After a nearly 26-month investigation by state officials, the saga regarding a contribution made by the Burbank Hospitality Assn. to a campaign to construct a new terminal at the Hollywood Burbank Airport has come to an end.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission, or FPPC, unanimously voted on Thursday to impose an $11,500 fine on the Committee for Yes on Measure B, which supported the terminal’s construction, for failing to identify the Burbank Hospitality Assn. — a nonprofit responsible for the city of Burbank’s marketing, — as one of its major donors, as well as not filing three late campaign contributions within a 24-hour period.
However, some FPPC commissioners thought something more sinister had occurred during that time.
Burbank resident David Spell filed a complaint with the FPPC in December 2016, alleging that the Burbank Hospitality Assn., also known as Visit Burbank, had illegally donated public funds to the committee to help pay for mass mailers and other campaign material to support Measure B, a ballot initiative that asked whether Hollywood Burbank Airport should be allowed to build a 14-gate replacement terminal.
Measure B was approved by Burbank voters during the November 2016 election and received 69% of the vote.
Spell and several other residents were upset when they discovered that a member of the Yes on Measure B Committee had solicited Visit Burbank for $50,000 during a meeting in September 2016, an action that was not agendized.
A similar complaint was filed with the public integrity division of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which determined the Burbank Hospitality Assn. violated the Brown Act.
However, county officials also ruled the donation by the marketing nonprofit was not a misuse of public funds and went further to say the funds were not public money.
Galena West, chief of enforcement for the FPPC, said the state’s investigation was focused on whether the contributions were filed in a timely manner, adding that the agency does not have the authority to investigate whether public funds are being used in political campaigns.
Commissioner Allison Hayward concurred with West but did not like the interaction between Visit Burbank and the Committee for Yes on Measure B nor the ruling by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office.
“I think that it’s a shame that the district attorney’s office didn’t step up and do the right thing, though given the other things we’ve seen about the use of public money for various measures, I’m not surprised,” she said. “I think this thing stinks … I think it’s intentional and corrupt and stinks. They’re cheating.”
Spell, who attended the FPPC’s meeting in Sacramento, said although he wished the fine on the committee was higher, he felt vindicated after hearing Hayward’s comments.
After more than two years of of waiting, Spell said he does not plan to take any further legal action. However, he does plan to help the state agency with its efforts to have the ability to investigate alleged misuse of public funds for campaign activities in the future.
During the meeting on Thursday, the FPPC also voted to send a letter to the state legislature asking to have the ability to investigate and prosecute such actions.
“I’m really ecstatic that I was able to make a small dent in this problem, and now we know that the commission is taking this seriously,” Spell said. “I don’t want people using public funds for campaigns. Whether it’s at the local level or state level, it’s unacceptable to me.”