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Santa Monica Mayor Says He Was Unaware of Illegal Campaign Contributions
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By Niki Cervantes
April 5, 2018 -- Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer says he did not know a series of contributions to his 2012 campaign were illegally disguised by the Huntley Hotel, which was fined $310,000 last August by California’s campaign watchdog commission.
In a February 26 deposition taken in a Voting Rights lawsuit against the City, Winterer said was unaware the 11 donations to him made between October 25 and October 30 in 2012 were from Huntley but disguised under different names.
Contributors were subsequently reimbursed for their donations, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which conducted a two-year investigation ("Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica Facing $310,000 Fine for Concealing Contributions in 2012 and 2014 City Elections," August 8, 2017).
The 62 counts against Huntley were part of a campaign to impact a proposal by its rival, the Miramar Hotel, to expand. Miramar’s expansion needs council approval to move forward.
In its findings, the FPPC did not delve into Huntley’s contribution recipients, although it is within its purview.
The City has moved past the issue, saying such violations are misdemeanors and that the one-year statute of limitations already lapsed.
The county District Attorney’s Office has said only that is aware of the FPPC’s findings.
But Kevin Shenkman, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the Voting Rights Act lawsuit, received a judicial referee’s nod last month allowing him to pry into matters, such as Huntley's contributions, to look for a pattern of wrongdoing ("Voting Rights Plaintiffs Poised to Scrutinize Tainted Council Campaign Contributions," March 30,2018).
According to the FPPC, the Huntley illegally channeled donations through employees and affiliated businesses over several years totaling more than $97,000.
The donations were made to Winterer, his council colleagues Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis, as well as unsuccessful candidate Richard McKinnon and to three groups involved in local politics -- Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City.
In his deposition, Winterer said he is “not one of those people who even ‘reports’ over my own reports at great length,” Winterer, who was selected mayor by the City Council in December of 2016.
Winterer said he first learned of the FPPC probe in August of 2017, when news of it surfaced in the media and it was learned the commission was considering the second-largest fine it had ever levied in such a case.
He said the FPPC never questioned him as part of the investigation, although he turned over records from the 2012 campaign at its behest and did not wonder what prompted the request.
Like other council members who were Huntley recipients in 2012, Winterer said he received a letter from a Huntley attorney informing him of the FPPC investigation.
In the questioning, Winterer’s answer is met with another question.
“So, you're telling me that your understanding is that the FPPC, without ever asking you if you had knowledge of what was going on, concluded that you did not have knowledge of what was going on?” Shenkman asks?
"That would appear to be the case,” Winterer replies.
The Huntley attorney, Fredric Woocher, sent similar letters in early August of 2017 to Davis and O’Day, according to Davis, who emailed a copy to the Lookout.
“We want you to know that the Huntley made clear to the FPPC during the course of the investigation that neither of you were aware that it had reimbursed some of its employees for their contributions to your campaigns, and the FPPC found no reason to believe otherwise.
Assistant General Manager Manju Raman and the Huntley "sincerely regret that they have placed you in the position of having been the recipients of these contributions, and they wanted to make sure you were aware of the pending enforcement matter in case you were contacted by anyone with questions about it,” the letter said.
The Huntley Hotel in 2012 made nine contributions each to O’Day and Davis, 11 each to Winterer and McKinnon and four contributions to Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth, totaling $86,650.
The case also includes one contribution to Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, one contribution to Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and sixteen contributions to McKinnon for City Council 2014, totaling $10,700.
Shenkman is trying to bring in O’Day and Davis for a second round of questioning. Their first depositions were prior to news of the FPPC’s findings.
His wife, local school board member Maria Leon-Vazquez, has also been the source of investigations into votes she cast for vendors who had hired her husband as a consultant ("SMMUSD Probes School Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez Over Votes for Contractors Who Employed Husband," November 14, 2017).
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