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California's campaign finance and lobbying violations are down, but total fines are up

The California Capitol in Sacramento. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
The California Capitol in Sacramento. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

California’s campaign finance watchdog found fewer lobbyists and campaigns to sanction in 2016, while collecting more in fines as it focused on bigger cases.

The Fair Political Practices Commission reported Monday that last year's violations were at a three-year low. But the agency collected $200,000 more in fines than it did in 2015, raking in $900,000 because it pursued bigger cases.

The agency issued fines in 311 cases last year, down from the record 333 such cases the year before, and 332 cases in 2014.

The agency also sent out 489 warning letters last year for technical or minor violations, but didn't fine those violations. It sent out hundreds more warning letters in 2014.

Big cases last year included one in which state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) and supporters agreed to pay $57,000 for making campaign contributions over state limits, improperly controlling multiple committees and filing inaccurate campaign statements.

A case against Oakland business AB&I; Foundry discovered that 37 campaign contributions it made were laundered, hiding the true source of the money, and the company was fined $100,000.

The numbers reflect an agency “focusing on strict enforcement of serious violations,” chairwoman Jodi Remke wrote in the agency's annual report.

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