Assemblyman's campaign fund transactions raising questions -- La Mesa Republican may seek Senate seat
Union Tribune (2009-10-01) Michele Clock John Marelius
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Assemblyman's campaign fund transactions raising questions
La Mesa Republican may seek Senate seat
By Michele Clock
and John Marelius
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
2:00 a.m. October 1, 2009
Assemblyman Joel Anderson has engaged in a series of curious campaign financial transactions as he prepares to make an expected bid for the state Senate.
In some cases, business supporters in the East County Republican's district have contributed money to the Fresno County Republican Central Committee, which, in turn, donated similar amounts to Anderson within days.
The sums were well in excess of the $3,900 limit that candidates for the Legislature can legally accept from individual donors. There is no limit to what political party committees can give to candidates.
In other cases, Anderson sent tens of thousands of dollars left over in his Assembly campaign fund from the 2008 election to Central and Northern California Republican committees, which sent like amounts to his 2010 fund. In each case, the transactions were within days or weeks of each other.
This pattern, dismissed as coincidental by most of the parties involved, raises questions among campaign finance experts.
“I think you can draw a clear connection between contributions from San Diego businesses that were then returned to a San Diego assemblyman,” said campaign finance analyst Carmen Balber, Washington director of Consumer Watchdog.
None of the transactions individually runs afoul of state campaign financing laws.
But given the close juxtaposition of dates and dollar amounts, any or all of the players could be subject to a fine by the state Fair Political Practices Commission if there is found to be any prearranged agreement between them.
“The Fair Political Practices Commission requires that the true source of all contributions of $100 or more is fully disclosed,” said Roman Porter, the commission's executive director.
Anderson declined to be interviewed for this report, even after his chief of staff, Collin Mc Glashen
, said he “would be happy to talk with you” about it.
Instead, he issued a written statement:
“I have demonstrated a long-term commitment to helping individual Republican candidates at the federal, state and local levels and will continue to work toward electing more Republicans.
“In regard to the Republican Party donations, it is reasonable to expect the Republican Party to support conservative Republicans like myself.”
That's not the issue, said political ethicist Robert Stern, who directs the Santa Monica-based Center for Governmental Studies and is the co-author of the state Political Reform Act. Stern questioned whether there was coordination, which the involved parties denied.
“He can solicit contributions to the party and he can urge the party to give him contributions, but he can't link them,” Stern said.
In May, three members of the Hamann family of El Cajon donated a total of $30,000 to the Fresno County Republican Central Committee.
Members of the Hamann family, which owns the Hamann Cos. construction and property management business, have been frequent contributors over the years to East County Republican candidates, including Anderson.
Days after receiving the Hamann donations, the Fresno party gave a total of $28,500 to Anderson's 2010 fund.
Gregg Hamann, who was listed on campaign disclosure forms as one of the three donors, said he couldn't remember why he gave the money to the Fresno party.
“Honestly as I'm sitting now, four months ago, there was a cause we felt could be advanced,” Hamann said. “I have no recollection what that cause was.”
Stern scoffed at the explanation.
“If I gave you even $50, I'd remember why,” Stern said.
In late June, the Barona Band of Mission Indians in Lakeside sent $10,000 to the Fresno Republican Party, which a day later donated $9,500 to Anderson's 2010 fund.
Sheilla Alvarez, Barona's director of government affairs, said the tribe makes political donations throughout the state, but added that she couldn't pinpoint why they contributed to the Fresno party at that time.
The most recent state campaign finance filings show that Barona contributed to candidates across the state, but that the Fresno Republican Party was the only county political party to benefit from the tribe's largesse.
Robert Weil, a member of the Fresno County committee's executive board, said the pattern of contributions is a coincidence and that the party spends its money as it sees fit.
“We have donors that send money in and they ask us to send it to the appropriate people and Joel Anderson is very appropriate,” Weil said. “Once we get it, we can do whatever we want. Nobody can dictate where our money goes.”
Weil wouldn't say why he thought east San Diego County interests would send money to the Fresno County Republican Party.
“I can't comment on the donors,” he said.
Anderson, a two-term Assembly member representing East County's 77th District, has filed a declaration of intention to run for re-election with the Secretary of State's Office.
But it is widely expected that the La Mesa Republican will switch to running for the overlapping 36th District state Senate seat that Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Temecula, must relinquish next year because of term limits.
Under the Political Reform Act, the back-and-forth exchanges of money between Anderson's 2008 campaign fund, three Republican central committees and his 2010 campaign fund could benefit him in a Senate race if there's no communication linking them. Any communication would be a violation of the law.
Such transactions would be unnecessary if he were running for re-election to the Assembly. That is because the law allows an officeholder running for re-election for the same office to carry over unspent campaign money from the last election.
An officeholder running for another office can transfer unspent money, but must abide by a process the Fair Political Practices Commission calls “attribution,” where the surplus money must be ascribed to specific donors. That means the candidate cannot collect additional money from listed donors who gave the maximum in the previous election cycle.
“It's very strange having to go through the machinations of this,” Stern said. “That's where the questions will be raised. It seems pretty coincidental, shall we say.”
Anderson, who was not seriously challenged for re-election last year, ended the 2008 election cycle with $113,000 cash on hand.
In May, Anderson gave $32,400 from his 2008 campaign committee to the Fresno County Republican Central Committee. Less than two weeks later, the committee sent $31,400 to Anderson's 2010 campaign committee.
In June, Anderson sent identical donations of $32,400 from his 2008 campaign to the Placer County Republican Party and the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee.
Two weeks later, the Placer GOP sent $31,400 to Anderson's 2010 campaign. The Stanislaus GOP sent $31,000 to Anderson's 2010 campaign one day after receiving the contribution from Anderson.
Stern said the facts suggest there was communication between the parties, “but we don't know. . . . That's where the FPPC would look into.”
Placer County Republican Party Chairman Tom Hudson said the donation was a gesture of support for an old friend.
“I'm a big fan of Joel Anderson and I think our central committee is, too. He's been a real Republican leader, and we appreciate that,” Hudson said. “He's exactly the kind of guy we'd like to see in the state Senate.”
, Anderson's chief of staff, said it's not unusual for legislators like Anderson to donate to candidates and party committees across the state.
“It doesn't surprise me that there's money coming from us going to Republican Party organizations,” Mc Glashen
Campaign finance records show Anderson did give money to Republican candidates across the state in the 2008 election cycle. But his only Republican Party contributions were to the state party and his home county.
Anderson's only contributions in 2009 — a non-election year in which there is typically a lull in such activity — were the identical $32,400 donations to the parties in Fresno, Placer and Stanislaus counties, plus modest donations to two local Republican Party organizations.
said he couldn't say why the three county parties gave money back to Anderson so soon after receiving it.
“I can't really speak for what the Republican Party does with their money,” Mc Glashen
said. “They decide what to do with their money.”
Michele Clock: (619) 542-4577; John Marelius: ;
Joel Anderson just may stumble over these highly unethical transactions with the Hamann empire and Barona. This is an example of why our system of campaign financing attracts anyone wishing to push well past the intent of the law and instead work their way through every loophole to accept "legalized bribery" campaign contributions from wealthy developers and constituents. Anderson should be prosecuted for this obvious violation of the intent of the campaign financing laws, just as hard as someone caught with child porn on their computer. This is obscene!
-- Raymond Lutz