State Fines Fullerton Councilwoman $100 for Late Disclosure

Fullerton Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald has agreed to pay a $100 fine to the state’s political watchdog agency after she failed to disclose details related to her position at the lobbying firm Curt Pringle & Associates.

Most public officials are required to file public statements of economic interest, or Form 700s, that outline income sources, real estate holdings and gifts. The forms allow journalists and members of the public to watch for potential conflicts of interest as government officials award contracts and make other decisions that could affect their financial interests.

In a brief interview, Fitzgerald said she disclosed income from Curt Pringle & Associates on the Form 700 she filed this year but neglected to specify that she is a vice president at the firm. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) issued her the smallest fine possible and found no “intent to conceal” or any conflicts of interest stemming from her position with the lobby firm and her decisions on council.

Fitzgerald amended her form to disclose her vice president position once she was informed of the violation, she said.

“The explanation is as simple as it gets,” Fitzgerald said.

Earlier this year, Voice of OC published an article showing how Fitzgerald’s disclosures, while meeting the law’s standards under the Political Reform Act, don’t go very far in shedding light on potential conflicts.

While Fitzgerald discloses income from Curt Pringle & Associates to her consulting firm CL7 Communications, Inc., the disclosures don’t identify Curt Pringle & Associates’ clients. Without that next level of disclosure, it’s impossible for the public to know precisely where her work for Pringle might conflict with her public duties, say government watchdogs.

“A lot of times [the disclosures] are not particularly meaningful, and this is… a poster child example,” Jessica Levinson, president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, stated in the article.

At the time of the article, City Hall watchers questioned Fitzgerald’s comments at a Fullerton council meeting in April criticizing the Orange County Water District’s handling of a years-long dispute over groundwater contamination in central county. An attorney who had hired Curt Pringle & Associates had worked for one of the polluters, and some questioned whether Fitzgerald was using her council seat to advocate for a client.

Fiztgerald said at the time Curt Pringle & Associates hadn’t worked for anyone involved in the groundwater battle since 2012

How deeply the FPPC looked at Fitzgerald’s potential conflicts is unclear. A full list of Pringle’s clients isn’t publicly available, and Fitzgerald said FPPC officials didn’t ask her to identify the firm’s clients.

The commission is scheduled to approve the fine at its Oct. 15 meeting.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek