Investigation Responds to Consumer Watchdog’s Complaint That Núñez Used Nonprofit to Illegally Fundraise and Pay for Political Events
Santa Monica, CA — The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has opened a formal investigation into questionable fundraising by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez through a suspended nonprofit organization, in response to a complaint filed by Consumer Watchdog (formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights). Consumer advocates called for the investigation after revelations that Speaker Núñez used the organization to funnel* more than a quarter-million dollars in special interest campaign contributions to pay for events featuring the Speaker.
“The Speaker raised over-the-limit campaign contributions from companies with interests before the legislature, spent the money on profile-raising events, and used a defunct nonprofit to hide what he was doing. A formal investigation shows the Fair Political Practices Commission takes his actions seriously,” said Carmen Balber with Consumer Watchdog.
The investigation comes on the heels of new regulations issued by the Commission that tighten disclosure rules for politicians who spend campaign money on meals, gifts and overseas travel. Núñez’s use of campaign funds to purchase wines, meals and luxury items sparked the tougher scrutiny, in part.
Speaker Núñez solicited $271,564 from 20 different corporations and organizations in donations to a supposed nonprofit, Collective Space. Nearly all of the donors were prior contributors to the Speaker, and six – Blue Cross of California, California Correctional Peace Officers Association, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, The Gas Company-Sempra, and Zenith Insurance – had already made the maximum allowed contribution to the Speaker’s campaign committee. Most of the corporations or organizations had (and continue to have) interests in matters before the state legislature, and had political reasons to seek the goodwill of the Speaker of the Assembly.
The money paid for events organized by Speaker Núñez’s staff that raised his profile in the community, and included: “Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez’s Inaugural Youth Legislative Conference,” “Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez’s Soccerfest 2006,” “Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez’s Toy Drive,” and “Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez’s Sacramento Student Summit.” Promotional materials for at least one event featured the Speaker’s name with no mention of Collective Space.
“Naming the events ‘Núñez’s Toy Drive’ and ‘Núñez’s Soccerfest’ tells the whole story: How better to boost your political image than to advertise how you’re helping kids?” said Balber.
The fundraising appears to be in clear violation of the rules governing candidate fundraising for nonprofits, as explained in a series of advice letters from the FPPC (issued in an unrelated inquiry). Contributions made at a legislator’s behest are subject to campaign contribution limits, however “charitable” events may be exempted if they meet certain conditions. The Speaker’s events failed several of these tests, including a ban on the legislator organizing the event, and a requirement that promotional materials not identify the legislator by name.
The fundraising raises further questions because the organization, Collective Space, had its nonprofit status suspended in early 2005, and remained suspended for the entire period the Speaker was channeling it funds. It filed papers to regain its status after its relationship with the Speaker became public.
Read the complaint, filed by Consumer Watchdog with the Fair Political Practices Commission in January.
* In an e-mail sent to the Los Angeles Times, Núñez spokesman Steve Maviglio said Collective Space “simply served as a conduit for the funds; the speaker did not raise money for Collective Space.”