Ex-state senator fined by panel

Times Staff Writer

The state’s ethics agency announced fines Monday against former state Sen. Martha Escutia of Whittier for failing to properly disclose at least $340,000 in payments made by 17 special-interest firms and campaigns to her then-husband’s political consulting firm.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission also announced fines against former Gov. Gray Davis, related to the campaign fund he used to fight the 2003 recall that removed him from office. He failed to fully disclose $187,381 in unpaid expenses and a late contribution, and he did not keep some records required for donors who gave $5,000 or more, the commission determined.

Both Escutia and Davis signed settlement agreements with the commission’s enforcement division admitting the violations and agreeing to pay the fines -- $2,000 for Escutia and $4,950 for Davis. Commissioners will meet Aug. 14 to approve the agreements.

The payments made to the political firm headed by Escutia’s husband at the time, Leo Briones, when she was still in the Legislature, included one from a client who later had a matter pending before lawmakers. Escutia voted in 2006 to support a bill reducing fees for hospitals. A onetime Briones client, AltaMed Health Services, hired a law firm in 2006 to lobby on the bill.


Escutia admitted to two counts of violating the Political Reform Act.

“Failure to disclose sources of income . . . is a serious violation of the act,” said a statement by commission enforcement officers, who added that, “Escutia failed to make all of the required disclosures [in 2002 and 2003], which deprived the public of knowledge about all of her economic interests.”

Given the large amount that was not disclosed, Tracy Westen of the Center for Governmental Studies said, the fine “seems low.”

The commission said the penalty is the result of an investigation it launched in response to a 2004 report by The Times that Escutia had not reported all of the income received by LVB Centaur North Inc., the political consulting firm headed by Briones.


Briones and Escutia did not return calls for comment.

Escutia’s attorney, Tom Willis, said that any violations were “entirely inadvertent” and some were caused because she was not aware of all of her husband’s clients.

Willis said some of the 17 Briones clients identified in the complaint were reported but with incorrect or incomplete names. He said the case involved “a very old and minor reporting matter.”

The commission enforces laws requiring elected officials to disclose their campaign fundraising and their personal financial interests.


The state commission said Escutia should have reported payments to her husband’s firm by clients, including Arizonans for Fair Gaming and Indian Self Reliance, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and campaigns for current Sens. Edward Vincent and Alex Padilla.

Escutia, a Democrat, spent 14 years in the Legislature, ending when she left the state Senate in 2006. She represented a large area of southeast Los Angeles County.

Regarding the Davis violations, the commission enforcement staff said in a statement: “The evidence obtained does not show that respondents’ violation was deliberate.”

Stephen J. Kaufman, who at the time the violations occurred was assistant treasurer for Davis, said Monday that any violation was inadvertent.


“These were routine administrative reporting errors that occurred in the midst of a very quick 10-week recall campaign,” Kaufman said.