August 9, 2013

Source murky for Sacramento arena drive donation

A local petition drive manager says she received a $25,000 check in June from a Tulare-based political operative to put Sacramento's arena subsidy on the June ballot – but the check appears not to have been reported, as required, to state and city authorities.

A local petition drive manager says she received a $25,000 check in June from a Tulare-based political operative to put Sacramento's arena subsidy on the June ballot – but the check appears not to have been reported, as required, to state and city authorities.

The original donor or donors remain a mystery.

No campaign committee or candidate registered with the city of Sacramento reported paying the Tulare group, Olson Campaigns in June, records show.

If Olson is supporting the signature effort on its own, the firm would have been required to form a political committee in support of the arena ballot measure and also report the $25,000 expense in finance disclosure statements that were due by the end of July, said City Clerk Shirley Concolino. Olson has not filed any documentation with the city, records show.

The expenditures also would have to be reported to the state. A Sacramento Bee review found no filings.

The man said to have written the check, Paul Olson, has not responded to requests by The Bee for comment. Olson has worked for numerous Republican state politicians and for the state Republican Party, according to his website. He also helped the San Francisco 49ers in their efforts to build a new football stadium.

Eileen Ray, owner of Discovery Petitions and one of the local petition drive managers, told The Bee on Thursday she got a check from Olson in June that was used to pay signature gatherers.

"He didn't say who he was working for," Ray said, "and to tell you the truth, I didn't ask."

Arena proponents on Wednesday filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, contending the operators of the campaign against the arena deal paid signature gatherers in June – $1.75 per signature – without filing required papers. The allegation was made by, a group of local businesses and Kings fans who oppose the signature drive to put the arena deal on the ballot.

FPPC officials said they are reviewing the complaint and will make a decision within two weeks on whether to launch an investigation.

The complaint points to two groups connected to the petition drive, Orange County-based Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods and Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork (STOP). A spokesman for STOP said his group has not paid any signature gatherers, and that the financial statement it filed is accurate.

Jim Lacy, head of Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods, also adamantly denied this week that his group is helping finance the signature gathering, even though it had announced in May in press releases that it was throwing its financial and political clout behind the effort.

Speaking to The Bee, Lacy said neither his Orange County group nor any other he is associated with has put money into the campaign, but the group endorses the campaign, and still might involve itself financially in the future.

"If finances were to come forward, we would certainly consider it," Lacy said.

Lacy, an attorney, is also one of the leaders of another headline-making political action organization facing FPPC scrutiny.

His group, the Small Business Action Committee of Laguna Niguel, served as a conduit last year for $11 million in anonymous donations from out of state to battle Democrats over two campaign initiatives.

The donations were used to oppose Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 tax increase and support Proposition 32, the initiative designed to weaken unions' political clout.

According to campaign finance filings and details provided by one group under threat of legal action, the money was filtered through four different organizations between the original, undisclosed contributors and their California destination.

The FPPC sued one of the donating groups, Americans for Responsible Leadership of Arizona, and got it to admit that the ultimate source of the money was actually a group called the Center to Protect Patient Rights, whose individual donors remain unknown. The FPPC called it a case of "money laundering."

The Small Business Action Committee wasn't a defendant in that lawsuit.

The donations are now the focus of an investigation by the state attorney general's office and the FPPC.

FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel told The Bee that Lacy's Small Business Action Committee is a subject of that investigation.

"They have a duty to look into contributions they receive," she said. "They have an obligation to ensure that (a contribution) is legal and that the disclosures are appropriate."

Lacy said he has been told, however, by the FPPC's lead investigator that his group has done nothing wrong and is not the target of the investigation.

"The SBAC properly reported the $11 million on the basis of the information it had at the time," he said. "I am a cooperating witness."

Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Follow him on Twitter @tonybizjak.

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