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Lawmakers warned, lobbyist faces fines over unreported fundraising

SACRAMENTO — A prominent lobbying firm in Sacramento faces fines for failing to report fund-raising expenses that benefited about 40 state legislators and other officials, according to Capitol sources.

The firm, Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates, reached a tentative agreement with staff of the state Fair Political Practices Commission to pay the fines involving violations of California’s political disclosure rules, according to sources familiar with the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly.

The firm’s founder, Kevin Sloat, who was once an aide to former Gov. Pete Wilson, did not return calls for comment. FPPC officials also declined to comment.

The case was triggered  by a civil lawsuit in which a former employee of the firm alleged that Sloat routinely used his showcase home in Sacramento to host lavish fund-raising parties for lawmakers, inviting his major lobbying clients to write them checks. The lawsuit alleged that Sloat failed to report these activities and expenses to the state, as required by law.

Several lawmakers said the commission notified them that they would be receiving letters warning that the fund-raising should have been reported

Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) said his office was told by an official of the commission that he would get such letter regarding a fund-raiser put on by Sloat in June 2010. Sloat did not report  expenses for that event, including money for expensive wine and cigars, publicly or to the senator, so he too could report it, Correa said.

Fund-raising expenses are regarded as contributions under the law.

“I’m getting a warning letter to be careful about something I have no knowledge of,” Correa said. ”I don’t drink. I don’t smoke.”

Representatives of five other elected officials said they were notified that those officials would also get letters.

The state investigation was triggered by a civil lawsuit filed Christmas Eve by a former employee of the lobbyist firm. The employee, Rhonda Smira, alleged the firm sought influence by directing improper contributions to dozens of lawmakers, nearly a third of the Legislature.

Sloat also gave gifts to lawmakers and failed to report them to the state, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that 37 lawmakers and an undisclosed number of other public officials received "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in illegal contributions this way.

Smira alleges she was fired in late 2012 because she protested that Sloat’s practices were illegal and says Sloat falsely accused her of theft.

Sloat responded to the accusations in December in a written statement released by a media consultant that questioned Smira’s credibility.

"We are not at all surprised that the plaintiff, a former bookkeeper for the firm, has resorted to such a desperate legal maneuver," the statement said.

Clients of the Sloat firm were expected to attend fund-raisers at his Crocker Road mansion in an exclusive part of Sacramento and make political donations, Smira alleged in court papers.

"A typical evening at [Sloat’s] mansion would result in between $10,000 and $50,000 for an elected official," the lawsuit alleges, and in return the firm's clients "were promised exclusive access to the governor, legislators or candidates."

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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