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Santa Monica Planning Commissioner Likely Violated California Campaign Laws, Watchdog Agency Finds


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January 24, 2019 -- California's campaign watchdog agency has found "probable cause" that Santa Monica Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon violated State campaign laws in his 2012 bid for City Council.

At its meeting last Thursday the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) was presented by its legal staff with seven probable violations stemming from $37,466 in contributions to McKinnon's campaign.

The "non-monetary" contributions were made by Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth (SMRG), a slow-growth group formed less than three months before the election to oppose the Fairmont Miramar Hotel's proposed redevelopment.

According to FPPC staff, McKinnon and his campaign committee failed to timely report seven contributions in the form of mailers, robo calls, walkers, phone banks, email blasts and slate mailers made in the week leading up to the November 6 election.

"A finding of probable cause does not constitute a finding that a violation has occurred," staff wrote.

"The respondents are presumed to be innocent of any violation of the Act unless a violation is proven in a subsequent proceeding."

Respondents can resolve the probable cause finding by working with FPPC enforcement officers or taking the case to an administrative law judge, according to FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga.

"They can decide to fight it or not to fight it," Wierenga said.

McKinnon, who finished seventh in the 2012 race for three Council seats, said he will fight the finding and prove there was no wrongdoing.

"I have been, and am going to, forcefully defend the 2012 campaign against this administrative action," McKinnon told the Lookout. "The events described took place seven years ago.

"When we do finally get to the administrative hearing we will prove we ran a principled campaign by the rules," McKinnon said.

According to the FPPC's probable cause findings, SMRG made non-monetary contributions to McKinnon's campaign in the amounts of $8,093, $5,450, $12,994, $1,800 and $9,127 between November 1 and November 5.

McKinnon and his campaign also failed to timely report the total of $37,466 in non-monetary contributions made by SMRG in its filing for the reporting period of October 21, 2012 through December 31, 2012, according to the FPPC.

SMRG -- which backed McKinnon and Councilmember Ted Winterer, who was then a planning commissioner -- spent nearly $100,000 during the election, according to campaign finance disclosure statements ("Huntley Hotel Backed Santa Monica Slow-Growth Group, Documents Show," February 1, 2013).

Of that amount, $20,000 came from the Huntley, whose political consultant had formed the group to fight the proposed Miramar redevelopment across the street, according to a 2017 investigation by the FPPC.

The Huntley's donations included an illegal $10,000 contribution from a company that failed to disclose the source of the money and Playground Consulting, the hotel's long-time information technology consultant, which contributed $50,000, according to the FPPC.

In 2012, the Huntley also made illegal contributions to the campaigns of Councilmembers Terry O’Day and current mayor Gleam Davis, as well as to McKinnon and Winterer, the FPPC investigation found.

The candidates have said they were unaware the contributions had been funneled illegally by the Huntley through hotel staff to skirt campaign limits.

The Hotel was subsequently fined $310,000 by the FPPC in 2017 for improperly concealing political contributions made in that amount during the 2012 and 2014 Council elections.

The Hotel admitted the violations occurred and cooperated with the FPPC’s enforcement division ("Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica Facing $310,000 Fine for Concealing Contributions in 2012 and 2014 City Elections," August 8, 2017).

McKinnon has served on the Planning Commission since 2011 and was its chair in 2015-2016. He also served on the Recreation and Parks Commission in 2010- 2011.

He was one of 75 candidates who applied this month to fill a vacancy on the City Council.

The Council appointed Ana M. Jara ("Council Appoints Latina from Pico Neighborhood to Fill Vacant Seat," January 22, 2019).

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