Bay Area D.A. Fined $45,000 for Campaign Violations

Helen Christophi

SACRAMENTO (CN) — Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson has apologized, and paid California $45,000 for spending tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds on himself.

Elected in a landslide in the East Bay county in 2010, Peterson spent more than $66,000 in campaign money on restaurants, hotels, gas, clothing, movie tickets and cellphone bills between 2011 and 2015, according to a proposed settlement issued Monday by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which imposed the fine.

Although the commission must approve the settlement at its Dec. 15 meeting, Peterson has already paid the fine to the state’s general fund.

State law bans political candidates and elected officials from spending campaign funds on anything not related to a political purpose.

“I make no excuses,” Peterson said in an emailed statement Monday.  “I am humbled and embarrassed by my mistakes, for which I take full responsibility, and I apologize for my regrettable errors.”

Peterson made approximately 600 personal expenditures with campaign funds between 2011 and 2015, and transferred campaign funds to his personal bank account, according to the FPPC.

The illicit spending came to light in October 2015, when he learned the Franchise Tax Board planned to audit his campaign. Peterson, who was his own campaign treasurer, reimbursed the campaign $33,000 in the next two months, then admitted to the FPPC that he had been using campaign money to pay for his personal expenses.

Although he fully reimbursed the campaign through a series of payments over his four years as treasurer, the commission noted he made the bulk of them after he learned about the audit.

“When an official makes personal use of campaign funds, it erodes public confidence in the political process by blurring that line between lawful contributions and payments to public officials,” the ethics commission said in its proposed settlement. “To his credit, upon learning of the FTB audit, Peterson contacted the Enforcement Division, admitted his violations, and fully cooperated with the investigation.”

Peterson said in his statement Monday that he considered the expenditures a loan and that he kept track of them so he could pay them back. But the FPPC said Peterson never disclosed the expenditures on his campaign statements.

Peterson won re-election unopposed in 2014, and beat defense attorney Dan O’Malley by 15 percentage points in 2010.

He previously served on the City Council in Concord. The seat of Contra Costa County, pop. 1.1 million, is Martinez.