Calif. Watchdog Delays Fine of Bay Area DA

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California’s political watchdog on Thursday delayed deciding on a proposed $45,000 fine against a San Francisco Bay Area district attorney accused of spending $66,000 in campaign funds on himself.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission voted 2-1 to fine Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson but two commissioners were absent from the hearing. Commission items require three “yes” votes, so the item was postponed until January.

The commission announced a settlement with Contra Costa County’s embattled top law enforcement officer on Dec. 6, claiming Peterson spent over $66,000 in campaign money on personal bills, hotels, movie tickets and gas. According to the commission, Peterson used campaign funds for personal expenditures more than 600 times over a four-year period and stopped once he realized he was being audited in October 2015.

Peterson has submitted a $45,000 check that will go to the state’s general fund if the commission votes to approve the penalty in January. He has already reimbursed the commission $33,000 and claims he considered the donations as a personal loan that he always intended to pay back.

Peterson won re-election unopposed in 2014, but now his critics are calling for him to resign in light of the commission’s investigation.

There were four letters regarding Peterson’s case submitted to the commission, including one from the local group Lamorinda Republican Women Federated.

“Realizing that the Franchise Tax Board was about to come after him and paying off the proposed fine when he clearly knew all along what he was doing was wrong? Resign, be removed from office, whichever. He is clearly not cut out to be our district attorney,” Dasha Millson wrote on behalf of the group.

Peterson says he makes “no excuses” and acknowledges repeatedly violating the California Political Reform Act.

“I am humbled and embarrassed by my mistakes, for which I take full responsibility, and I apologize for my regrettable errors,” Peterson said in a statement earlier this month.

The commission approved a $60,000 fine Thursday against former Menifee Mayor and president of the Riverside County chapter of the Republican Party Scott Mann. Mann was charged with 12 counts, including using campaign money to finance a family wedding in Malibu and other travel expenses.

The watchdog doled out the maximum $5,000 per count, claiming Mann kept faulty campaign records to “conceal the violations.”

Mann’s proposed fine was announced on Oct. 14 and likely hindered his re-election bid. He resigned on Nov. 18, and election results later revealed that he was defeated by Neil Winter.

Menifee is in southwestern Riverside County and has a population of 77,000.

Mann’s fine was the second-largest issued in 2016 by the commission, trailing a $114,000 penalty given to a manufacturing company for laundering campaign contributions.

Sitting City of Commerce councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio agreed to a $55,000 settlement in September for using campaign funds to remodel her kitchen. In May, former state Sen. Tony Strickland agreed to a $40,000 fine for evading state contribution limits.

The five-member commission issued over 300 fines against politicians and committees in 2016, collecting nearly $900,000 for the state’s general fund.