Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Lyn Semeta will pay a $2,000 fine for a 2016 campaign finance violation under an agreement unanimously approved Thursday by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
According to the Political Reform Act, certain public officials cannot accept a contribution of more than $250 from any party while a decision affecting the party is pending. Such a party also cannot give more than $250 until at least three months after a final decision is made.
The state mandate is intended to ensure public officials act impartially.
On May 10, 2016, Semeta — then a planning commissioner — voted in favor of issuing a live-entertainment permit to No Kai Oi, a Main Street restaurant. About seven weeks later, on June 28, No Kai Oi gave $550 to Semeta’s campaign for a seat on the City Council.
Semeta reported her semiannual campaign statement, which included No Kai Oi’s contribution, in July 2016. She later received an email from Mark Bixby — a former planning commissioner who served with her in 2014 — telling her the contribution violated the law, according to documents.
Semeta said she was unaware of the campaign law and refunded $301 in a check she personally delivered to the business on Aug. 1, 2016, according to documents. She filed an amended campaign statement the same day.
Bixby filed a complaint against Semeta with the FPPC a day later.
Semeta said Thursday that “maintaining my integrity is the most important thing in the world, and I would never knowingly participate in any action tinged with undue influence.”
She added that she “inadvertently and unknowingly ran afoul” of the law.
“It was an innocent mistake and one I sincerely regret,” Semeta said.
The FPPC relied on a 2012 case involving Huntington Beach Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize to issue Semeta’s fine.
Delgleize, who was then on the Planning Commission, was fined $2,000 because she participated in a proceeding involving a business that contributed $520 to her within the preceding 12 months and had failed to disclose the contribution, according to documents. Bixby also filed that complaint.
In Semeta’s case, the FPPC’s Enforcement Division found no evidence that she had tried to conceal the No Kai Oi contribution, according to documents.
Semeta, who ran for City Council in 2016 as an “independent candidate,” refusing contributions from political action committees, said she worries about the “chilling effect large FPPC fines for innocent mistakes like this will have on independent candidates.” She questioned whether people would take the risks that come with running a grassroots campaign on a small budget.
Bixby said Thursday that while he believes Semeta made a mistake, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
“It’s critically important for public servants to avoid even the appearance of impropriety so that the public can have faith that decisions are being made for the right reasons rather than for campaign contributions,” he said. “I think that today’s $2,000 fine underlines that importance.”