Democrats are asking the state’s political watchdog agency to investigate the California Republican Party for allegedly violating campaign finance laws in support of GOP candidate Andy Vidak, who is seeking reelection in the 14th state Senate District.
The complaint — filed late Monday with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission by Selma Democrat Douglas Kessler — says the state Republican Party has for months been supporting Vidak through more than $600,000 in direct or in-kind political contributions, but after recent large contributions from wealthy donor Charles Munger Jr., began labeling spending on Vidak’s behalf as independent expenditures to get around campaign finance laws.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years, and I’ve never seen it like this,” said Lance Olson, a Sacramento attorney who works with state Senate Democrats. “To me it appears they’re cheating and the FPPC should investigate.”
Details of the complaint are very similar to one Democrats filed last week in the Merced-area Assembly race pitting incumbent Democrat Adam Gray against Republican challenger Jack Mobley, and Olson says the state GOP’s illegal campaign spending is happening in several competitive state legislative races.
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California Republican Party spokeswoman Kaitlyn MacGregor said the party was unaware of the complaint.
“We haven’t seen anything,” she said. “Nobody has contacted us. This is the first we’ve heard about it.”
Because of that, she declined to comment further.
Olson called the state GOP’s recent spending patterns a blatant attempt to skirt the law and compared it to a well-publicized case from the 2012 election where two Arizona nonprofit groups did not disclose the source of more than $15 million in political donations that went to oppose Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-increase initiative, and to support Proposition 32, which proposed to restrict unions use of dues money for political purposes.
In that case, the FPPC handed down a record $1 million fine.
Olson says that campaign contributions to political parties are capped at $34,000 if that money will in turn be donated to individual candidates.
The Democratic Party, he says, has enough varied donors that it can stay under that limit and give direct assistance to individual candidates. But Republicans, he says, don’t have that flexibility, and have have an over-reliance on Munger. The only way to get around the direct contribution limits from a big donor like Munger to Vidak and others is to call them independent expenditures, Olson says. As of the end of last week, the complaint says, at least $214,000 in independent expenditures were reported from the state GOP to Vidak.
But for months, Democrats say, the state GOP has been directly helping Vidak. It has contributed to his campaign. It has also given in-kind contributions through campaign staff, polling and direct mail, among other things.
Since Sept. 29, however, Munger has given the state Republican Party around $3 million. Since the party had reached the $34,000 limit on direct contributions to Vidak from Munger, it instead started labeling money to Vidak’s race as an independent expenditure.
Olson said he would be surprised if the FPPC didn’t investigate the complaint.
FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said the agency has “received the complaint and it is currently under review.”