A Peek Inside the World of Todd Spitzer, Inc.

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Every four years, seats on the local Democratic and Republican central committees come up for election. And though party insiders covet the positions, they usually are won through connections, not money.

Consider that in 2012 — the last year elections were held — there were nearly 150 candidates from the two parties running for seats. Yet the vast majority had less than $1,000 in their campaign accounts, with many having nothing at all.

One notable exception was county Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

He had $145,000 in his account, most of it from a one-time transfer from his state Assembly campaign funds in 2008. And ever since, he’s pumped tens of thousands more into the fund and spent a total of $337,000.

A Voice of OC analysis of seven years of publicly available reports shows Spitzer has been able to use the account to finance an affluent political lifestyle and build a crucial network of important connections for what will almost certainly be a run against District Attorney Tony Rackauckas – or one of his allies – in 2018.

Spitzer is candid about the importance of his unusual financial account, which does not appear to violate campaign finance laws.

“I run Todd Spitzer, the elected official, like a business,” said the lawyer and former assistant district attorney. “This is a 365-day-a-year business for me. My entire life, my social life, is surrounded by politicians.” And “it takes money to maintain those relationships,” he said.

And though it may seem unique now, Spitzer predicts similar levels of spending from these types of accounts will be commonplace as term limits force more state legislators back into local seats.

He has used his money to make donations to fellow Republicans, support charities, bolster the party coffers, and pay thousands of dollars in other expenses — like office supplies, hotel bills, and bar tabs. Here’s a sampling based on the Voice of OC review:

  • At least 200 payments totaling about $17,000 for restaurant, food, and beverage expenses. They range from dozens of bills at Peets Coffee & Tea to a $1,200 fundraiser for judicial candidate Mike Murray this year at the upscale Nieuport 17 restaurant.
  • A total of $1,200 at cigar shops for meetings and fundraisers, including four bills of at least $200 each.
  • A $173 bill at the Hyatt hotel in Sacramento for a statewide Republican Party convention.
  • A $831 bill at Zov’s Bistro, one of the county’s most high-profile political hang outs.
  • More than $800 in wedding gifts for friends and coworkers.

(Click here for a database of Spitzer’s central committee account.)

“If you look at my expense reports, you’d think two things,” he said. “The guy should be fat and have lung cancer.”

But the food, tobacco and alcohol are political fuel. Part of the cigar costs, for example, he said, he donated to the Orange County Young Republicans, who have a social day each year when they go shooting in the morning and then smoke cigars and drink alcohol in the afternoon.

The $831 at Zov’s was to cover the costs of a meeting he hosted of representatives of the Association of California Cities – Orange County to discuss “what the county will look like” in the future, he said. “It was all business.”

One purchase he may wish he didn’t make was a $402 gift to Susan Kang Schroeder in 2010 when Rackauckas appointed her as his chief of staff. A few months later Rackauckas fired Spitzer from his high-ranking post and started one of the ugliest political fights in recent county history.

Political rivals challenged Spitzer’s use of his Central Committee account, and a complaint was filed in 2012 against him with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).

“We received a complaint but upon review [the] Enforcement Division decided not to open the case,” wrote FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga in an email.

Orange County’s local campaign finance law, Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics or TINCUP, prohibits using money from supervisor or other county campaign accounts to make donations to other candidates.

But Spitzer’s Central Committee account isn’t affected by TINCUP because the local ordinance doesn’t cover central committee races.

Furthermore, Spitzer has raised some money in recent years for both his supervisor and central committee accounts from the same donors, but there is also no conflict because the central committee isn’t covered by local contribution limits.

Nonetheless, a good government expert said Spitzer’s central committee account shows how “flexible” the laws governing campaign finance are.

The definitions of what expenses are permitted from such office holder accounts, like wedding gifts, over the years have become “pretty elastic,” said ethics expert Tracy Westen, CEO of the Center for Governmental Studies in Dallas.

But, he said, “there’s still a point at which you can’t pay for personal purposes,” like sending family members on vacation to Bermuda or buying hugely expensive gifts or personal dinners.

The Voice of OC review showed some cases where the filings don’t describe how some expenditures are connected to allowed uses like political activity. The law, however, doesn’t require such details.

Spitzer insists the fund makes him more trustworthy than the typical elected official.

“The difference between me and a lot of electeds is I actually pay for things — I don’t take,” Spitzer said. “That’s how you get in trouble, when you take. I give and I report [on required state campaign forms.] I give and I report.”

Since 2011, the county Republican party has received $19,000 from Spitzer’s account, and candidates who have benefitted from his donations include: Congressman Ed Royce; former House Speaker John Boehner; state Sen. Pat Bates; and assemblymen Matt Harper and Allan Mansoor.

He also donated to Supervisor Shawn Nelson’s chief of staff, Denis Bilodeau, when Bilodeau ran for re-election to the board of the Orange County Water District in 2012.

State law also permits accounts, like Spitzer’s Central Committee fund, to make charitable donations. He has made several, including $25,000 last year to the Orange County Parks Foundation to create a Orange County Crime Victims’ Monument. Others over the years include $1,500 to United Way and $500 to the American Cancer Society.

How Spitzer’s Account Came to Be

Spitzer has been active in Orange County politics for more than 20 years, first serving as a school board member in the early 1990s. Then, in the late 1990s, he won his first seat on the Board of Supervisors, and in 2002 ascended to the state Assembly.

When term limits required him to leave the Assembly at the end of 2008, he had built up a war chest of more than $1.3 million that he could use for a future run for district attorney.

But TINCUP put lower limits in Orange County on how much money local candidates can receive from an individual donor for offices, like DA or county supervisor, than apply to state offices.

Since many of Spitzer’s contributors had donated above the local limit, he either had to give up the excess campaign cash or find another legal way to use it.

So, in November, 2008 he transferred $1.1 million to his DA campaign and put the remaining $235,000 in his newly-formed Central Committee account.

Spitzer said in an interview it was Jon Fleischman, publisher of the Republican newsletter FlashReport, who suggested he create the Central Committee account and, once it was formed, former county GOP Chairman Scott Baugh sought donations to help the party and its candidates.

Since its creation, Spitzer’s Central Committee account has received a total of about $345,000 and paid out more than $330,000, leaving it with about $15,000 at the end of June, this year, according to the Voice of OC review.

“I keep meticulous records,” said Spitzer. “Every single receipt has the name of the person who was there” at an event or meeting where he picked up the bill.

Although by far most of Spitzer’s money over the years came from his Assembly account, he has raised money from local donors, including some who also contribute to the account attached to his Board of Supervisors seat.

For example, last year the prison telephone firm Global Tel*Link Corporation donated $1,800 to Spitzer’s Central Committee fund and $1,900 to his supervisor campaign fund.

Christopher Townsend, a lobbyist who represents the company, also donated $1,900 to Spitzer’s Central Committee account last year.

Townsend said in a telephone interview he’s known and liked Spitzer for more than 20 years, adding he gladly gave and asked his client to give.

“He asked,” Townsend said. “Politicians all the time ask for help.”

As for critics who contend there is something legally wrong with Spitzer’s use of his central committee account, Spitzer spells out what he said happened in 2012.

He said his opponent, former GOP Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, filed a complaint with the District Attorney’s office about Spitzer’s two accounts. The DA’s office investigated, even though it had benefitted from the central committee account.

Spitzer had used funds from it to help underwrite costs for the DA office team’s participation in an annual race from Baker to Las Vegas. The DA’s office ultimately found nothing to prosecute.

Rackauckas’ staff sent their report to the state Attorney General’s office, which also found no violations and referred it to the FPPC, which similarly determined there was no case to prosecute.

“We answered all of the FPPC’s questions and they closed the case,” said Spitzer. “There was nothing there.”

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

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • Paul Lucas

    “I run Todd Spitzer, the elected official, like a business,” said the lawyer and former assistant district attorney. “This is a 365-day-a-year business for me. My entire life, my social life, is surrounded by politicians.” And “it takes money to maintain those relationships,” he said.

    This is quite frank and reveals how politics is pay to play business. Again shameful.

    • LFOldTimer

      Yeah, but give the man credit. He’s telling you exactly how the game is played. What other politician would publicly tell you that he has to buy the people he hangs with? When the money stops all the fair-weathered smile-in-your-face cronies disappear. Jesus, what a life.

  • octaxpayer

    Must be nice to have all this extra money with car provided etc.. Yet the normal employees struggle to try and have a normal life while the County bleeds them dry. I was going out of town the other day and notice a commercial for Todd Spitzer. I thought -gesh- you can not escape this evil corrupt person. As if he had anything to do with anything of any good.

  • LFOldTimer

    Look, Spitzer is your consummate politician. He’s mastered the game. He knows all the tricks and loopholes to claw his way to the top. He knows how to use words that won’t come back to bite him later. For all his years in politics I can’t recall any big Spitzer scandals. Can you? Now granted, the situation that occurred at the Lake Forest taco shop completely shocked me. I was flabbergasted that Spitzer left himself that wide open. Totally out of his public character. But look how he wiggled away. My guess is that his political connections saved him. There’s no doubt in my mind had I done that I’d get a free ride to Orange, compliments of the County taxpayers. Whatever. But money is the grease that turns the political wheels. Spitzer has the money. He’s got the connections. He’s got the history. And he knows how to master the game. Barring some unforeseen highly improbable future event in the next couple years, I see no way you’re going to keep Todd Spitzer out of the corner office at the DA’s. If Kang-Schroeder is his most viable competition it’s as good as over. I would like to see Judge Goethals run against him and make it a contest. But for a variety of reasons the chances of that happening are likely slim and none.

    • David Zenger

      “My guess is that his political connections saved him.”

      No! It was Karma the Wonder Wolf Dog!

    • Jacki Livingston

      No, I cannot remember any, because no one writes about them or looks at them. The fact…FACT…that he uses his wife, the presiding judge at Worker’s Comp, to muscle any employee of the County who dares to speak should have gotten him disbarred by now. He uses his chief of staff, Martha Ochoa, to shield him from ever having to know about actual crime and corruption. That way, he never has to call anyone on the carpet who might have dirt on him. Oh, I dearly hope he runs for DA. Because I intend to publish every email, every document, every confidential internal piece of paper that shows that he is not just an observer, but an active participant in crimes against people, and conspiracy to steal from the taxpayers, for his war chest. He is in it up to his eyeballs. Oh, yes, yes, YES, Todd…run. I cannot wait.

  • Jacki Livingston

    http://www.spitzerlawoffice.com/apps/blog/client-louise-armstrong-emerges-victorious-1

    Todd Spitzer is the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. His wife, Jamie, is the Presiding Judge at the Anaheim Worker’s Compensation Appeals Board. My case, a claim for eight hundred dollars, took five years to litigate through the system. Earlier this year, Judge Spitzer assigned the case to herself, for three days, before I protested. This was a few days after I had an extensive conversation with Ms. Martha Ochoa, who is Todd Spitzer’s chief of staff. She then assigned the case to Judge Louise Armstrong, who was not just a client of Todd Spitzer’s, but a close personal friend. He advertises his relationship with Judge Armstrong on his self promotion website with his law blog. This relationship is not a standard attorney/client case. There are numerous news articles and other propaganda from Spitzer where he, himself, touts his close friendship with Judge Armstrong, because he did not just represent her after her brutal attack, but he also worked with her to make state law. I applaud their efforts, by the way. It was a good thing. However, this triad of nepotism/cronyism creates a clear and present example of how Spitzer conducts his affairs.

    My claim was for four days’ pay, from when I was hospitalized for a mini-stroke, resulting from the stress of the harassment and abuse I got after I reported that county employees were actively involved in a criminal enterprise with a local nursing home chain. The nursing home chain had already been sued for extreme misconduct and embezzlement. I found absolute proof that they were stealing patient trust accounts and also defrauding the state for multiple billings of patients who private payed or were deceased. This ring of embezzlement is netting millions from the taxpayers. I spent six years trying to get someone…anyone…from the BoS or DA to put a stop to it. None of them even tried. Instead, I was written up on false accusations, assaulted and threatened. My eight hundred dollar claim wound up costing the taxpayers a fortune in legal and medical expenses.

    I was finally forced out, with a paltry payment. In the written agreement, the County was ordered not to give any kind of negative reference. They have sandbagged every job I have applied for. They have blackballed me in every kind of social service venue. I have had my career, reputation and health destroyed by this corrupt machine. However, for Todd Spitzer to have the unmitigated AUDACITY to run for DA, after the flim flam sleaze he has used to undermine my case, is unbelievable. I am one tiny person. I am just one disabled woman, who worked very hard to get off public assistance and give back to the county that I loved. I lost my entire career, because I refused to “play ball” (their phrase, not mine) and ignore that they were stealing every penny my comatose patients had. They were furious that I refused to let the taxpayers, our ultimate employers, foot the bill for their corruption. Spitzer is a crook. There is no other word for this. For him to rig it so that his wife assigns a judge who is absolutely in debt to him as a judge on a stress abuse case where he is the top boss, and ultimate defendant, is a conflict of interest on the highest levels. Spitzer is in flagrant violation of both the law, and the ethical canons of his profession. He should not be District Attorney. He should be disbarred, and his wife right next to him.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Oh, and would it surprise anyone that the nursing home owners and the attorney who represented the corrupt nursing home in the lawsuit, are donors to Spitzer and Janet Nguyen?

  • Bert Ashland

    I think the following sentence from the article clearly defines the situation: ” “The law, however, doesn’t require such details.”

    I suggest Tracy and Norberto and just move on.

  • Paul Lucas

    The financing of political candidates and campaigns needs to be reviewed and altered as fit to reflect the modern reality that is different form when the rules were written. The loop holes just simply allow more shenanigans.

  • David Zenger

    It takes a lot of Brasso to make that thing shine.