Nunez faces more questions about spending

Times Staff Writer

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who drew heavy criticism last fall for using campaign funds for world travel and luxury purchases, continued to spend thousands of dollars on airfare and gifts in the last six months, according to financial reports made public Thursday.

The reports show the Los Angeles Democrat spent $20,916 on Delta Airlines, $2,701 at Falconhead boot company, $579 for a “meeting” at a wine bar, and $4,074 at Nordstrom, Macy’s and Williams-Sonoma stores between July 1 and the end of December.

In an Oct. 5 article, The Times reported that Nunez had spent tens of thousands of dollars on overseas travel, wine and high-end retailers including Louis Vuitton in Paris. The Times culled the expenditures, which Nunez initially refused to explain, from public reports that tracked campaign account activity through June.


According to the latest report, filed with the Secretary of State to comply with a Thursday deadline, Nunez continued after June to spend thousands of dollars from his “Friends of Fabian Nunez” committee on purchases with no clear connection to governmental or political business.

In his latest report, Nunez described many purchases, including those at Falconhead, as “gifts to dignitaries/public officials/staff.”

Falconhead says on its website that it has “the most extensive collection of hand-made original boots, belts and buckles” in the world.

According to the spending documents, Nunez also personally paid his campaign account $16,124 on Oct. 19, describing the payment as “reimbursement for travel.” On Nov. 20, he reimbursed the political committee an additional $300 for travel.

Reached late Thursday, Nunez spokesman Steve Maviglio said he did not have the details on Nunez’s travel and could not comment on why the speaker reimbursed his campaign account.

“The reimbursements raise the question of whether he is repaying the campaign out of an abundance of caution or because the expenditures were not proper,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.


Regarding some of the other expenses, Maviglio said Nunez bought Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a $2,701 belt buckle from Falconhead, which the governor returned because the value exceeds state gift limits.

Most of the remaining expenses, Maviglio said, were for meetings and gifts for staff and the 80-member California Assembly.

“It’s traditional and not out of line with other members of the Legislature,” he said, “to give gifts to staff and other members and dignitaries. That’s not extravagant.”

After The Times detailed Nunez’s spending in France, Italy, Argentina and elsewhere, Nunez faced extensive criticism from the media and some campaign donors.

In an Oct. 12 news conference, he said: “Every expenditure I made has been totally legitimate.”

Nunez told reporters that many of the purchases, including $2,562 at Louis Vuitton in Paris, involved gifts for dignitaries. An $8,745 expenditure at Hotel Arts in Barcelona, Spain, he said, included many costs, including a driver and translator, for an official visit to Catalonia.


Nunez refused to explain other purchases, including $317 at a Sacramento shoe store, saying, “Expenses that have been made are legal expenses, fully, to the letter of the law.”

State law requires that all campaign fund expenditures be at least “reasonably” related to a political, legislative or governmental purpose. Expenditures that confer a substantial personal benefit must be “directly” related.

The law also requires periodic public disclosures of campaign account activity. Expenses are reported under broad categories, such as “candidate travel, lodging and meals.”

The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission is expected to vote this month to require politicians to give more detail in such reports about their travel, meal and gift expenditures. Those details would include the names of gift recipients, dates of travel, the number of people at a meal and whether the diners included the politician’s family or staff.

On another matter Thursday, state tax officials who audited the activity in Nunez’s campaign account from 2004 through 2006 said he “substantially complied” with campaign record-keeping rules.

The routine bookkeeping audit by the Franchise Tax Board was separate from an ongoing inquiry by the Fair Political Practices Commission into whether Nunez illegally used his $5 million campaign fund for personal benefit.


Franchise Tax Board auditors reviewed the “Friends of Fabian Nunez” committee for the period of January 2004 through December 2006. The auditors found $75,000 in expenses that were not reported on time.

Nunez’s lawyer, Richard R. Rios, told auditors that invoices and credit card statements were not received in time to comply with deadlines, according to audit findings.

Nunez was among 30 state legislators chosen randomly for audits. The tax board findings were forwarded Thursday to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which will determine whether the audit results warrant a penalty.

Maviglio said Nunez appreciates “the overall clean bill of health this audit represents.”

Other campaign reports released Thursday show that the Democratic State Central Committee has provided $200,000 for the legal defense fund of Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), who has now spent about $1.4 million on legal expenses while facing a years-long federal corruption probe.

“The California Democratic Party isn’t about to let a politically motivated inquiry undermine the good work of one of our long-time leaders,” Chairman Art Torres said in a statement.

The Times reported in November that a grand jury has heard testimony and issued subpoenas to business and government agencies that have dealt with Perata.


Jason Kinney, a Perata spokesman, said the investigation “is nearly four years old and has never had a discernible purpose, focus or direction.

“Sen. Perata has always acted appropriately. I have every hope and expectation that . . . this pointless inquiry will finally be put to rest,” he said.


Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.