Curry: Nobody is Enforcing Newport Beach Campaign Finance Laws

Last spring, I introduced political reforms designed to ensure the enforceability of our campaign finance laws and to increase transparency about who is behind the candidates running for city council. The Team Newport incumbents refused to consider these reforms, saying they were not needed.

Now we see they are, Lee Lowrey’s campaign reports filed with the city show he received two donations from the Southern California Coalition of Businesses and Taxpayers (SCCBT, ID; 1365006) in the amounts of $250 on June 30, and $1,000 on September 12. The legal limit for contributions from one donor is $1,100. Violations of this provision is a misdemeanor and carries the penalty of either disqualification for candidates or removal from office for those who are elected.   The evidence of the violation is not in dispute, it is on Mr. Lowrey’s own reports he signed under penalty of perjury.

The city attorney takes the position he is not authorized to enforce the city’s own laws regarding campaign contributions. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), lacks jurisdiction to enforce municipal laws. The District Attorney can enforce this provision, however his principal political advisor, Michael Schroeder, is a donor and endorser of Lowrey. The city council has the authority under its law to appoint a Special Council to fully and fairly ensure the integrity of its own campaign laws. The public must ask: “Who will enforce our laws?”

The SCCBT is a money laundering recipient committee that allows donors to wash their donations and conceal their real identity. The public has a right to know, “Who is the SCCBT, and who gave the committee the money to launder to Lowrey?” Several Newport Beach based entities are listed as donors, they include C33 LLC, Co Investments, Villa San Clemente. Do you have any idea who the real people are behind these contributions? Neither do I. C33 LLC appears to be a developer doing business in the city of Cypress who was directing donations to council candidates in that city. We do know from public reports that in October, 2014, the SCCBT gave $17,000 to the Bob McCaffrey-Dave Ellis controlled Residents for Reform.

One donor to SCCBT we can identify is Steve Baric. Baric is the lobbyist for Southside Towing. In January, the city council overturned the Newport Beach Police Department evaluation of towing companies that ranked Southside last, and awarded them a lucrative towing contract. This was done despite serious questions about the ability of Southside to preserve vehicles that were evidence in criminal investigations.

If Baric is the source of the donations to Lowrey, it’s more problematic since Baric independently gave $900 to Lowrey on September 13.   According to their own December public reports, Baric is also the lawyer for Duffy Duffield, Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon.   In press reports, Lowrey says he is “unfamiliar” with his largest donor and Ellis denies knowing the source of $17,000 to Residents for Reform. It is not only illegal to accept excessive donations, it is also a crime in our city to make them. SCCBT should be prosecuted for this violation.

The episode opens the window and allows the public to see how dark, anonymous money is funneled to city council candidates, a process that was used in 2014 by the puppet masters Ellis and McCaffrey to elect Team Newport. The name for this is Political Corruption. Residents must rise up, vote for political integrity, and demand our campaign finance laws be respected and enforced.

Keith Curry is a Newport Beach Councilman.

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