One of the most influential lobbyists in the state capital has been fined $32,000 by a watchdog agency for laundering campaign contributions and failing to report donations.
Donald K. Brown, a veteran lobbyist whose firm, Advocation Inc., is regularly ranked among the top ones in Sacramento, was found by the Fair Political Practices Commission to have used family members and employees as proxies for donations to two City Council candidates in Chula Vista and to a state Senate candidate.
The FPPC said he also failed to disclose contributions to Robert Campbell, a Democratic candidate for the state Senate, and successful Assembly candidate Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) on a lobbying report to the secretary of state.
The commission said it is levying the highest possible fine against Brown because money laundering is one of the most serious violations of the state's Political Reform Act of 1974.
"Laundering undermines the campaign disclosure provisions of the . . . act and it deprives the electorate of essential information about who is supporting a candidate," FPPC lawyers wrote in a summary of their findings.
The lawyers said Brown was the true source for 13 contributions of $99, each made in 1996 to Chula Vista City Council candidates John Moot and Jim Cartmill in the name of Brown's family members and employees. They said Brown was also the true source of a $750 contribution made to Campbell in the name of Brown's daughter, Rachel.
The contributions to the Chula Vista races, they said, circumvented a local ordinance that limited individual campaign donations to $250 per candidate.
FPPC investigators said that when Brown was served with a subpoena he told them he was vaguely aware that Cartmill was a candidate for office but he had no interests in Chula Vista.
"In fact, at the time that the contributions were made, Mr. Brown, through Advocation Inc., had a contract with the city of Chula Vista and the Redevelopment Agency to provide legislative representation for the 1995-96 legislative session," they wrote.
Brown asserted his 5th Amendment rights, investigators said, and refused to be interviewed under oath. He also declined a reporter's request to comment on the fine.
Cartmill, a 41-year-old motivational speaker, said he did not know Brown and had made no arrangement for the hidden contributions.
"I had many people fund-raising for me. My relationship with him was through people on my campaign," said Cartmill, who lost the 1996 race. Cartmill has been on the Sweetwater Union High School District board since 1990.
He said he first heard Brown's name when contacted by an FPPC representative about a year ago. The agency staff member noted that Cartmill appeared to have received many $99 contributions. Cartmill said he heard no more about the matter until called by a reporter Wednesday. Moot, who won as an incumbent in 1996, did not seek reelection last year, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and to return to full-time work with a San Diego law firm.
Attempts to reach Moot on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Times staff writer Ken Ellingwood in San Diego contributed to this story.