A state ethics panel voted Thursday to impose $5,000 in fines on Capitol lobbyist and campaign consultant Richie Ross for putting two legislators under personal obligation to him by not collecting campaign consulting fees they owed.
Under a deal with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, Ross also agreed to write off $160,000 owed to him for campaign services he provided to state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino).
Both lawmakers had contracts with Ross in which they agreed to make monthly payments to him of set amounts if they won election.
Lara's 2009 contract called for the candidate to pay Ross a win bonus of $90,000 in 10 equal monthly installments commencing on Jan. 1, 2011, as well as a 10% charge for late payments. But Lara failed to pay $60,000 of the win bonus and Ross stopped sending invoices after a while.
The Political Reform Act's provisions "prohibiting certain activities by lobbyists are aimed at preventing lobbyists from influencing state officials through means other than legitimate advocacy," said a report by the FPPC enforcement staff.
Last year, Lara introduced SB 447, favored by one Ross lobbying client, the California Construction and Industrial Materials Assn.
The measure, which passed the Legislature and became law, allows surface mine operators to continue selling products while they work to correct violations to a state-required reclamation plan. In arguing for the bill, Lara told fellow lawmakers that it could help small- and medium-sized businesses remain in operation.
A year earlier, Lara authored AB 1609, which was also supported by the association, but the measure expanding the appeals process for surface mine operators did not get out of committee.
Lara flatly denied that he was influenced by the debt to Ross to provide favorable votes or assistance to Ross and his clients.
"Let me be unequivocal: My legislation is informed by what is best for my constituents and the state of California, which is creating jobs, fighting for working families and protecting our most vulnerable communities," Lara said.