The state's political watchdog has uncovered that Mayor Kevin Johnson has solicited much more money for his network of nonprofits than the public knew.
The size of the gifts involved, and how long they went unreported, are serious cause for concern.
The mayor had reported about $1.5 million given to nonprofits at his behest since taking office in 2008. The California Fair Political Practices Commission found another $3.1 million in 22 donations from corporations and foundations going as far back as March 2009 that had never been disclosed until its investigators came calling.
The money went to the Stand Up school reform group, the City Year volunteer program and Gifts to Share for city parks, among other nonprofits.
Because Johnson didn't follow state law requiring that donations be reported within 30 days, the FPPC announced Monday it had fined him $37,500 $1,500 for each of 25 violations.
Johnson paid the penalty last week out of campaign cash and has agreed to a proposed settlement, but he may not be out of the woods yet, The Bee's Ryan Lillis reported Tuesday. While FPPC's enforcement division isn't seeking more because Johnson doesn't have any prior violations and cooperated with investigators, the commission is to decide next week whether the fine should be higher a maximum of $5,000 per violation, or $125,000.
The mayor took responsibility for what he called an "unintentional" administrative lapse, and told the FPPC that training and procedures have been fixed.
It's not that simple.
The issue isn't just whether forms get filled out on time. It's also how Johnson uses these nonprofits to push his agenda outside City Hall, and how these donations could potentially overlap with his official duties.
For example, among the biggest newly disclosed donations were two this year totaling $500,000 to Stand Up from the Walton Family Foundation, funded by the founders of Wal-Mart. In addition, the Walmart Foundation gave $100,000 to City Year and $75,000 to Gifts to Share.
What if the world's largest retailer had a rezoning case before the city for a superstore? Shouldn't Johnson's fellow council members and constituents know about the gifts, even if the 30-day reporting period wasn't up yet?
If the mayor is going to continue relying on these nonprofits in his second term and if he wants to keep the public's confidence meeting the mere letter of the law isn't good enough. The public needs to know more about where all this money comes from and how it is spent. The transparency for these nonprofits should be closer to what is required of public agencies.
As we've said, Johnson is not just another philanthropist raising money for good causes. He's a public official who is accountable to his constituents. When it comes to these nonprofits, he's falling short.