The Tracy Firefighters Association is on next week’s California Fair Political Practices Commission agenda, with the FPPC set to vote on a $25,000 fine levied against the association’s political action committee.
At issue is the PAC’s failure to file campaign disclosure statements after giving money to local political candidates.
When the FPPC holds its regular meeting Thursday in Sacramento, the Tracy Firefighters Association PAC will be on the consent calendar, which includes three items to be voted on, most likely all three at once without any further discussion.
The “stipulation, decision and order” that the commission will vote on has already been subject to negotiation between the FPPC and the association’s attorneys. Tracy Firefighters Association’s president, Capt. Paul O’Neal, said the matter had already been resolved after the firefighters union hired an attorney who specializes in laws related to political action committees.
“We have nothing to hide. We made some mistakes,” O’Neal said. “We reached an agreement with the FPPC several months ago, and they found nothing malicious.”
O’Neal said the administrative mistakes the PAC made over the years were the result of inexperience among the volunteer officers.
He added that the union took steps to correct the violations when it learned two years ago that the FPPC was investigating, and the $25,000 fine was the result of negotiations between the association’s attorneys and the FPPC.
“We chose to accept their offer and move on. We’ve paid it in full, and now the only thing is, it’s a process for them to have their (commission) to approve the settlement, but it’s already paid and agreed to,” O’Neal said, adding that the union hired a treasurer experienced in PAC filings to make sure future reports would be complete and submitted on time.
The stipulation that the FPPC will review Thursday identifies 19 times since 2012 that the association failed to file campaign finance reports. The violations subject to the fine go back only to 2012, because of the statute of limitations for enforcement of campaign finance rules, but the FPPC notes that the association had not filed any statements before that, dating back to the PAC’s formation Dec. 1, 2000.
According to the document, from 2012 to the end of 2018, the association took in $17,761 and spent $43,979. That includes about $10,000 spent on the 2012 election, and the stipulation also includes details of some of the PAC’s spending on the 2014, 2016 and 2018 elections.
The PAC spent $5,743 between July and September of 2014, including $2,500 each in contributions to then-council candidates Robert Rickman and Charles Manne. In 2016, the PAC spent $5,314 from July to October, including $2,457 to support Rickman’s campaign for mayor and another $2,457 for council candidate Mary Mitracos. In 2018, the PAC spent $3,093 between July and October, including $1,000 for Rickman’s re-election campaign and $1,000 for council candidate Juana Dement.
All the PAC’s contributions were made late in the election cycle, which meant they would have to be reported within 24 hours of being made, but in 2014 and 2016 they weren’t reported at all and in 2018 the reports were filed late.
Failure to file the 24-hour reports resulted in one of eight counts, each of which is subject to a $5,000 fine. There are also four counts against the PAC for failing to file semiannual reports and three for failing to file pre-election campaign statements.
The FPPC believes that the local firefighters union wasn’t making a deliberate effort to sidestep campaign finance rules. The stipulation states that there was “no evidence of intentional concealment. Rather, the violations in this case appear to be the result of inexperience, negligence, and recklessness by a PAC that had sufficient resources to hire a professional treasurer, but failed to do so.”
After the FPPC’s discussions with the association’s attorneys, the total fine, which could have been $40,000, was set at $25,000.
O’Neal acknowledged that the violations were the result of inexperience among the volunteers who took charge of the PAC from its inception. He said that four PAC officers named in the stipulation — former treasurer Eric Oliveri, former president Scott Byers, current treasurer Carlos Hampton and current president Justin Lasaga — were not in those positions at the time the violations occurred.
O’Neal said they were named in the stipulation because they were the officers at the time the FPPC did its investigation.
“None of them, other than one filing that we missed in 2018, none of them are associated with any of the missed filings,” O’Neal said. “It’s unfortunate for all four of those gentlemen, that their names are tied to that.
“The last four, the current ones and the two previous to that, worked diligently to provide information to the FPPC to make sure that all of the missed filings that we could go back and file, we did as quickly as we could.”