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Two state senators receive campaign finance violation fines

Two state senators receive campaign finance violation fines
State Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), shown recently on the Senate floor, faces fines for campaign finance violations. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Two state legislators and one former lawmaker are facing $30,000 in fines from California’s ethics watchdog for violating campaign finance rules, according to documents released Monday.

The fines have been agreed to by state Sens. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) and Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and former Democratic Assemblyman Joe Coto of San Jose, according to reports by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

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Nielsen admitted laundering a campaign contribution to Assembly candidate Robert A. “Bob” Williams in the 2012 election. Individuals were limited to contributions of $3,900 in the race, which Nielsen provided.

He made a $4,320 donation to Williams through the Tehama County Republican Central Committee, even though the law prevents such earmarking of money. Additionally, the campaigns did not properly report the contribution.

Nielsen agreed to pay $10,000 in fines. Williams and party officials agreed to $13,000 combined.

“It is unlawful to make a contribution in the name of another,” says the report by the commission's enforcement staff. “This prohibition keeps the public informed as to the sources of campaign contributions, and it ensures that contributors abide by the [Political Reform] Act’s contribution limits.”

Nielsen was “pleased” to resolve the complaint by an opponent after more than three years, according to Charles Bell, his campaign treasurer.

“In their settlement agreement, the FPPC acknowledges that only a minor contribution related to this politically motivated complaint was incorrectly reported,” Bell said.

Nielsen’s fine included an additional violation — for knowingly accepting a gift of tickets to a pro basketball game arranged by lobbying firm Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates. Lawmakers are not allowed to accept gifts arranged by lobbyists.

In a separate case, Allen agreed to pay a $4,000 fine for failing to properly disclose receipt of contributions worth $4,100 in the form of free rent on office space for his campaign headquarters in Santa Monica last year.

“My campaign treasurer made a mistake failing to properly report an in-kind contribution on our campaign filings,” Allen said in a statement. “I am disappointed that this happened but have worked closely with the FPPC to resolve this issue...and have taken steps internally to ensure that this type of mistake does not happen again.”

In the third case, Coto agreed to pay $16,000 in fines after it was determined that a group named Vote Matters was not acting independently when it spent $117,000 to support his 2012 campaign for state Senate.

The group, in fact, employed two of Coto’s former campaign workers. As a result, the spending was a violation. Independent expenditures can be limitless, but they cannot be coordinated with campaigns.

“Coto maintains that he was not aware of the contributions,” according to the FPPC report. “But ... the Coto Committee should have been aware of the expenditures made by Vote Matters.”

In another case, the FPPC and Los Angeles Ethics Commission announced $76,650 in fines against businessman Moo Han Bae for laundering $10,500 in contributions to the campaign of mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel in the names of others. The state commission is fining Bae $22,500, and the city agency is levying fines of $54,150.

Twitter: @mcgreevy99

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