Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas faces a $21,000 fine from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for failing to publicly report more than $190,000 he solicited for a charity he heads, according to the FPPC board meeting agenda released Monday.
“Rackauckas contends he did not directly solicit the donations in question at the time they were made but became aware of the need to file Form 803 behested payment reports for the donations when reviewing 'thank you' notes to the donors,” according to a draft of the FPPC fine.
Rackauckas' attorney on the FPPC matter, Chuck Bell, said in a phone interview the DA reported the donations as behested payments "in an abundance of caution" and was aware that his belated disclosure might result in a fine.
"He previously filed reports years before," Bell said. "This was a catch-up if you will."
Voice of OC reported in July that between September and December 2016, Rackauckas solicited $190,000 for the nonprofit he heads, known as the Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership, or OC GRIP. State law requires elected officials to report donations they solicit within 30 days of receiving the money, known as behested payments.
OC GRIP identifies at-risk youth and aims to increase school attendance and decrease gang activity. Rackauckas is the board chairman and his name was on requests to donate.
But Rackauckas didn’t file the 14 reports covering the donations until June 29, more than six months after the money came in. His rival in next year’s election, county Supervisor Todd Spitzer, raised the issued two days earlier during a Board of Supervisors meeting.
Although failing to report the 14 payments carries a maximum penalty of $70,000, the FPPC said it found no evidence Rackauckas intentionally violated the law, in part because he eventually reported the payments.
“…Rackauckas does not have a history of violating the [Political Reform] Act…[and] cooperated fully with the Enforcement Division’s investigation,” the FPPC document states. “Also, the Enforcement Division found no indication the violations were intentional, and Rackauckas has since filed all of the delinquent Form 803s.”
The FPPC commissioners are scheduled to vote on the fine at their Sept. 21 meeting.
Behested payments have become more popular in recent years because there is no limit on the amount a donor can give to a candidate’s favorite cause, meaning contributors can curry favor with elected officials and officials can make themselves look good by raising money for various causes.
Among other requirements, the law says donations “…’made at the behest of’ means made under the control or at the direction of, in cooperation, consultation, coordination, or concert with, at the request or suggestion of, or with the express, prior consent of the elected officer…”
Several of the 2016 donors to OC GRIP are also campaign donors or political allies of Rackauckas.
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.
It isn't the first time Rackauckas has been challenged for failing to report behested requests.
Longtime county watchdog Shirley Grindle filed a complaint with the FPPC about Rackauckas’ belated disclosures following the July Voice of OC story.
She also filed two prior complaints, following Voice of OC stories in 2015 and 2016, which alleged Rackauckas has failed to report donations made to DA charities in 2014 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.
Any inquiries into those complaints have now concluded, said FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga.
In the agenda item against Rackauckas Monday, the FPPC also addressed the behested payments made on Rackauckas' behalf in 2014.
Rackauckas said in June that his treasurer had 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.
According to the FPPC, it was the county Registrar of Voters that failed to file the reports, therefore Rackauckas did not violate any laws.
While he said he is unable to discuss the details of the complaints filed against Rackauckas, Bell said "None of those [complaints] had any merit."
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