The OC Register’s Martin Wisckol reported last Friday on a 600 page complaint filed by former Democratic Party of Orange County Chairman Frank Barbaro alleging illegal contributions that helped lead to the Republican take-over of the reigns of Irvine city government. The story currently lies behind the Register’s pay-wall so I’ll have to try to summarize for those of you who don’t have access.
According to Wisckol’s article:
An out-of-state political group appears to have violated election laws when it funneled $200,000 in anonymous campaign donations to a conservative Orange County committee, which spent the money in a successful bid to shift the longstanding balance of power on the Irvine City Council, documents and interviews show.
Contributions from Virginia-based Citizens in Charge potentially violate laws governing political activity and donor disclosure by nonprofit groups. The case is similar to the much larger 2012 Arizona-based contribution for statewide ballot measures that resulted in a record $16 million in fines and settlement payments.
“The apparent scheme will, if allowed to succeed, provide a convoluted, clever and deceptive template for keeping secret the identities of campaign donors in California in all future elections,” reads the complaint, filed by former county Democratic Party Chairman Frank Barbaro.
A total of $186,000 was poured into the Irvine mayoral and City Council races by California Term Limits PAC, which was formed three months before the election by Irvine resident and Republican consultant Jon Fleischman.
Fleischman’s PAC received nearly all its money – 98 percent – from Citizens in Charge, according to campaign disclosures. And nearly all its spending – 93 percent – was directly on the Irvine mayor and council races.
Fleischman, is also the publisher of the influential right-wing political blog The Flash Report. According to the article Fleischman said he did not know who donated money to Citizens in Charge and that he did not solicit donations for the Virginia nonprofit. “I followed every rule there was to follow,” Fleischman said.
The same argument was made by the campaign committee that was fined by the FPPC earlier this year for illegal contributions to two support two state-wide initiatives.
But the complaint details the threads of relationship between Fleischman and the donor organization behind the contributions at issue in the complaint.
From the story:
Fleischman and Jacob [president of Citizens in Charge] met on a trip paid for by California Term Limits, according to campaign disclosures. On Aug. 1, 2012, Fleischman formed California Term Limits PAC. On Sept. 5, the new PAC received $200,000 from Citizens in Charge and on Sept. 11 it began spending that money on the Irvine mayor and council races.
Although that spending comes closely on the heels of receiving the money, Fleischman said he did not know how he was going to spend it until he received it. He said Jacob, who he’s known for more than a decade and who is a longtime advocate of term limits and citizen initiatives, encouraged him to establish a permanent political action committee to continue the fight for term limits after the Prop. 28 battle.
Fleischman said he didn’t discuss possible uses for the money with Jacob before he got it.
I’ll wait for a final resolution of the complaint before I suggest Fleischman should be barred from politics for his activities, but I have to say, I find his assertions of innocence to be about as believable as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I think Fleischman’s quote from a 2012 Voice of OC article about the alleged secretive campaign contributions sums up his position on such contributions more effectively than any words I could dream up.
“If you’re not able to protect the names of your donors, soon you won’t have any donors,” he told Voice of OC for a 2012 story about the outside money in the Irvine race. “People like Larry Agran can be very intimidating to people. And that becomes chilling.”
I hope the FPPC investigation doesn’t take too long.