though fines for the identical late filings were already paid to the Secretary of State’s Office in 2014.

Interestingly, $12,500 is more than the commission fined the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency for spending public money to campaign for the $3.5 billion bond known as Measure RR (total penalty: $7,500), more than the commission fined the “Yes on Prop. 57, Californians and Governor Brown for Public Safety and Rehabilitation” committee for failing to disclose in ads that the California Democratic Party was one of its top two contributors of $50,000 or more (total penalty: $2,500) and more than the commission fined former Board of Equalization member Betty Yee when her 2014 campaign for state controller failed to file required reports for over $68,000 in large contributions (total penalty: $2,082).

If you’re keeping score, that’s a combined fine of $12,082 for BART, the former governor’s committee and the state controller, and a fine of $12,500 for a first-time state candidate/treasurer in a defeated all-volunteer campaign for the Assembly. Add the fines I already paid to the secretary of state for the same violations, and I take a commanding lead.

Isn’t politics exciting?

Because no reasonable person would believe this, I have posted all the documents in this case on a website at There you can read the accusation, the briefs, the closing arguments, Administrative Law Judge Deena Ghaly’s proposed decision and the briefs to the commission. You can even listen to the audio of the 2017 probable cause hearing and read the transcript of the hearing that was held at the Office of Administrative Hearings in June, in case you couldn’t get there in person.

As I said, I think the public should see this.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission was created by a 1974 ballot measure passed by voters. Last October, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, representing the FPPC in a lawsuit over public financing of campaigns, wrote in a brief to a state appellate court, “The overriding purposes of the Political Reform Act of 1974, passed by the voters in the wake of Watergate and other political corruption scandals, are to combat the pernicious influence of money in politics and government, and to ensure that all citizens have an opportunity to participate in the political process. Although the Act has been amended four times by the voters, and more than 200 times by the Legislature, these core purposes remain unchanged.”

Yet it appears that citizens who enter politics independently are treated more harshly under the Political Reform Act than players who are on “the team.”

Patty Lopez was a grassroots Democratic candidate who shocked the political establishment in 2014 by defeating an incumbent Democratic assemblyman. Her campaign raised and spent next to nothing and Lopez, whose first language is not English, filed some campaign finance reports late or incorrectly. In addition, the campaign accepted cash contributions of about $800 from the sale of tamales and pupusas. The FPPC charged the campaign with multiple counts of violating the Political Reform Act. Lopez signed a stipulated agreement that required her to “voluntarily waive any and all procedural rights” including the right “to have the matter judicially reviewed,” and she paid a penalty of $7,500.

  1. Rick Marshall, a 2015 Republican candidate for the school board in Torrance, raised so little for his campaign that he didn’t even order printed checks for the campaign bank account. When he ran out of temporary checks, he paid a campaign expense with a credit card check, making an ATM cash withdrawal to repay it. The FPPC charged him with failing to report a contribution, making an illegal cash expenditure, and also failing to include the correct disclaimer on a robocall. The proposed penalty is $6,000, roughly 75% of the total amount raised by the campaign.

Dan Schnur ran for secretary of state in 2014 as a no-party-preference candidate. After the primary election, he donated $125,000 of his own money to his committee to cover debts. The FPPC charged him with failing to file a “$5,000 report” disclosing the contribution, which is sometimes required in addition to semi-annual reports. They also charged him for paying some travel expenses with personal funds. Schnur agreed to pay a $4,500 penalty and waive all his rights to a hearing or judicial review.

For being honorable about his debts, Dan Schnur may be characterized in future campaign ads as someone who “violated campaign finance law.” That’s what happened to Patty Lopez, who was targeted in 2016 with negative TV ads that denounced her for campaign finance violations, without mentioning the pupusas.

Unlike Patty Lopez, however, Dan Schnur was not unfamiliar with campaign finance law. He happens to be a former chairman of the FPPC. If he’s confused by the filing requirements, the problem isn’t with the candidates, it’s with the law.

Everyone who participates in politics is at risk. In September, the FPPC’s agenda included a stipulated agreement fining the “Arcadian’s Rights Protection Association” for violations such as sending out fliers that “failed to place the advertising disclosure statement in a printed or drawn box.” The fine was $4,000. The committee raised a total of $3,718.

At my hearing in June, an expert witness testified that only a professional political campaign treasurer can competently handle the complex compliance and reporting requirements for political activity, and that some professional treasurers won’t take on clients unless they also hire a specialized political attorney, because of the liability imposed on treasurers by the Political Reform Act.

That’s a significant barrier to participation in politics: Raise enough money to hire a campaign lawyer, or risk legal jeopardy and massive fines. Can this be constitutional?

“The First Amendment does not permit laws that force speakers to retain a campaign finance attorney,” the Supreme Court said in its 2010 ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

At FPPC meetings this summer, the commissioners expressed a desire to expand opportunities for the public to comment on items that are on the commission’s agenda.

I’m happy to help with that. My case, No. 15/003, will be on the agenda for the FPPC’s Oct. 18 meeting, which will be posted at Public comment letters may be sent by email to the commission assistant at or by postal mail to: Fair Political Practices Commission, 1102 Q Street, Suite 3000, Sacramento, CA 95811. Written comments should arrive by noon on Oct. 17 to be considered. The meeting is open to the public, if you’d like to come. Call (916) 322-5745 for information.

Cross-posted at the LA Daily News