For perhaps the first time, California's political watchdog agency is cracking down on an independent expenditure committee for illegally coordinating donations with a legislative candidate's campaign.
Joaquin Ross and an independent committee he helped run, Respondent Voters for a New California, have agreed to pay a $6,500 fine, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which will consider the settlement April 25.
Ross did not return a call for comment Monday.
Independent expenditure committees are not bound by contribution limits that apply to donations made directly to candidates, but they are not allowed to coordinate campaign activities with the candidates they are supporting.
Capitol watchdogs have long suspected illegal coordination between the committees and candidates, but such accusations are hard to prove. The Ross case may be the first in which the agency has negotiated a fine over such a violation.
Ross acknowledged being the conduit for illegally spending $28,892 for three mass mailings in support of Luis Alejo during a primary election for an Assembly seat stretching from Santa Clara to Monterey counties.
Alejo, a Watsonville Democrat, beat two party challengers in the June 2010 primary for the open seat, and he won the general election by 25 percentage points.
Alejo, who is not accused of wrongdoing, said Monday that he is not aware of the FPPC case or details of the committee's spending. "I trust the FPPC's investigation was thorough and their judgment will be just," he said.
Under state elections law, Respondent Voters for a New California could not have donated more than $3,900 to Alejo's primary campaign unless it spent independently on his behalf, with no coordination between the two.
Ross violated state elections law by providing such coordination. He was Alejo's paid campaign manager and was a principal officer of the IE committee, according to the FPPC.
Call Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @jwsanders55.