SACRAMENTO -- An attorney who aided an investigation that resulted in fines against lobbyist Kevin Sloat said the settlement of the matter approved Thursday by the state Fair Political Practices Commission falls short and fails to address some of the most serious allegations involving elected officials.
“It’s not sufficient,” attorney Jesse Ortiz. “I think Mr. Sloat should be held accountable for all of his actions and not just some of them, which is what the FPPC decided to do.”
Ortiz represents Rhonda Smira, a former employee of Sloat’s lobbying firm who sued the lobbyist, claiming she was wrongly fired after complaining about illegal gifts and campaign contributions being made by the firm to a large number of members of the Legislature.
The lawsuit triggered an FPPC probe, and the panel Thursday approved a settlement that fines Sloat and his firm $133,500.
"With this case we have a proposed record lobbying-case fine," Gary Winuk, the FPPC enforcement chief, told the commission. "We've increased our enforcement on the issue of lobbying."
Commissioner Gavin Hachiya Wasserman noted that the case involved "quite a few" fundraisers.
Sloat admitted to making improper campaign contributions to 37 politicians in the form of expensive wine, liquor and cigars provided at fundraisers, as well improperly arranging gifts including sports tickets for three officials.
The elected officials who received improper contributions, including Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez, are receiving warning letters after FPPC investigators determined they did not know that Sloat covered some fundraising expenses.
But the settlement makes no mention of other allegations in the lawsuit, including one that Sloat represented a Northern California Native American tribe and “hosted countless legislators, legislative staff and administrative staff on expensive golf outings on the tribe's golf course.” Smira alleged in the lawsuit she made many of the arrangements herself.
Winuk said his investigators looked at that issue. "There were no violations by Mr. Sloat or his firm related to Yocha Dehe golf games," Winuk said.
The lawsuit also alleges that a state assemblyman received an unreported gift when Sloat “made arrangements” with a Cuban artist to sell the lawmaker a painting at a “deep discount from the asking price” The art was sold at “nearly 50% below the asking price,” the lawsuit alleged. “The price was not available to any member of the general public.”
Ortiz said the lawmaker who bought the painting from Cuban artist Javier Guerra is Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) and that it should have been reported as a gift.
Hall declined comment on the allegation. Winuk said there was insufficient evidence of a violation. “We’re not investigating that any further,” he said.
Responded Ortiz: “I’m disappointed they are not pursuing it. I understand when things are settled that there is give and take from both sides, but here the FPPC fell short of what they were charged with doing.”
The settlement also makes no mention of an allegation in the lawsuit that an unidentified “Senator A” received help from Sloat attending a San Francisco 49ers-New York Giants playoff game, including free access to the field. Lobbyists are prohibited from arranging gifts or favors for elected officials.
Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he bought tickets for himself and his family to attend the playoff game, and that access to the field was arranged by the 49ers. The team was a client of Sloat’s until it recently dropped him as its lobbyist.
The 49ers contend that there is no monetary value to a field pass, because it cannot be bought, and therefore it need not be reported as a political gift.
“We've been led to believe he [Steinberg] is the 'Senator A' referred to, even though certain assertions are inconsistent with the facts,” said Rhys Williams, a spokesman for the senator.
Winuk said that his investigators looked at the allegations and will not be pursuing any action. “There was no evidence that supported a violation of the law,” he said.
Ortiz said he will continue his investigation as part of the civil lawsuit, and that he plans to take depositions from legislators, including Hall and Steinberg.
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