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Complaint against California campaign finance watchdog

A campaign finance investigation against a senior California political watchdog official has remained in limbo and hidden from the public for months, raising questions about whether the government organization holds its own members the same. level as candidates and campaigns across the state.

The lawsuit against Catharine Baker, a member of the California Fair Political Practices Commission and former Republican lawmaker, was filed in April with the agency’s law enforcement division. On November 12 – the same day the Times asked for information about the case – the FPPC’s enforcement division withdrew from the investigation and asked Atty. General Rob Bonta will take control.

“I am very surprised by this,” said Bob Stern, former general counsel for the FPPC. “The question then becomes, what other cases do they not reveal? Is this a bad example or typical of how they work? “

The Chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, Richard Miadich, said he asked staff members months ago to forward the case to the Attorney General and provided a copy of an email dated April 29 confirming this direction. But he said he didn’t know why the transfer of the case had only taken place a few days ago.

“We have never had a situation where a sitting commissioner has had a complaint filed against them,” Miadich said on Monday. “We needed time to do our homework.

A statement from Bonta’s office confirmed receipt of the investigation but offered no further details.

Baker was appointed to the committee last December, one of five members who oversee the implementation and enforcement of California’s campaign finance laws. She served on the State Assembly from 2014 to 2018 representing parts of the Eastern Bay Area and disputes the allegations contained in the anonymous complaint, submitted through the FPPC’s online system in April.

“The anonymous complaint is incorrect, both factually and legally,” Baker said in a telephone interview.

The question is whether she did not properly file documents related to a possible 2030 campaign for the State Assembly and whether additional donor disclosure was required when transferring $ 125,000 of remaining funds from her 2018 campaign committee to an account for a possible future campaign.

“Our documents were complete and accurate and filed on time with advice from legal counsel to ensure full compliance,” she said.

Complaints against political candidates and campaigns are investigated by law enforcement staff of the State Commission. If an investigation is initiated, FPPC officials notify the parties in question and disclose the investigation in an online system that can be accessed by the public.

But after the investigation into Baker’s activity was initiated, the information was not posted in the online database. Miadich told The Times that the agency’s “transparency portal” is designed to provide information on cases within the purview of the commission, and in this case, information gathered by FPPC staff members did not fall into this category.

“At no time have we actively investigated this complaint,” he said.

On November 12, The Times asked the commission’s press office whether an investigation into Baker was underway and, if so, the status of the investigation. On the same day, Chief Law Enforcement Angela Brereton sent a letter to Bonta asking her department to take over the case.

“Because Commissioner Baker is currently in office, the Commission is recusing itself from this matter,” Brereton wrote, also noting that FPPC staff members “have not made any decision” as to whether Baker had violated the rules. state campaign finance regulations.

Miadich said Monday that Brereton could have made it clear that plans to transfer the case have been in the works for some time.

“I think it would have been helpful for him to contextualize this letter,” he said.

Stern, a co-author of the California Political Reform Act, said the commission’s actions could be seen by some as paying close attention to Baker and that FPPC investigators should have quickly turned the matter over to Bonta.

“These are just appearances,” he said. “You don’t want to investigate your own agency, especially the commissioners. “

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