By Colin Walsh
The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) have ended an investigation into the No on Measure L WDAAC. The City of Davis provided Davisite.org a letter from the FPPC addressed to Alan Pryor “No on Measure L - No on West Davis Active Adult Community” Treasurer that states, “The Enforcement Division will not pursue this matter further.” This puts to an end an investigation into the No on L campaign committee that was originated by WDAAC developer and the Davis City Council.
On February 8, 2019 the City Attorney Harriet Steiner sent a letter to the FPPC enforcement division requesting the FPPC “review allegations received by the City of violations of law including but not limited to violations of the Political Reform Act (Gov't Code §§81000 et seq.) during the City's most recent election.” The City Attorney’s letter made no specific allegations but stated, “The City of Davis greatly values the integrity of its electoral process and takes allegations of potential violations of that process very seriously.” The City attorney forwarded a letter from Steven Boutin on behalf of the WDAAC and Dave Taormino, that made a specific allegation.
Boutin alleged there was, “dark money by undisclosed outside persons attempting to influence the outcome of an election,” in Davis. Specifically, that a Lawsuit filed by prominent civil rights attorney Mark Merin against WDAAC alleging housing discrimination was paid for with funds that should have been reported as campaign expenditures because it was designed to “unduly influence our electoral processes.”
The lawsuit against WDAAC, Taormino and the City of Davis alleged, “Davis, a city whose population is disproportionately “white” as a result of historic racially restrictive covenants and red-lining practices, on June 12, 2018, adopted ordinance No. 2534 approving development of an “adult community” with 90% of its units restricted to “purchasers with a preexisting connection to the City of Davis.” The result of this “local resident” restriction is the continuation of a racially imbalanced community and the exclusion of minority would-be purchasers in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act.”
The “Davis Based Buyers Program” program was widely publicized in Yes on L literature but, in court papers supporting the City of Davis and Taormino’s motion to dismiss the case it was made clear that the lawsuit was “unripe” because, the program was only a proposal and there was “neither a final, binding agreement nor final terms,” between the City and the WDAAC. In short, the WDAAC “Davis Based Buyers Program” that was used to market the ballot measure may never actually come in to existence, so the lawsuit was premature. All parties agree to dismiss the suit without prejudice (meaning it can be brought again at a later time) in September of 2018.
Davisite.org received a copy of Pryor’s response to the FPPC complaint. In that response Pryor states, “if any such payments to attorney Mark Merin were, in fact, made by the No on Measure L campaign, it would be in clear violation of very explicit FPPC restrictions on campaign payments to attorneys as represented in the FPPC's own Disclosure Manuals.”
Pryor went on to state any payments to Marin “1) were not even made by the campaign and, 2) if made, would themselves be in violation of FPPC requirements. Thus, the complaint is ludicrous on the face of it.”
In his letter to the FPPC, Pryor went on to allege, “the complainant Taormino himself has “Unclean Hands” in the filing of this complaint as the Yes on Measure L campaign have themselves made clear and demonstrable violations of FPPC restrictions on use of campaign funds for attorney fees.” Pryor then states the Yes on measure L campaign’s, “legal expenditures of almost $70,000 for attorney’s fees does not meet any of the uses allowed in the FPPC Disclosure Manuals. Their use therefore appears to be a clear violation of campaign fund uses and reporting by the Yes on Measure L campaign.”
Pryor Alleges Complaint by Taormino and City was Politically Motivated
According to Mr. Pryor in his response to the FPPC to the allegations by Taormino and the City, “This complaint was a complete waste of the FPPC’s time and energy and the complainant’s attorneys (Stephen Boutin of Boutin Jones and City Attorney Harriet Steiner) should have known this before filing the complaint because of the clear disconnect between the allegations and the clear and unambiguous FPPC disclosure guidelines. This disconnect was so obvious that the complainants very likely knew the complaint was meritless but filed it anyway. The $64,000 question is “Why did they even bother to make it?”.
Pryor went on to state “We allege that this complaint was filed not because there was any evidence of any campaign expenditure reporting requirements insinuated by the complaint. Rather, this complaint was a conscious and deliberate act by the complainants for the sole purposes of retribution by Mr. Taormino for aggressively opposing him in this election and an attempt at political intimidation by Taormino and the Davis City Council so as to discourage future electoral and legal opposition to development plans envisioned by the very complainants themselves. These actions by the complainants constitute political thuggery at the very least.”
Investigation continues into the Yes on L campaign and Davis Vanguard
On February 2019 the City Attorney Harriet Steiner also referred questions about the practices of the Yes on L campaign to the FPPC. This referral was 31 pages long and included much more extensive documentation including complaints from both Roberta Millstein and Alan Pryor. The specific allegations are:
- About $70,000 of campaign expenditures which were made by the Yes on Measure L campaign for attorney fees were illegal under FPPC campaign finance regulations as written in the FPPC Disclosure Manuals that provide guidance and requirements for such campaign expenditures.
- The Davis Vanguard ran daily ads since the inception of the campaign until voting day and for a substantial period beforehand. The payment for these ads is not disclosed on any financial statements filed by the Yes on Measure L campaign, which is a violation of FPPC regulations.
- A disclosed financial filing of $3,000 to "Froggy's" for food service for a Vanguard fundraising event is not an allowable campaign expense for the Yes on Measure L campaign under FPPC guidelines.
- Over $64,000 of non-monetary contributions to the Yes on Measure L campaign for salaries have been disclosed in campaign filings but the recipients of these salaries have been kept secret, and it is not known if these payments were for personal gain, which is prohibited by FPPC regulations or otherwise disallowed under FPPC guidelines.
- $164,500 of monetary contributions were made by the “West Davis Active Adult Community” to the Yes on measure L campaign. But the “West Davis Active Adult Community” is not even a legally formed entity in the State of California or elsewhere and the sources of money received by the “West Davis Active Adult Community” used for the campaign contributions are unknown. These monetary contributions to the campaign thus constitute “money laundering” according to the FPPC and “Failure to disclose the true source of a contribution is considered one of the most serious violations of the Political Reform Act”
City Manager Mike Webb indicated to Davisite.org on 5/15 that the City of Davis has yet to receive any follow up information on the complaint against the yes on L/WDAAC campaign. After an email and phone call the Yes on L/WDAAC campaign declined to comment on any ongoing FPPC investigations into their campaign practices. This lack of information would appear to indicate the investigation into WDAAC has yet to conclude.