Claims of campaign law violations are already flying in the closely watched rematch between Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Manhattan Beach) and Democrat Al Muratsuchi in coastal Los Angeles County Assembly District 66.
Muratsuchi's campaign says it filed an official complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission on Tuesday, alleging that Hadley's strategists may have illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure committee has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to support him. The commission confirmed that it received a complaint against the Hadley campaign Wednesday, but is barred from releasing details of the complaint for five days.
State law allows such committees to spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose a candidate, as long as they don't coordinate with a candidate's official campaign. Last year, the state's top ethics watchdog approved a slew of tougher regulations on independent expenditures, including the presumption of coordination when candidate committees and independent expenditures share a consultant.
Spirit of Democracy, which is funded largely by Republican mega-donor Charles Munger Jr., has spent more than $292,000 to support Hadley this year. It spent more than $1.1 million backing him and opposing Muratsuchi two years ago.
The Muratsuchi campaign says the complaint points to $4,000 that Spirit of Democracy paid earlier this year to Sacramento-based consulting firm Presson & Associates, which has also received $35,000 in consulting fees from the Hadley campaign this cycle.
A few weeks later, Presson refunded the $4,000 to the independent expenditure committee, the same day Spirit of Democracy first reported dropping funds to support Hadley's bid.
The firm's owner, Steven Presson, who is still working for the Hadley campaign, called Muratsuchi's claim "preposterous" and "fabricated." He said Spirit of Democracy retained him initially to work on a separate Northern California race. When another committee took over that effort, he refunded the consulting fees to Munger's committee, he said.
Munger and attorneys for Spirit of Democracy did not return emails or calls seeking comment.
Muratsuchi's campaign calls the refund an "ill-conceived attempt to conceal the coordination that occurred." Both Muratsuchi and Hadley have been reprimanded by the FPPC before.