LOS ANGELES, CA — State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez‘s political committee received an election-day windfall a $4 million check that he plans to use for dinners, retreats, political advice and polling to benefit Democratic legislators.
Officials Thursday said the Nov. 7 check from the state Democratic Party amounted to a refund of unspent funds that Nunez, one of the most powerful Democrats in Sacramento, raised to benefit the party and its candidates. It gives the speaker a cascade of cash at a time when his committee is prevented from raising new dollars, because he cannot run again for Assembly under term limits.
But a spokeswoman for one watchdog group questioned whether the arrangement was legal, since the source of the funds could be companies or individuals that already contributed the maximum allowable amount to Nunez.
“It’s money laundering and they are contributions the speaker should return,” said Carmen Balber of the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which has disagreed with Nunez over fundraising issues in the past.
State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres did not return a phone call to his office.
Steven Maviglio, a Nunez spokesman, called the donation “essentially a paper transfer” that stemmed from rules under Proposition 34, a 2000 law that set up restrictions on political giving. There are no limits on how much political parties can give to state candidates. He said any suggestion that the arrangement was improper was “wrong. It’s legal.”
He said the money will be used to finance operations of the Democratic Assembly caucus, including paying for political consultants, polling, retreats and meals.
Nunez “raised the money for the party,” Maviglio said. “This is the only way we could spend the money for the caucus.”
The check more than triples the amount of money Nunez reported in his political committee, Friends of Fabian Nunez 2006, in late October. According to state records, the committee had a balance of $1.3 million at that time.
The speaker maintains a second committee to support ballot initiatives, which had about a $1.6 million balance.
Election-law attorney Fred Woocher said the donation appeared permissible, since there is no limit on the amount of money political parties can give to candidates. But he said such donations go to the long-standing question of whether Proposition 34 was meaningful reform or “a gaping loophole without meaningful limits.”
The law was written “with an eye toward increasing the power of the parties and their role for receipt and distribution of campaign contributions,” Woocher said.
Democrats control the Assembly and faced few competitive races this year.