Of cash and campaigns
Police union finally files campaign finance report, PACs spend big
If money talks—and in politics, we know it does—then it’s in the public’s interest to know who is making financial contributions to Chico City Council campaigns leading up the election on Nov. 4.
That’s why the City Clerk’s Office makes records of campaign contributions publicly available, both online and in-person, and imposes deadlines on candidates and political action committees (PACs) to report financial activity during certain time periods, as required by both city and state law. The first two deadlines were Oct. 6 and Oct. 23, and the third and final deadline is on Friday (Oct. 31).
But until Tuesday (Oct. 28), just a week before the election and more than three weeks after the first deadline, voters were left in the dark regarding the Chico Police Officers’ Association PAC. City Clerk Debbie Presson hadn’t heard from the CPOA until it filed its reports on Tuesday afternoon; she posted the information on the city’s website that evening. Failing to report campaign contributions is a violation of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) requirements, but Presson can levy a fine of only $10 for each day reports are late.
The CN&R spoke with Presson prior to her receiving the CPOA’s campaign contribution reports. With the election drawing near, she was concerned whether voters would have enough time to review the records.
“That’s the whole intent behind the reporting periods during an election,” she said by phone. “They’re staggered the way they are to capture the most information they can in order for our citizens to be aware of who is supporting which candidates and how much is being spent.”
Some may have wondered whether the CPOA was deliberately concealing contributions. But Peter Durfee, president of the CPOA since 2012, said the association’s board was just plain confused about reporting requirements.
“I’m a police officer, not an accountant,” Durfee said. “I’ll be the first to say it: I’m in charge, and I didn’t know [about filing reports]. But now I do, and we’re in the process of making it right.”
Durfee said the CPOA board has been “getting up to speed” on what paperwork is necessary, and hired a private firm to get its reports in order. Though the CPOA contributed to the campaigns of Toby Schindelbeck and Sean Morgan in 2012, Durfee said, the CPOA board has a high turnover rate and current members were unfamiliar with the process.
This time around, it turns out there’s not much to report.
“We haven’t used 1 cent out of our PAC account this year,” Durfee said. “I’m not saying that won’t change over the next two weeks, but as of right now, we have made no contributions, and I don’t know if we will. We don’t plan on doing so.”
The records submitted to Presson show the CPOA spent about $100 renting the City Council chambers for the CPOA-hosted candidates forum on Oct. 13, but has not contributed to any of the candidates’ campaigns.
Presson explained in an email that, even if a PAC has made no contributions, it’s still required to file with her office. “Otherwise, citizens are left hanging with not knowing if the PAC was receiving contributions or expending funds,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, other PACs have been spending. Most notably, Chico Citizens for Accountable Government has poured nearly $14,000 into promoting council candidates Andrew Coolidge, Reanette Fillmer and Mark Sorensen through mail, TV and radio ads. As of Oct. 18, that PAC had received a total of $30,000 in contributions mostly from local construction and industrial businesses.
The Chico Firefighters Legislative Action Group has received $6,158 to date and spent $1,865, with expenditures focused on candidates Lupe Arim-Law, Coolidge and Fillmer.
Chico Politics, led by Michael Jones and Kelly Skelton, backs candidates who have pledged not to accept support from police and firefighter unions. As of Oct. 18, the PAC had contributed $100 apiece to the campaigns of Mayor Scott Gruendl, Sorensen and Fillmer, and $449 apiece on campaign signs for each of those candidates.