Sacramento lobbyist Kevin Sloat and his firm were fined a record $133,500 (pdf) by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) this week as the first of a possible 40 or so warning letters went out to candidates and elected officials who benefited from the illegal campaign contributions.
Governor Jerry Brown, former GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, state Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom were among those notified by the FPPC that their lavish fundraisers held at Sloan’s home involved nonmonetary contributions—unbeknownst to them—from their host that were not permitted by the law.
One warning letter to Democratic state Senator Jerry Hill said, “Mr. Sloat did not inform you that he was providing this nonmonetary contribution and, therefore, it appears that you were unaware that he provided it. Additionally, it appears your campaign committee properly disclosed all other known contributions and expenditures associated with the event.”
The FPPC staff recommended that none of the politicos be fined and the decision is expected to be signed off on by the commission February 20.
Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates counts among its clients Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Anthem Blue Cross and the San Francisco 49ers football team. The law firm is the seventh-largest lobbying operation in Sacramento, according to the Los Angeles Times, picking up $4.4 million last year from nearly 50 clients.
The firm was assessed $4,500 fines for each of the first 29 counts brought by the FPPC and $3,000 for number 30. In all, the settlement between the state and Sloat covered 26 fundraisers, benefiting 37 candidates and officials, held from 2009-2012. It also included improper gifts to lawmakers that included tickets to football and hockey games.
Sloat was done in by cigars, flower arrangements and alcohol. According to the FCC, campaign committees of the principals involved properly picked up the tab for food but not the other niceties. Those constituted a campaign contribution. Sloat said he thought the law let him shine on expenditures of less than $500, but the FCC said that figure referred to the total cost of the event.
The fines come about a month after former Sloat employee Rhonda Smira filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit in which she alleged that she was illegally fired and defamed in 2012 when she refused to participate in covering up gifts and donations made to dozens of officeholders.
In addition to undeclared nonmonetary campaign contributions like those cited in the FPPC settlement, Smira said, tickets to sporting events and free golf at a resort were handed out. Smira said she was told to record most of these company expenditures as “business expenses” for tax purposes and not ask for receipts from donors. She said she refused and was fired after falsely being accused of theft.
Smira played hostess at many of the fundraisers, coordinating activities that included catering and “arranging illegal gifts.”