Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fire district candidate criticized for incomplete finance filing

A Moraga-Orinda fire district board candidate has had to explain the omission of a substantial union contribution from a recent campaign finance statement, which has led to speculation the omission may have been intended to obscure his union support.

Robert Nelson chalks up the omission to being on a five-week trip out of town when a letter confirming the financial contribution from the International Association of Firefighters Local 1230 Political Activity Committee came to his house. The contribution, Nelson said, did not make it to his campaign treasurer's desk in time to be included in the Sept. 30 campaign finance statement.

A similar letter was received by fellow fire board candidate Brook Mancinelli on July 18 — Mancinelli's campaign finance statement for the same period, however, shows $3,700 in contribution from the firefighter's union. Nelson and Mancinelli share the same treasurer.

"There is no deception or deviousness on my part," added Nelson, a retiree after 30 years of fire service. "They (the union) approached me to run for this position. I didn't approach them. I've told them I have to take an equal representation to the tax payers. I can't play favorites."

Some consider the union backing a key piece of information about this race. Moraga resident Richard Olsen thinks voters should not underestimate the potential for conflict the union's endorsement imposes on the candidates.

Olsen, having been on the first AdvertisementMoraga town commission before Moraga and Orinda formed a joint fire district, a merger that he championed, is concerned union backing erodes the judgment of candidates who are supposed to represent taxpayers.

"Their election would result in decided advantages for Local 1230 members," Olsen said. "There is no question about what the union is trying to do."

Union-backed board members are privy to inside information on board bargaining positions relative to wages and benefits, pending disciplinary actions against union members, "hire and fire" responsibilities over the fire chief, and other board business on behalf of Local 1230 members, Olsen said.

Arthur Kroeger, a Concord-based accountant serving as Nelson's and Mancinelli's treasurer, filed what he had — a statement for Nelson through Sept. 30 showing $700 and leaving out $3,600 in union contributions.

Nelson and his campaign treasurer deny they have been trying to mislead anyone.

"I don't understand what I did wrong," Nelson said. "I knew that I would be getting something from them (the union), but I never knew when they were coming."

Kroeger said he had to "see the deposit" before he could include it the filing statement.

A spokesman at the Fair Political Practices Commission said candidates who do not adhere to campaign finance rules risk an administrative penalty of up to $5,000. A section of the code, however, says statements can be amended at anytime and can be considered evidence of good faith during enforcement proceedings.

Union president Vince Wells said the union's PAC had nothing to do with the omission of contributions Nelson received.

"We've endorsed a candidate. They are not members of the union," Wells said. "In the past, we've lacked communication the fire board. (An endorsement) at least gives us an ear to make sure our issues are heard."

Nelson is confident he has run his campaign ethically. A new disclosure statement is certain to indicate his support from the firefighter's union, he said.

"I follow the rules of what people tell me to do," Nelson said.

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