Pol Dinged for Campaign-Funded Kitchen Remodel

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California’s political watchdog agreed to a $55,000 settlement from a sitting Southern California city councilwoman over numerous political-transparency law violations, including using campaign funds to remodel her kitchen.
     After an initial fine of $104,000 was proposed in July, the Fair Political Practices Commission and City of Commerce councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio negotiated a diluted $55,000 fine. Del Rio was initially accused of 24 violations of the California Political Reform Act, but just 12 were included in the agreement.
     The initial proposal would have been one of the largest fines ever issued by the watchdog against a sitting locally elected official in California.
     Baca Del Rio, who was previously fined $26,000 by the commission in 2011 for filing late campaign disclosures, argued that many of the proposed violations were simply repayments of loans she made to herself and that she didn’t misappropriate campaign funds.
     “After I settled [in 2011], my paperwork was still in shambles. That situation impacted some of my filings that are the subject of the accusation,” Baca Del Rio wrote the commission in July.
     On Thursday, the commission voted 3-1 to cut the hefty six-figure proposal nearly in half and find Baca Del Rio had committed 12 violations.
     “The vote speaks for itself, as the commission is always trying to find results that hold people accountable for their actions and also uphold the basic premise of being fair to each person,” commission spokesman Jay Wierenga said in a statement.
     Baca Del Rio’ transgressions include transferring more than $8,100 from her campaign committee to her personal bank account in a series of 14 transactions, and spending campaign cash to remodel her kitchen.
     According to commission records, the councilwoman told investigators that her husband accidentally used the campaign committee’s bank card at a Lowe’s home improvement store on Oct. 7, 2014. Less than two weeks later, the same committee bank card was used at home good store Wayfair, and again Baca Del Rio told investigators it was mistakenly used.
     After being elected to the Commerce City Council in 2005, she was recalled by voters in November 2008. However, voters elected her back to the council just four months after the recall.
     Baca Del Rio did not return two requests for comment Friday morning.
     Commerce is located southeast of downtown Los Angeles and has an estimated population of 12,000. The median household income is $39,000, and the city’s largest employer is the Commerce Casino — one of the largest cardrooms in the world.
     The commission also fined Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano $15,500 on Thursday for voting three times to reappoint his sister to the city’s planning commission. The mayor’s votes violated conflict of interest laws because his sister is a tenant in a Commerce home he owns.
     In total, the commission issued 14 separate fines Thursday totaling more than $78,000. The penalties are allocated to the state’s general fund.