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Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has reported $190,000 in donations made in 2016 at his request to the office’s nonprofit, the Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership (OC GRIP), more than six months after the reports were supposed to be filed.
The donations include $35,000 from Newport Beach billionaire and Broadcom owner Henry T. Nicholas III; $25,000 from onetime state GOP leader and former Rackauckas campaign chairman Michael Schroeder; $10,000 from the law firm of Rackauckas’ ex-wife, Kay Anderle; and $25,000 from campaign consultant and friend David Lee Ellis.
Although behested payments – donations made at the request of an elected official – over $5,000 must be reported within 30 days of the date of payment, Rackauckas filed 14 reports on June 29 for donations made between September and December 2016.
Under California law, lobbyists, organizations and wealthy political contributors can make large cash donations requested by the office holders for their favorite charities. There’s no limit to how much someone can donate at an elected official’s behest.
GRIP is a law enforcement partnership between the District Attorney’s office and multiple cities that identifies at-risk youth and aims to increase school attendance and decrease gang activity. Rackauckas is the board chairman and his name was on the requests to donate.
According to Jay Wierenga, spokesman for the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), there is currently an open investigation into Rackauckas by the agency based on a July 2016 complaint by local watchdog Shirley Grindle.
That complaint alleged Rackauckas has failed to report various donations made to OC GRIP and that he has allowed his Chief of Staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, to use public funds and county equipment to promote her business partner at an official event.
The complaint, filed by citizen watchdog Shirley Grindle, came after a Voice of OC story in 2015 detailing Schroeder’s role in getting donors and equipment for an official event for the Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) unit held by the DA’s office in 2014.
When Voice of OC reached out to Rackauckas’ spokeswoman for comment, OC GRIP Executive Director Anne Hyde responded.
“As Board members work to raise a certain amount of money each year, a majority of the funds were either FROM individual board members or at the request of individual board members,” said Hyde in an emailed statement.
“Unfortunately sometimes political environment and priorities cloud good deeds,” Hyde continued. “The interpretation of ‘behested payments’ varies and because of this heightened scrutiny and, since the District Attorney was on the invitation with other members of the philanthropic community, and signed a ‘thank you’ letter on behalf of the board, we decided the easiest course was to file additional paperwork with all appropriate agencies including the FPPC.”
Rackauckas’ filings June 29 came two days after he was publicly questioned at the June 27 meeting of the county Board of Supervisors by Supervisor Todd Spitzer about why he has not kept his reports up to date for behested payments made in 2014.
Spitzer, a former protégé of Rackauckas who has since become a political foe, is likely to run for District Attorney in 2018.
Spitzer said that despite the organization’s prolific fundraising “not one document” has been generated documenting the donations.
Rackauckas – who is the board president for OC GRIP – said his treasurer has sent behested payment forms multiple times to the Registrar of Voters.
According to the Registrar, Rackauckas’ treasurer apparently did try to file reports for $102,500 worth of behested payments made in 2014 by emailing the records, but in order to correctly file the reports you must submit a hard copy. He has yet to submit a hard copy.
Rackauckas said because the donations were generated by board members, he doesn’t believe they need to file forms.
“I’m of opinion that since it’s board generated, it doesn’t require [us] to file behesteds,” Rackauckas said. “But we’ve asked counsel about that and if more filings have to be made we’ll certainly do that.”
Several of the donors to OC GRIP are also campaign donors or political allies to Rackauckas.
For example, the law firm Robinson Calcagnie Inc., which gave $25,000 to GRIP last October, and two of the firm’s partners also gave to Rackauckas’ campaign in 2011.
Other donors to OC GRIP in 2016 include the Duda Family Foundation, $5,000; Michael Harrah, $5,000; Greenberg Gross LLP, $5,000; SA Recycling, $10,000; Heritage Fields El Toro LLC, $25,000; Angels Baseball LP, $5,000; Lyon Living, $10,000; Massiah Foundation, $10,000; and the Larkin Living Trust 1982, $10,000.
Voice of OC intern Jose Ochoa contributed to this story.
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.