Chan accuses Hancock of campaign money no-no

No sooner do I blog about the Loni Hancock versus Wilma Chan race for Don Perata‘s 9th State Senate District seat than the fireworks start up in earnest: Chan today asked the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate whether Hancock and her campaign violated rules by paying a Senate campaign staffer out of her 14th Assembly District Officeholder Account.

According to Chan’s news release, public campaign filings show Hancock has paid Terri Waller — listed in FPPC reports as a campaign consultant — $15,000 or more from the Officeholder Account since June 2007. FPPC regulations say officeholders can’t use officeholder funds to pay campaign expenses, Chan notes, and Waller has been introduced as Hancock’s campaign manager at one or more Senate campaign forums and is listed as the campaign contact on at least one candidate questionnaire. Read Chan’s full complaint here. [And scroll down through the updates for an expert’s review.]

“A year ago, Loni Hancock was touting the virtues of campaign finance reform on her blog,” Chan spokesman David Chilenski said in the release. “Today, it looks like she could be misusing campaign funds and may be circumventing the rules for her Senate campaign. It’s ironic to see her champion clean money reform in her speeches and then turn around and act in a way that seems contradict these values.”

Waller is listed on Hancock’s office Web site as Hancock’s district coordinator, and a Web search shows she has served in that capacity for years. Campaign-finance printouts attached to Chan’s complaint show Waller was paid from the officeholder account for various office expenses, but also several times under the notation “campaign consultants.”

I couldn’t immediately reach Hancock’s campaign spokespeople, but I’ll keep trying…

UPDATE @ 9:35 P.M. MONDAY: And the word from Hancock campaign spokesman Cliff Staton is “bogus.”

“Terri Waller has been the Campaign Manager for the Hancock campaign since the beginning of March. The last period for which she was paid from the Officeholder Account ended in February. The East Bay Young Dems meeting was on March 6. The Nate Miley endorsement interview was on March 22,” Staton says. “This is another desperate attempt by the Chan campaign to distract attention from their big loss at the Democratic Convention over the weekend.”

In fairness, Staton got back to me quickly; this update has been delayed because I was out of pocket for a few hours.

UPDATE @ 10:15 A.M. TUESDAY: I just got off the phone with Staton, who explained that several “campaign consultant” payments made to Waller before she became Hancock’s Senate campaign manager were for various political but non-campaign functions she served while in Hancock’s employ.

“It’s simply the way that they list it on the officeholder account,” he said. “It’s not campaigning… It’s not about running for election, it’s simply that as a politician you’re in a political environment and there are things you have to do.”

So if Waller went to a purely political event on Hancock’s behalf – maybe a labor council dinner, for example – Hancock would pay her out of the officeholder account rather than from state funds, Staton said. “Loni has always determined those kinds of things are not part of the state, the taxpayers should not pay that.”

“They were on a fishing expedition,” he said of Chan’s complaint. “There’s absolutely no substance to that.”

Staton is angry that I posted this last night before he could get back to me with his comments; he said I’ve given Chan’s campaign fodder for a direct-mail hit piece. I responded that when a former lawmaker and current candidate files an official complaint with a state agency – a matter of public record, not just a verbal accusation – I think it’s newsworthy.

And if it turns out to be bogus, a cheap campaign tactic as Staton says, that’s newsworthy too.

Just so the process is clear: I received the release and complaint from Chan’s campaign at 5:47 p.m. I left voice-mails for Staton at his office and home, and e-mailed him at his office; I left a voice-mail and an e-mail for one of his associates; and I left a voice-mail for a Hancock campaign worker whose cell number I obtained from the campaign office. I had to be away from my phone and computer for a while, and updated the blog item as soon as I returned.

Staton also asked me to pull this item off the blog at least until I’ve “had a chance to evaluate its validity.” As I told him, it’s up to the FPPC to evaluate the complaint’s validity.

UPDATE @ 1:40 P.M. TUESDAY: One of the state’s top authorities on campaign finance, law and ethics has just told me that if there’s any violation at all here, it’s “trivial.”

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen a complaint like this — I’ve never seen them complain about officeholder funds versus campaign funds,” said Center for Governmental Studies President Bob Stern, who authored the Political Reform Act of 1974 and was the FPPC’s first general counsel from 1974 to 1983. “It just seems like overkill, even if it were true.”

By state law, candidates who voluntarily choose to limit their spending in state Senate campaigns may spend no more than $724,000 in a primary election and $1,086,000 in a general election. Stern said Chan’s complaint would only have any consequence if Hancock accepted these limits (which she has, while Chan has not) but then used the payments at issue to dodge the limits. Judging from her campaign finance reports, it doesn’t look as if she’s anywhere near those limits.

Even then, Stern said, it would depend on whether Waller clearly represented herself before March 1 — at events for which she was reimbursed from the officeholder account — as representing Hancock as a Senate candidate rather than as an Assemblywoman. And even then, he said, “it’s more of a bookkeeping thing.”

“They have met the standards of saying there might be a violation, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a very earthshaking one even if the facts are true,” Stern said.

UPDATE @ 3:55 P.M. THURSDAY: Chan’s campaign filed an addendum to its complaint today with the FPPC.


Will FBI probe Berkeley recruiting stance?

As promised last week, conservative activist group Move America Forward delivered a letter to U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello today asking federal authorities to investigate whether Berkeley broke the law with its anti-Marine recruiting stance. Kristin Bender, our Berkeley reporter, has details:

A copy was hand-delivered today to Deputy U.S. Attorney William Frentzen, said Move America Forward spokesman Ryan Gill.

“He said it might be of interest to their civil division and that he’d personally contact someone at the FBI,” Gill said. He did not have further details or a time line for when the group expects to have a response.

Read Kristin’s full report, after the jump… Continue Reading


Houston embraces public safety initiative

Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, announced his support Monday morning for legislation and a ballot initiative that would guarantee public safety funding, create a new agency and expand sentences for drug and gang-rated crimes.

The two parallel efforts, Assembly Bill 2417 and the “Safe Neighborhoods Act,” calls for the creation of a commission to evaluate and disclose the effectiveness of crime prevention measures and a new Office of Public Safety Education and Information.

Houston, who is also running in the June 3 election for Contra Costa County supervisor against incumbent Mary Nejedly Piepho, held a press conference in Alamo with county Sheriff Warren Rupf to announce his endorsement.

The assemblyman’s public show of support is more likely to boost his supervisor campaign than help pass the legislation.

GOP Assemblywoman Sharon Runner of Lancaster introduced the bill in early March but the Democratic-controlled Legislature has little appetite for a high-priced “tough on crime” measure at a time when lawmakers face an $8 billion deficit.

Continue Reading


Piepho, Gioia say, ‘Eat (local) fruits and veggies’

Contra Costa County Supervisors Mary Nejedly Piepho of Discovery Bay and John Gioia of Richmond will introduce Tuesday a new ordinance called “Buy Fresh, Buy Local.”

They say it’s a “farming sustainability program connecting East County farmers and their locally grown produce with West County communities and urban schools.”

Piepho, Gioia and representatives from the Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust and the county’s Agricultural Advisory Task Force and local East County farmers will speak at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting at approximately 10 a.m. at 651 Pine Street in Martinez.

“The program will encourage public and private facilities in the county to purchase locally grown produce, improve access to West County communities and integrate the value of locally grown food and farm products into existing educational curricula,” according to a press release.

The pair said that “low income communities which have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables are at a higher risk of obesity and other health problems due to poor diet. Additionally, the new law would open opportunities for the Contra Costa Health Department to incorporate the importance of incorporating fresh locally grown produce into existing programs.”


Whatever will they do with all that money?

If you have a worthy cause, I know a couple of guys with some extra cash sitting around.

Former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg dropped out of the June 3 state Senate Democratic primary contest, much to the disappointment of his fans. But in campaign finance reports filed recently, he still had $405,263 in the bank as of Dec. 31, 2007. Canciamilla has raised $568,210 since he started campaigning in 2006 and had not spent much of it.

Meanwhile, his opponent — now unopposed — Democratic Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier of Concord had $254,064 in his account as of March 17.

He had raised a total of $416,889 for what he expected would be a tough Senate primary fight. He transferred the vast majority of the money came from his Assembly re-election campaign fund, which he no longer needed after he opted to run for the Senate.

What will these guys do with all this money now?


The advantage of incumbency?

hancock.jpgAssemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, reportedly has received the California Democratic Party’s endorsement to succeed state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, in the 9th State Senate District.

“As a lifelong Democrat, I am proud to have the sole endorsement of my party,” Hancock said in her own news release. “We have worked hard on the issues that face our state — combating global warming, fixing our health care system, and improving our schools. I look forward to continuing that work in the State Senate.”

The release said Hancock got with 90% of the vote from Democrats based in her region, needing only 60 percent to win the endorsement. That’s gotta hurt for Hancock’s opponent, former Assembly Majority Leader Wilma Chan, D-Alameda.

chan.jpgChan, term-limited out in 2006, just hasn’t had the kind of public face-time that Hancock — finishing her final Assembly term this year — has had by remaining in office. And note Hancock’s quote, regarding the “sole endorsement;” Perata had endorsed them both, which essentially negated any possible benefit.

But don’t count Chan out. As of March 17, the end of the last reporting period, Chan’s campaign had $507,283 in the bank compared to Hancock’s $406,108, although a glance at filings since then shows Hancock may have stepped it up in the last two weeks, collecting $34,200 to Chan’s $9,700. Lotsa money on both sides; watch your mailboxes for what’s sure to be a direct-mail deluge.