FPPC fines Measure W’s campaign committee for violating election rules (June 21, 2017)

APPLE VALLEY — The campaign committee behind Measure W, which garnered nearly 57 percent of the vote last November, has been hit with proposed fines by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for violating election rules.

The H2Own — Our Water Now committee failed to timely change its name to reflect support for the measure that would have allowed the town to move forward on debt financing for acquisition of Liberty Utilities’ water system without a say from voters.

The Liberty-funded Measure V won out in November, thus requiring a vote of the people that came in the form of Measure F, which passed earlier this month and gave the town its ability to finance a purchase of Liberty’s system should eminent domain prove successful in court.

Additionally, H2Own failed to timely report financial activity on two pre-election campaign statements, according to FPPC documents released Monday.

H2Own, led by Principal Officer Rick Piercy and Treasurer Adolph Collaso, was fined and paid $5,500, FPPC spokesperson Jay Wierenga told the Daily Press.

The fines, which have been paid but will remain proposed until the Commission votes on the matter later this month, could have been as high as $10,000 — $5,000 for each violation — but Piercy told the Daily Press the committee worked with FPPC officials on a stipulated settlement, which he described as like a plea bargain.

It’s different when you don’t have a group of lawyers and professionals working for you, Piercy said. There are a lot of rules to abide by. We learned a lot from it and that’s just how things are.

FPPC documents show the committee filed its statement of organization in late May 2016, identifying itself as the committee in support of the town water company purchase. Two months later, the Council approved adding the measure to the November ballot as an alternative to Measure V.

Measure W became the official name in August, and the committee filed an amendment to its statement of organization in October, noting it had qualified as a committee, but it did not change its name at that time.

H2Own then paid for several advertisements in various forms in support of Measure W between Oct. 10 and Nov. 1, 2016; however, none of the ads included reference to the measure, documents show.

The committee also raised nearly $26,000 in campaign contributions — including $375 from a GoFundMe account — and made about $22,000 in expenditures; None of these contributions were timely reported on the Committee’s campaign statements, documents show.

The committee was contacted by the FPPC’s Enforcement Division and filed an amendment to its statement of organization reflecting support for Measure W in February, more than three months after the November election.

According to the FPPC, the violations were mitigated somewhat by the smaller amount of advertising activity and by the fact that Measure V’s Right to Vote on Debt committee outspent H2Own by a ratio of 130 to 1, thus allowing for lower penalties.

But FPPC officials said the public was harmed by the violations, pointing in particular to the committee’s failure to timely report its financial data. Officials added the harm was aggravated by the fact that (H2Own’s) violations occurred before the election.

Approximately $2,900 was paid for out of pocket by Piercy and Collaso, according to Piercy, who said the remaining amount was paid via campaign funds. He attributed the violations to a lack of experience on the part of new people who were just volunteers for H2Own.

We found out that they really take that stuff seriously, Piercy said. You violate a rule and you have to pay the consequences. That’s just life.

The Commission is expected to vote on approval of the fines during its June 29 meeting, according to Wierenga.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press