State Watchdog Gives DA Light Reprimand Over Financial Disclosures

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The state Fair Political Practices Commission told District Attorney Tony Rackauckas it’s satisfied he’s begun requiring his chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, to file annual conflict of interest statements but warned him not to make the same mistake again.

The July 3 letter was in response to a complaint filed by Orange County watchdog Shirley Grindle who accused Rackauckas of “willfully” ignoring state law since 2010 when he named Schroeder his chief of staff.

“I am disappointed that the FPPC has such a weak enforcement process,” said Grindle. “They’re excusing him.”

Rackauckas declined to be interviewed.

The issue came to light in February when Voice of OC reported Schroeder, a longtime member of the DA’s inner circle, failed to file any conflict of interest statements, also known as 700 Forms, in the five years since Rackauckas elevated her to the chief of staff position.

The 40-year-old state law requires a government worker who makes or who participates in making decisions that could affect their outside financial interests to publicly list potential conflicts of interest. It also requires a government worker to begin filing if they are appointed to a newly created position that meets the reporting standards.

Rackauckas never listed his chief of staff among the roughly 20 top executives that he said made or participated in making decisions that could affect their outside income. And he did not require Schroeder to begin filing when he appointed her to the new position.

“Once brought to your attention, you timely complied with the Board of Supervisors’ (your agency’s code reviewing body) request to review and update your agency’s conflict of interest code,” said the FPPC letter to Rackauckas, indicating it somehow determined Rackauckas didn’t know until the Voice of OC story was published that he was supposed to list Schroder as a required filer.

The letter didn’t say how FPPC officials determined Rackauckas, a lawyer, was unaware of the filing requirement.

After Voice of OC wrote its story, Grindle filed a complaint against Rackauckas and Schroeder with the FPPC but was told she first had to complain to the Orange County Board of Supervisors because they were responsible for making sure the law was followed locally.

Grindle refilled with the county counsel’s office and Schroeder subsequently was told by the county she had to go back and file for the previous five years. She had trouble getting it right but last month finally submitted corrected conflict of interest reports.

Rackauckas meanwhile added Schroeder plus about 250 other lawyers in his office to his list of government workers who are required to file the disclosure forms.

You can contact Tracy Wood at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.

  • Shirley L. Grindle

    This just confirms what I have always thought of the FPPC – they really do not want to get embroiled in going after local.elected officials. No way should Orange County turn over enforcement of our local campaign laws to the FPPC – it essentially would end up as “no enforcement”. Never understood why the FPPC let Larry Agran off the hook when he repeatedly skirted the Irvine contribution limit by setting up a slate mailer organization to which his developer friends donated unlimited amounts of money that was then used to fund his campaigns and maintain control of the Irvine City Council. That is how Agran got around the Irvine campaign contribution limit.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Hope T-Rack will not have to make a work comp claim for that light slap on the wrist – that must have “hurt”….not. What a joke.

  • David Zenger

    And now we know why the Supervisors want this operation as its “Ethics Commission.”