The petition drive seeking to force a public vote on the subsidy for the new Sacramento Kings arena was hit with a complaint to the state's political watchdog Wednesday, raising fresh questions about how the campaign is being funded.
A coalition of building contractors and Kings fans filed the complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, saying the campaign challenging the arena project paid signature gatherers in June but didn't report the expenses in its latest campaign finance disclosures.
The two groups that have been involved in the petition effort, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and a political action committee called Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods, said they've followed the laws and filed proper reports with the FPPC.
In another twist to the arena saga, the head of Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods said Wednesday it isn't raising or spending any money to get the arena issue put on the ballot.
One day after telling The Sacramento Bee he wouldn't identify the Orange County group's donors because he didn't want to help his opponents, James Lacy said his group isn't financially involved in the campaign.
"We have not spent any money on this election," Lacy said.
His comments appeared to deepen the mystery of how the petition drive is being funded. In May, Lacy's group announced it was teaming with the Sacramento organization, STOP, on the petition drive. The goal: Forcing a public vote on the $258 million city subsidy for the new Kings arena.
The Orange County group said in May that the campaign would have "the financial and political resources necessary." As recently as last week, STOP leaders said they were relying on financial help from Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods.
"We don't have a lot of dollars," STOP co-leader Julian Camacho said last week. "I don't know where they get their money. God bless them, they are helping us." Camacho's group had $10,000 on hand at the end of June, according to financial disclosures.
STOP's major funding source is a $15,000 donation last year from the campaign of former Sacramento City Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy.
The Orange County group didn't list any donations on its latest campaign disclosure filing, for the six months ending June 30. Earlier this week, Lacy said information on subsequent donations wouldn't be released until October, the next time it's legally required.
But on Wednesday, after the complaint was filed with the FPPC, Lacy said his Orange County group has no financial ties to the Sacramento petition drive.
Lacy told the conservative blog Flash Report his group hasn't raised any money for the petitions. And he told The Bee that his group isn't spending any money on the issue.
"I have not ... expended any funds, signed any contracts, been involved in any way other than formally endorsing the program (and) allowing our name to be put on a press release," said Lacy, a lawyer and political consultant from Laguna Niguel.
Lacy declined earlier this week to give The Bee a list of donors since July 1, saying it would "help the opponent gain an advantage which they do not deserve." The group isn't required to make post-July 1 disclosures until its next report to the FPPC, in October.
The co-leader of STOP, James Cathcart, told The Bee that his group has done nothing wrong.
"My reports are accurate," he said when asked about the FPPC complaint. "I am personally responsible for those reports. You can get thrown in jail."
Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement of the FPPC, said his office is reviewing the complaint and will decide whether to launch a formal investigation in the next 15 days.
The Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods has worked on various political campaigns since it was launched nine years ago, mostly in Southern California. It has mainly worked for Republican causes. Contrary to an earlier report in The Bee, its treasurer, Barrett Garcia, said this week he is not resigning.
On the other side, DowntownArena.org says it has raised nearly $14,000 to fight the petition drive. Most of the money has come from builder, architect and labor groups.
DowntownArena's complaint with the FPPC is based on statements from two men who said they formerly worked on the petition drive, gathering signatures in Sacramento in June.
One of the men, Joe Woodruff, told The Bee that he earned $113 for three days of work, at $1.75 a signature.
In its complaint, DowntownArena said the two signature gatherers claimed they were paid in June by Momentum Political Services, a Sacramento area consulting group, for the petition campaign.
The complaint included a redacted copy of one check signed by Momentum's owner, Monica Harris. She told The Bee she wrote the checks on behalf of Eileen Ray, owner of a business called Discovery Petitions, who was out of town in June.
Ray, who shares an office with Harris, said she received an advance in June from Paul Olson of Olson Campaigns, a San Joaquin Valley political consultancy, to pay signature gatherers. Ray said those signature gatherers began working "around the 20th of June."
Olson didn't respond to requests for comment about those payments. Lacy wouldn't answer any questions about Olson.
Earlier, Olson referred a Bee reporter to Tab Berg, a Sacramento political consultant working on the petition campaign.
Berg said he hadn't seen the FPPC filing but dismissed it as frivolous. "They are called PR stunts. It's a worn-out old trick," he said.
Berg said signature gatherers were pulled off the streets a few days ago while campaign organizers analyze the validity of the signatures gathered so far and determine what steps to take next in the drive.
"There will be some kind of determination by people above my pay grade about whether we need to go out again or not," Berg said. He declined to say who would make that decision, or how many signatures have been gathered, but said he is confident the measure will qualify for the ballot.
The campaign needs to collect 22,000 valid signatures by mid-December to qualify for the June 2014 ballot.
Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.