Press "Enter" to skip to content

Politicians use a once obscure committee to cloak campaign money

Irvine Councilwoman Melissa Fox is the latest Orange County politician to exploit a rarely used fundraising account to shelter large campaign donations – in her case a $10,000 contribution from a liberal political action committee.
But Fox isn’t alone. Little by little, members of the Republican and Democratic central committees are opening fundraising accounts ostensibly for committee purposes, and using those accounts to  skirt contribution limits in their home towns or otherwise divert funds for less-regulated forms of political spending.
For example, in Irvine, the biggest campaign contribution allowed under city law is $490. But Fox was able to control $10,000 that was put into her central committee account on Nov. 2, 2017 by the Orange County Victory Fund, according to public financial disclosures.
Six days before the money showed up in Fox’s central committee account, the Victory Fund received a $12,000 donation from Starpointe Ventures, an Irvine lobbyist that represents developers with projects before the Irvine City Council, including a luxury apartment complex near John Wayne Airport that was approved unanimously.
It was the first time in nearly a year that the Victory Fund received a donation.
“It’s a case of influencing Melissa Fox by giving her a lot of money into her central committee (account),” said county watchdog Shirley Grindle.
Fox did not respond to requests for an interview. Tim Strader, head of Starpointe Ventures, also did not respond.
Financial disclosures show that Fox spent a large part of her central committee contributions on donations to other office holders and candidates.
Last year, Fox spent $17,500 from her central committee fund.
It is extremely uncommon for members of either of the central committees, Republican or Democrat, to open accounts and actively seek money to win an unpaid seat on a partisan board that meets once a month. Board members are picked by voters, based on registration, who choose to fill several seats connected to assembly districts from names that are presented on county ballots.
Every county in California has central committees, and a 2012 report from a state legislative analyst noted that it is “relatively rare for candidates for county central committees to raise and spend more than a nominal amount of money.”
But the low-profile nature of the central committee also means it rarely is tracked by watchdogs or others. And while campaign money can only be used for committee business, experts say the legal definition of what constitutes such business can be broad. Also, unlike fundraising for other elected offices, there are no limits on how much committee members can raise and spend.
In Orange County, politicians are taking it to a new level.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer used his Republican Central Committee fund to park $340,000 in donations that he had received while running for several elected positions he has held during his career. The money went for travel, restaurant meals, hotels, office and retail store purchases, and a security system, as well as donations to other politicians, causes and civic groups.
Spitzer said all the spending was connected to his work on the central committee and the county board. Most of his campaign war chest today is aimed at his current bid for Orange County District Attorney, but he still holds $8,000 in his central committee account.
In 2016, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do raised $23,900 for his Republican Central Committee seat. He used that money to attack a rival for public office. If he’d limited himself to campaign money for his supervisor seat, the limit for individual donations was (and is) $1,900.
Much of of the money for Do’s central committee fund, $10,000, came from a vendor that contracts with a public health organization on which Do is a board member.
While Spitzer, Do and Fox did not do anything illegal by accepting the funds for their central committee posts, experts say they are violating the spirit of financing laws.
“It’s very worrisome, it allows the candidates to go around campaign financing restrictions,” said Jodi Balma, a political science professor at Fullerton College. “It gives large donors outside influence…It’s kind of a slush fund.”
Balma added, “As more and more people find out about it, I think it will be used more.”
Source: Oc Register

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *