Anderson faces big fine over donations
Agency also cites Fresno GOP panel
By Michele Clock
, John Marelius
UNION-TRIBUNE Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 12:01 a.m.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission has been investigating a series of questionable campaign transactions involving Assemblyman Joel Anderson, some of his East County supporters and three Republican county committees.
The commission’s enforcement staff recommended that Anderson be fined $20,000 and that the Fresno County GOP be fined $29,000 because the transactions enabled Anderson to collect more than the $3,900 legal limit and because the Fresno party failed to properly report some of the donations.
The commission will vote on whether to accept the negotiated settlement with Anderson and the Fresno party at its meeting next week in Sacramento.
The enforcement staff of California’s political watchdog agency yesterday recommended a $20,000 fine against Assemblyman Joel Anderson for violating campaign contribution laws.
After an investigation triggered by a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune, the staff of the Fair Political Practices Commission found that the La Mesa Republican accepted contributions in excess of the legal limit. The donations originated with supporters in his district who contributed money to the Fresno County Republican Central Committee, which donated similar amounts to Anderson within days.
A fine of $29,000 was recommended for the Fresno County GOP for its role in the transactions and for failing to properly disclose the contributions to Anderson.
Anderson and the Fresno County GOP agreed to the fines, according to commission staff.
The commission is scheduled to take final action at its Dec. 10 meeting in Sacramento, and it usually approves fines negotiated by enforcement staff.
Collin Mc Glashen
, Anderson’s chief of staff, issued a written statement: “We are working closely and cooperatively with the FPPC and will continue to do so until the review is complete in order to correct any mistakes that may have been made.”
The investigation, which opened in early October, was concluded with uncommon speed for the agency.
“This is an issue that is of concern to the commission, and we addressed it as quickly as possible,” said Roman Porter, executive director of the Fair Political Practices Commission.
The commission staff investigated nearly $150,000 that went from Anderson or his supporters to three county Republican committees and back to the assemblyman. Anderson returned all of the money to the county parties during the investigation.
The fines are fairly steep by commission standards: Anderson’s $20,000 fine is close to the $25,000 maximum for that violation; Fresno County GOP’s $29,000 fine is out of a $40,000 maximum.
“That’s a pretty hefty fine considering that he had to return $150,000,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “It’s a settlement, so obviously he wants to get it behind him.”
The fines grew out of contributions totaling $50,500 that the Fresno County Republican Central Committee received from members of the Hamann construction family in East County, the Barona and Sycuan tribes and Sempra Energy. The Fresno County GOP then sent similar amounts to Anderson.
Had the businesses in his district given directly to Anderson, they would have been bound by a $3,900 limit that candidates for the Legislature can legally accept from individual donors.
Anderson, a two-term Assembly member representing East County’s 77th District, has officially filed to run for re-election. But Anderson is widely expected to instead make a bid for the overlapping 36th District state Senate seat.
Stern, co-author of the Political Reform Act and a former general counsel to the Fair Political Practices Commission, said he was puzzled that fines were recommended for Anderson and the Fresno County GOP, but not for the original donors.
“The question becomes, what was the role of the contributors in this and why weren’t the contributors fined?” Stern said.
In a separate series of transactions, the commission staff recommended no action against Anderson or three Republican county committees — Fresno, Placer and Stanislaus — over identical contributions of $32,400 from Anderson’s 2008 campaign committee and similar amounts that were returned to his 2010 fund.
Porter said the Placer and Stanislaus County parties were sent notices that the case is closed.
The fine recommended for the Fresno County Republican Central Committee was for its role in helping Anderson exceed the contribution limit and for failing to report the donations to Anderson on its midyear campaign finance statement, which has since been amended to reflect the transactions.
Members of the Hamann family, who own construction and property-management businesses, did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.
Gregg Hamann, whose donation of $10,000 to the Fresno County party in May was identified in one of the counts against Anderson and his campaign, previously told the Union-Tribune that he couldn’t remember why he gave the money to the Fresno County GOP.
“Honestly as I’m sitting now, four months ago, there was a cause we felt could be advanced,” Hamann said in September. “I have no recollection what that cause was.”
A woman who answered the phone at Hamann Cos. yesterday said Gregg Hamann “is not interested in talking to the paper.”
A representative from the Barona Band of Mission Indians also did not return calls yesterday, and the Sycuan Band could not be reached for comment.
A.P. Sidhu, chairman of the Fresno County Republican Party, said it was simply a mistake.
“There were two things that happened from our standpoint,” Sidhu said. “We just had a new treasurer, so she was not very familiar with the rules. The second thing, you know, the central committee usually is made up of volunteers, and basically we didn’t take legal advice before doing this transaction.”
He added, “I think the settlement is pretty fair. We did cooperate with the FPPC whatever they needed from us, and it’s time to move on.”