Political Notebook

Olivier says Arambula broke campaign law in Assembly District 31 race

Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula, left, and Fresno Republican Clint Olivier are battling to win the 31st Assembly District seat vacated a year early by Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea. Olivier says Arambula agreed voluntarily to limit his campaign spending, but then spent above that limit.
Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula, left, and Fresno Republican Clint Olivier are battling to win the 31st Assembly District seat vacated a year early by Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea. Olivier says Arambula agreed voluntarily to limit his campaign spending, but then spent above that limit. Fresno Bee file

A complaint filed with the state’s political watchdog alleges that Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula violated campaign finance law in the 31st Assembly District race by voluntarily agreeing to limit his spending for the April 5 special election – and then going above that ceiling.

The complaint is the latest tit-for-tat in the acrimonious battle between Arambula and Fresno Republican Clint Olivier to fill the remainder of Henry T. Perea’s final term. Perea resigned a year early to take a job with the pharmaceutical industry. Already, two complaints have been filed by Arambula supporters saying Olivier violated state campaign law by filing reports late this year and not fully reporting all expenditures on statements from last year.

In the latest complaint – filed Friday with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission – Olivier campaign consultant Tim Orman says Arambula agreed to limit his spending in the special election to $564,000. Assembly candidates can voluntarily agree to the limit, set by the state, which gives them some election perks such as a 250-word ballot statement. Orman says, however, that Arambula’s most recent campaign finance statement shows he’s spent $666,667, which is more than $102,000 above the limit.

The Arambula campaign brushed off the complaint, saying there is no violation – and that the FPPC’s election law handbook backs that stand.

“As evidenced by his multiple violations of state law, and the open FPPC investigation into his campaign, Olivier and his campaign have again demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge of campaign law,” said Rich McIntyre, Arambula’s campaign manager. “The complaint from his campaign consultant is completely groundless. This is a desperate Hail Mary pass from a politician who lacks any vision for the Central Valley.”

But the Olivier campaign says the complaint is valid.

Here’s the issue: The Arambula campaign agreed to the $564,000 limit. Both sides agree there are exceptions to the limit for costs such as filing fees and preparing and filing campaign finance statements, among other things.

Another exception, the Arambula campaign says, is for in-kind contributions from a political party. In Arambula’s case, his most recent campaign finance report credits the California Democratic Party with $272,684 of in-kind contributions.

This cash covered such costs as printing, postage, phone banking and lodging for volunteers. Without those expenditures, the amount credited to the spending limit drops below $400,000. In fact, on Arambula’s most recent report, the campaign says the exact amount credited toward the spending ceiling is $380,636 – well below $564,000.

This is where the FPPC will probably have to weigh in as a final arbiter, because the Olivier campaign has a different interpretation.

Orman maintains much of the state Democratic Party’s expenditures on Arambula’s behalf should count against the $564,000 limit.

In the complaint, Orman alleges Arambula “is falsely attributing almost 40 percent of his campaign expenditures outside of the voluntary spending limits.”

Specifically, Orman says if Arambula’s campaign made the commitment to pay a certain expense that was later picked up by the state party, that would count toward the voluntary campaign spending limit.

“This is one more example where ultra-liberal Arambula and the Sacramento politicians and special interests supporting him are trying to get one over on voters in the district by buying the election,” Orman said. “They may be using the California Democratic Party to pay for much of their campaign, but they are directing and controlling the spending, which means those expenditures count towards the spending limit – and they’re not close to being done yet. This has to stop somewhere. We’re confident the voters will see through their charade on April 5.”

The election is just a week away, and already 11 percent of voters have cast mail ballots, according to Political Data Inc., which provides voter rolls and election data to California political campaigns. As the day approaches, the campaign rhetoric in the battle to replace Perea is heating up.

Perea’s early resignation forced the April 5 special election. That, however, is just to fill Perea’s unexpired term. There is a second election this year for a full two-year 31st District term. Besides Arambula and Olivier, Caruthers Democrat Ted Miller is the third person in the race.

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