A self-styled watchdog over the county's campaign-financing ordinance has mounted an attack on what she says is widespread violation of the measure.
Many major contributors to the political campaigns of county supervisors are ignoring a requirement that they report their contributions to the county registrar of voters within 30 days after they are made, Shirley Grindle said Friday. It was Grindle who spearheaded the drive to get the TIN CUP (Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics) ordinance on the ballot 11 years ago and who monitors its compliance.
"Ninety-nine percent of them don't report," Grindle said. "This is something that has been going on for years."
Grindle's statement was supported by Suzanne Slupsky, who handles campaign-financing matters in the registrar's office. Slupsky said many contributors don't know that the reporting requirement exists.
"What we do is notify them that they must make the report once we find out about the contribution," Slupsky said. "If they don't make it within 10 days after that, we refer them to the district attorney's office."
Grindle said some contributors may be able to say they were ignorant of the requirement, but not all. In some cases, she said, contributors know or should know of the provision.
In an attempt to force increased compliance, Grindle said, she will file a complaint with the district attorney each time she learns of a case in which a major contributor failed to file a report within 30 days and a project affecting that contributor then comes before the Board of Supervisors. The TIN CUP ordinance prohibits supervisors from voting on matters affecting major contributors to their campaigns.
A major contributor is defined as one who gives more than $1,739 during a four-year period.
Grindle already has filed two such complaints, one on Monday against the Irvine Co. Employees political action committee and one on Thursday against the Baldwin Co., an Irvine-based developer.
ICEPAC, as the Irvine Co. Employees committee is known, made a $2,500 contribution March 10 to the congressional campaign of Board of Supervisors Chairman Harriett M. Wieder, who is running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Daniel Lungren, (R-Long Beach). As of Friday afternoon, ICEPAC had not filed the required report with the registrar.
Grindle contends that Wieder also violated the TIN CUP ordinance when she voted in April on two Irvine Co. development agreements and this week when she voted on two other matters related to the Irvine Co. For purposes of the TIN CUP ordinance, Grindle says, ICEPAC and the Irvine Co. are indistinguishable.
As part of the complaint she filed with the district attorney, Grindle has asked that Wieder's vote for a development agreement relating to the Irvine Co.'s Laguna Laurel project in Laguna Canyon be voided. The agreement was approved by the supervisors April 27 on a 3-2 vote, despite stiff opposition from scores of people who oppose development in the canyon. The agreement protects the planned 3,200 homes and other developments from zoning and other land-use changes.
The complaint against the Baldwin Co. involves $4,000 in contributions made Feb. 26 by James and Alfred Baldwin, described by county officials as owners of the Baldwin Co., and their spouses.
Grindle is asking that Wieder's vote, also in April, on the Baldwin Co.'s Portola Hills development agreement be voided. The agreement protects plans for a 1,383-home development in the south county.
For purposes of the TIN CUP ordinance, Grindle says, the Baldwin Co. and James and Alfred Baldwin are indistinguishable.
Grindle said the Baldwin Co. received a warning from the district attorney's office last October, telling the firm about the requirement to report major contributions.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Maurice L. Evans said all of Grindle's complaints are being investigated, but he would not discuss the details of the cases.
He did say his office has sent out letters regarding contribution reports but would not elaborate.
A TIN CUP violation is punishable by a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
The Irvine Co. contends that ICEPAC is operated independently of the company as a federal political action committee and is not subject to TIN CUP restrictions. None of the Baldwins could be reached for comment Friday, but a Baldwin Co. official said the firm broke no laws.
"They made their contributions as individuals and so did not exceed the ($1,739) limit," said Geoffrey Fearns, executive vice president of the Baldwin Co. "James Baldwin gave $1,000, Alfred Baldwin gave $1,000 and their wives gave $1,000 each."
Slupsky said the guidelines her office follows require ICEPAC to report its contribution to Wieder to the registrar because it exceeded the $1,739 limit, though the group is not required to file detailed disclosure forms with the county listing all of its financial transactions. As of Friday afternoon nothing had been filed, Slupsky said.
Fearns' argument is flawed, Slupsky said, because under California's community property laws, James and Alfred Baldwin's contributions cannot be separated from those attributed to their wives.
Furthermore, she said, if the Baldwins were making their contributions as individuals independent of the Baldwin Co., they would be required to file affidavits saying that and listing their corporate affiliation. No such affidavits had been filed, Slupsky said.
Both ICEPAC and the Baldwins have been placed on a major contributors list in the registrar's office that is available to the public, but they are still required to file reports, Slupsky said.
Because the Baldwins are on the list, Wieder on Tuesday refrained from voting on a relatively minor matter involving the Baldwin Co.
A Wieder aide, Ed Mountford, said the vote probably would have been legal but that he had not had a chance to research the matter.
Slupsky said she has sent letters asking for the ICEPAC and Baldwin reports by June 6. If those letters and a subsequent follow-up request are ignored, she said, she will refer the matters to the district attorney.
In the last two years, she said, she has had to make about 30 such referrals. In most cases, the reports are sent after the district attorney's office sends a warning letter, Slupsky said.
Grindle said the timely filing of the reports helps the registrar's office keep current its list of major contributors.
If the ICEPAC contribution and the contribution by the Baldwins had been reported within the 30 days, she said, the public would have been able to express dissatisfaction with Wieder's votes on the Laguna Laurel and Portola Hills development agreements beforehand.