Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, at the urging of campaign watchdog Shirley Grindle, returned a $1,700 campaign contribution she received from the Orange County Employees Association or OCEA in apparent violation of the county’s campaign finance law.

“After several e-mails back and forth with Janet Nguyen, she finally refunded [the] contribution she had accepted from OCEA,” Grindle wrote in an email to Voice of OC.

Nguyen did not return phone calls seeking comment but earlier told The Orange County Register that her campaign staff did not make her aware of the source of some of her donations.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission or FPPC, which enforces state laws on campaign donations, is investigating four of the five county supervisors for potential violations. But the amount of money a candidate may raise from an individual donor or business is governed the county’s campaign finance ordinance, dubbed TINCUP, an acronym for “Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics.” Grindle is the author of TINCUP.

The Register reported last month that the county employees union donated $1,700 to Nguyen in 2009 through its political action committee. In 2010, the union contributed another $1,700 to Nguyen through a political committee named California Citizens for Fair Government, the Register reported.

The money was for Nguyen’s 2012 supervisorial re-election campaign, but at the time the county’s law on campaign contributions limited a group’s total donations to $1,700 for each election cycle.

“I had urged her to make this refund because the source of funds originated with OCEA who passed substantial funds on to two other PACs,” Grindle stated in her email. “It is like pulling teeth to get these elected officials to refund money.”

OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino confirmed the union received the check.

“She did return it, and I wish more politicians would be returning us money,” he said. “It’s nice to receive money after so many years of giving money to politicians.”

The county registrar of voters office confirmed it had received notification of the refund through an email from Nguyen’s campaign treasurer, David Bauer. An official amendment to Nguyen’s campaign forms will be filed with the next scheduled campaign reports on Jan. 31.

“I encouraged Janet to do the right thing and return the money to which she replied she would check with her Treasurer (who in turn was supposed to check with the FPPC — what for I don’t know since the FPPC does not investigate or enforce violations of a LOCAL ordinance and in this case it was a violation of the TINCUP Ordinance),” Grindle wrote.

“The last e-mail I sent to her (after which she refunded the $1,700 to OCEA) I informed her of the FPPC’s non-role in local ordinances and told her she should make the refund and quit delaying,” Grindle wrote. “After all — it isn’t that she hasn’t got a sizable sum in the bank.”

Nguyen, a Republican, is running for the state Senate in 2014, and her latest campaign reports, filed at the end of July, show she had accumulated a total war chest of more than $430,000.

The Orange County Republican Party has forbidden GOP candidates from accepting campaign contributions from labor unions.

The employees union funneled $80,000 to Republican candidates by channeling the money through other groups, according to the Register. One was California Citizens for Fair Government, the other California Citizens Fighting Government Waste or CCFG.

From the Register’s story:

Rather than donating money directly to a candidate, the union turned to, among other things, independent expenditures — such as sending out its own campaign mail for a candidate and giving to other PACs, said Don Drozd, general counsel for OCEA.

Drozd said last month that he didn’t recall specifics of how OCEA ended up bankrolling the fair government committee, but he suspected that someone approached OCEA to contribute to support Nguyen. He didn’t know who approached OCEA, but he was confident it wasn’t Nguyen.

One of Nguyen’s employees, Chris Anderson, was the treasurer for the fair government committee, and he also is a principal officer for the Citizens Fighting Government Waste committee, according to the Register.

Nguyen’s campaign treasurer, Bauer, is the treasurer of the fighting government waste committee.

Nguyen told the Register she knew Anderson was creating the fair government committee but wasn’t involved in its creation and didn’t discuss potential donors with him.

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