Complaint Accuses Nunez of Misusing Charity

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In a filing with the ethics panel, a foundation says the Assembly speaker used funds given to a nonprofit for political purposes. He denies the claim.

A complaint filed with state ethics officials Tuesday accused
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez of using a charity to illegally funnel
donations into political activities.

The complaint cites more than $270,000 that Nuñez solicited in 2005 and 2006 from corporations, utilities and other interests with a stake in
legislation to pay for toy giveaways, scholarships, youth summits and
other events that featured Nuñez and were arranged by his staff.

The donations were the subject of a Times investigation in November,
which showed how a small charity — Collective Space — in Nuñez’s
downtown Los Angeles district wrote checks at the direction of the
speaker’s staff for events that benefited his constituents.

In a complaint filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission,
the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights accused Nuñez of
dodging state restrictions on campaign donations by asking donors to
give to the nonprofit, then using the money for his political benefit.

"The speaker and Collective Space claim it was only a ‘conduit’ for
the speaker’s funds," wrote foundation Executive Director Doug Heller
in the complaint. "If this is the case, the contributions were never
intended for the charity and should be considered direct donations to
the speaker and his events."

Heller asked the ethics panel to either punish Nuñez or close "a glaring loophole" in state campaign finance rules.

The Fair Political Practices Commission has 14 days to determine if it will investigate the complaint or request more time to do so.

Nuñez said the complaint misinterprets the law. He called the
allegations "a huge stretch from where reality is of what law allows a
member of the Legislature to do."

"People can file complaints every day of the week about whatever
they want to file complaints about," said Nuñez, adding that there was nothing illegal or unethical about his work with Collective Space.

Under a 1997 state law, politicians must file public reports
whenever donors give to non-campaign causes at the politician’s
request. Such donations are not presumed to be gifts or campaign
donations, according to the law, if made "principally for charitable

In its complaint, the foundation argued that the money Nuñez
solicited for Collective Space should be considered campaign
contributions because charity officials had no involvement in deciding
how to spend the donations and the money was spent to highlight Nuñez’s
political profile.

The donations Nuñez solicited for the charity ranged from $2,500 to $50,000. At least six of the 20 donors — Blue Cross of California, California Correctional Peace Officers’ Assn., Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Co. and Zenith Insurance — also gave the maximum $6,600 to Nuñez’s political committee.

Consumer Watchdog
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