Holly Carter, a candidate for the District 6 seat on the Fresno City Council, has violated campaign-finance laws by, among other things, paying her own company for campaign consulting, according to a complaint filed with the state’s political watchdog.
Fresno business owner and political activist Tal Cloud filed a complaint with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging three state law violations in Carter’s campaign finance report ending Dec. 31 of last year. They are:
▪ A payment of $4,326.79 to Carter from the campaign that appears to be reimbursement for purchases she made related to the campaign, such as signs and web hosting services.
▪ $6,899.33 owed by the campaign to Carter & Co. Communications. Carter is the company’s founder and president.
▪ $256.44 owed by the campaign to Carter that also appears to be a reimbursement.
In an email, former Fresno City Councilman Jerry Duncan, who is listed on the campaign-finance report as Carter’s treasurer, called the allegations “baseless.”
“At the start of the campaign, we retained one of the top companies in California to help us with our state reporting,” Duncan said. “As a matter of fact, their software is being used by candidates all over the state. They assure us that everything that has been reported is allowable. They took an additional step and verified their conclusion with the FPPC. They know what they are doing.”
Attorneys and treasurers who are experts in campaign-finance law, however, say there may be something to the complaint.
For instance, on the $4,326 reimbursement, the correct process would have been for Carter to first put the money into her campaign account, and then have the campaign make the purchases, instead of Carter spending the money and then seeking reimbursement.
The only exceptions, attorneys and treasurers said, is to pay a filing fee or a ballot statement fee.
As for the campaign consulting payments to Carter’s company, state law says a candidate can’t get campaign money “for the performance of political, legislative, or governmental activities.”
Carter is one of four people seeking the District 6 seat, where current Councilman Lee Brand is termed out. Cloud, who filed the report, is related by marriage to Fresno campaign consultant Tim Orman, who is working for Jeremy Pearce, one of Carter’s opponents.
Cloud – who has a long history of campaign involvement – was asked by Orman to take a look at Carter’s report.
Orman made no apologies for making the request to Cloud.
“The truth isn’t politically motivated,” he said. “The facts are the facts.”
Jay Wierenga, a spokesman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, also known as the FPPC, said the agency received Cloud’s complaint last week.
Carter’s campaign finance report in question was from last year. This year, Fresno City Council candidates were not legally allowed to start raising money until Feb. 15, but serious candidates always lend themselves money to jump-start their campaign.
On Dec. 31, Carter loaned her campaign $30,000. In that same report, she listed more than $13,100 in expenses, including $7,240 in unpaid bills, most of which were the consulting fees to her own company.
“Unlike her opponents, Ms. Carter has invested significant personal resources into her campaign because she believes strongly that Fresno deserves better than the ‘business as usual’ political behavior that has given local politics a bad name,” Duncan wrote in the email.
“The city has real and serious problems with public safety, vagrancy and our economic growth and Holly has and will continue to run a positive campaign based on communicating to the voters her achievable ideas that will make Fresno safer and more economically prosperous.”