Complaint accuses Nuñez of misusing charity

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

A complaint filed with state ethics officials Tuesday accused Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez of using a charity to illegally funnel donations into political activities.

The complaint cites more than $270,000 that Nuñez solicited in 2005 and 2006 from corporations, utilities and other interests with a stake in legislation to pay for toy giveaways, scholarships, youth summits and other events that featured Nuñez and were arranged by his staff.

The donations were the subject of a Times investigation in November, which showed how a small charity -- Collective Space -- in Nuñez's downtown Los Angeles district wrote checks at the direction of the speaker's staff for events that benefited his constituents.

In a complaint filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights accused Nuñez of dodging state restrictions on campaign donations by asking donors to give to the nonprofit, then using the money for his political benefit.

"The speaker and Collective Space claim it was only a 'conduit' for the speaker's funds," wrote foundation Executive Director Doug Heller in the complaint. "If this is the case, the contributions were never intended for the charity and should be considered direct donations to the speaker and his events."

Heller asked the ethics panel to either punish Nuñez or close "a glaring loophole" in state campaign finance rules.

The Fair Political Practices Commission has 14 days to determine if it will investigate the complaint or request more time to do so.

Nuñez said the complaint misinterprets the law. He called the allegations "a huge stretch from where reality is of what law allows a member of the Legislature to do."

"People can file complaints every day of the week about whatever they want to file complaints about," said Nuñez, adding that there was nothing illegal or unethical about his work with Collective Space.

Under a 1997 state law, politicians must file public reports whenever donors give to non-campaign causes at the politician's request. Such donations are not presumed to be gifts or campaign donations, according to the law, if made "principally for charitable purposes."

In its complaint, the foundation argued that the money Nuñez solicited for Collective Space should be considered campaign contributions because charity officials had no involvement in deciding how to spend the donations and the money was spent to highlightNuñez's political profile.

The donations Nuñez solicited for the charity ranged from $2,500 to $50,000. At least six of the 20 donors -- Blue Cross of California, California Correctional Peace Officers' Assn., Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Co. and Zenith Insurance -- also gave the maximum $6,600 to Nuñez's political committee.

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