SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are among 40 elected officials being notified by state ethics authorities that contributions they received from a lobbyist were improper.
Lobbyists are not permitted to donate to, or arrange donations for, candidates for state office under California's campaign finance laws.
Representatives for Brown and several other officials issued statements Friday saying their clients had no knowledge that lavish expenses for fundraisers from which they benefited in the past four years were paid for, at least in part, by a lobbying firm.
Those expenditures are regarded as campaign contributions unless they are reimbursed. Many were not, state investigators found.
Dozens of officials are receiving warning letters about the improper contributions, but the letters say no penalties will be sought against the officeholders.
The lobbyist, Kevin Sloat of Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates, has struck a tentative deal with officials at the state Fair Political Practices Commission to pay more than $100,000 in fines for violating campaign finance laws, said sources familiar with the state's investigation but not authorized to speak publicly.
The firm contributed expensive wines, rare cognacs and whiskeys, flowers and costly cigars for fundraisers held at Sloat's Sacramento mansion, investigators found.
Officials at the commission declined to comment on the impending settlement with Sloat, saying it is confidential until released Monday.
The FPPC probe was triggered by an FBI inquiry that began a year ago and a civil lawsuit filed in December by Rhonda Smira, a former employee of Sloat's firm. Smira sued Sloat, alleging that she was unfairly fired after challenging illegal contributions.
She also has been interviewed by the FBI, said her attorney, Jesse Ortiz.
"At these fundraisers, [Sloat and his firm] made contributions to elected officials by providing catering, expensive wine, decorations, flowers, imported cigars and high-end cognac, scotches and whiskeys," Smira's lawsuit asserts.
Brown and Newsom were among the beneficiaries of fundraisers held at Sloat's home, according to campaign finance filings and interviews with the officials' representatives.
Thomas Willis, an attorney representing those officials and a handful of state lawmakers, said in a statement that the officials did nothing wrong.
Brown attended a fundraiser for his tax-hike campaign that was held at Sloat's home in January 2012, according to Dan Newman, a political advisor to the governor.
Willis said that, for their part, "our clients properly paid and disclosed all known expenses. Of course, they did not disclose expenses that they were not made aware of.
"For this reason," Willis said, "the FPPC has advised us that they intend to resolve the matter as to our clients by sending them a letter and taking no further action."
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) also were notified that they will receive warning letters, their representatives said. Attorneys for both men said their clients had no idea any violations had occurred.
Still, the tainted contributions troubled some government watchdog groups and ethics experts.
"When a legislator is wined and dined at the house of a lobbyist, they should be on high alert," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times