SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are among 40 officials receiving warning letters from the state ethics agency after their campaigns received improper contributions from a lobbying firm, representatives said Friday.
A firm headed by Kevin Sloat has reached a tentative agreement with the state Fair Political Practices Commission to pay more than $100,000 in fines involving violations of California's campaign finance laws, according to sources familiar with the investigation who are not authorized to speak publicly.
The firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates provided prohibited contributions, including expensive wine and cigars, at fundraisers held for elected officials at his Sacramento mansion.
Those who benefited from Sloat sponsored fundraisers include Brown and Newsom, according to public records. Thomas Willis, an attorney representing those officials and a handful of state lawmakers, said they did nothing wrong.
Brown attended the Jan. 24, 2012, fundraiser for his Proposition 30 campaign at Sloat's house, according to Dan Newman, a political advisor to the governor.
The initiative campaign reported that $2,024 in expenses for the fundraiser were covered by the Assn. of California Life and Health Insurance Companies, a former client of the firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates.
Other expenses were allegedly covered by Sloat and represented improper campaign contributions.
"What we can say is that our clients properly paid and disclosed all known expenses," Willis said. "Of course, they did not disclose expenses that they were not made aware of. For this reason, the FPPC has advised us that they intend to resolve the matter as to our clients by sending them a letter and taking no further action."
Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) held a fundraiser at Sloat's home in 2011, according to Stephen Kaufman, an attorney for Pérez. "It is our understanding that because legislators were unaware of such expenses and properly reported all known expenses, the FPPC intends to resolve the issue with a warning letter and no further action," Kaufman said.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who leads the Senate Democratic Caucus, also has been notified that he is getting a warning letter, representatives said.
Steinberg had reported reimbursing Sloat's law firm $981 for "appetizers" provided by a Sacramento catering company at a 2011 fundraiser. The event raised money for Steinberg's 2018 lieutenant governor's race. The senator said he only "vaguely" remembered the party at Sloat's house.
Lance Olson, an attorney for caucus members including Steinberg, said the senators had no idea the lobbying firm improperly covered expenses.
"If something was missed and contributions went unreported in this instance, those particular candidates were unaware until now – and it's our understanding that the FPPC has explicitly acknowledged that fact," Olson said. "Letters to some members of the Senate Democratic Caucus will reaffirm there is no penalty to them because there's no evidence the candidates could or should have known a violation was occurring."
Other state Senators notified that they are receiving warning letters include Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), Marty Block (D-San Diego), Norma Torres (D-Pomona), Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) and Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), sources said.