Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fair practices panel cracks down on political 'slush funds'

The California Fair Political Practices Commission enacted a new regulation Thursday banning the kind of political committee fund transfers that former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata engaged in recently.

Perata, D-Oakland, just after Election Day moved $1.5 million from his Leadership California committee — which had raised funds ostensibly to recall a state senator and to oppose a legislative redistricting reform ballot measure, among other things — into his legal defense fund, with which he's battling a years-long FBI corruption probe; he moved another $400,000 in early December.

Long before these transfers, the FPPC had been considering cracking down on how politicians can use money in candidate-controlled ballot measure committee accounts. Reform advocates said old regulations had let politicians use such committees as largely unregulated slush funds with which they can raise money for one purpose but then use it for another with impunity; Democratic and Republican leaders opposed the new regulation, saying it would infringe upon candidates' and elected officials' constitutional rights.

The commission voted 4-0 to adopt new regulation 18521.5 at its monthly meeting Thursday.

"The commission feels that moneys that are raised under the guise of supporting candidate-controlled ballot measure committees should actually be used for their intended purpose and not for other candidate activities," FPPC executive Advertisementdirector Roman Porter said later Thursday.

The new rule requires that a candidate or officeholder's name be included in the committee's title, along with some identifier that it's a ballot-measure committee rather than come other kind of campaign committee; that money from such committees be spent only to support or oppose ballot measures; and that more detail be provided for payments to political consultants and other recipients.

Perata spokesman Jason Kinney last month called the transfer "perfectly legal, appropriate and commonplace." Critics agreed it was legal, yet said raising money ostensibly for one cause and then spending it on his own, personal defense was duplicitous. Perata's legal defense fund has spent at least $1.82 million since the start of 2005 to battle an FBI probe; nobody has been charged with a crime.

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